Queen of the skies Pam Ann, AKA comedienne Caroline Reid, treats Cary Gee to some in-flight entertainment and tells him why she’ll never join the mile high club.
Since first taking to the skies as Pam Ann in 1996, Australian comedienne Caroline Reid has had a “hell of a ride”, racking up the air miles to perform in front of guests including Elton and David, Cher, Victoria Beckham and Madonna. She’s currently back in London, where it all started, performing new show Queen of the Skies to sold out audiences at London’s Leicester Square theatre. I caught up with her between performances to ask how she is feeling.
‘Exhausted. Keeping up with the Kardashians is f**king hard!’
Pam Ann comes in many guises: from slutty Virgin Air hostess to horse-faced British Airways crew who “can close the overhead lockers with her eyes”. Can Caroline recall the Frankenstein moment when she first realised she had created a smartly-liveried monster wearing big hair and court shoes?
“Well, to begin with Pam was inspired more by the uniform than any specific hostess. But over the years she has become more observational as she’s grown. Different airlines employ different crews, each with their own mentality, there’s a bit of Pam in all of them.”
Does this mean that Reid always flies with notepaper and a pen in her carry-on?
“I’m definitely a bit of a sponge. But as for the show, a lot of it made up on the night.”
Does Pam travel incognito, or are airlines aware of just who is included in their manifest?
“I prefer to fly under the radar. Sometimes I can, sometimes not. But I don’t mind either way.”
When I saw her brilliant show at London’s Leicester Square Theatre, a few days before talking to Reid, heterosexual couples were notable only by their absence. One chap, sitting next to me proclaimed his affinity by announcing to his girlfriend that “the homosexuals just love her, don’t they?” Is this a common reaction at a Pam Ann gig?
After guffawing with laughter, Reid attempts to explain her appeal.
“I’ve lived in London most of my life. I guess that we just share the same world. I guess I’m just drawn to the nightlife and gay culture. Most of my friends are gay. In fact, the first guy I fell in love with was gay. He was a ballet dancer. We’d go out and look at opera glasses together and I thought he was the straightest thing! We’re still friends today. I saw him a year ago and I’m still in love with him. I was about sixteen.”
Reid’s home town is Melbourne. What is it about the city that makes it so gay-friendly?
“It’s very creative. There’s a lot of art and culture.”
For anyone who hasn’t yet seen Pam in all her primary-coloured glory what can they expect from her shows?
“Well, there are some awesome videos, a lot of great observation comedy. It’s fun. I wanted to create a party atmosphere. So there’s lots of cocaine. It’s like a pantomime.”
There’s even a dame. The in-flight movie features an hilarious scene in which Pam appears opposite Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey. Has she invited Dame Maggie to see herself in the show?
“Oh my God, wouldn’t that be amazing? I love her. But I don’t know how to contact her.”
Someone who most definitely counts herself as a fan is Madonna. Has she been in touch recently?
“I so wanted to see her in New York. Amy Schumer (a US comedienne) opened for her and I so hoped that Amy might have a little accident so I could get the gig. Madonna is my inspiration. She’s the queen,”
Madonna once described Pam Ann as “cruelly funny”. Is she?
“Yeah, I think Madonna nailed it. Some people may find Pam cruel. I may say something they don’t like, or offend someone. Things come out of your mouth, they are said and you can’t take them back.”
But is it always alter-ego Pam speaking? How much of Pam is there in Caroline, and vice-versa?
“We’ve kind of morphed so that we’re now 50-50. Caroline is the one talking about the airlines, and all of the druggy stuff is probably Caroline too.”
It sounds like Caroline is admitting to being quite a badly behaved girl at times.
“’I’m very bad,” she says, “very naughty!’
How often does Caroline return home to Australia?
“Not often. I just don’t feel connected to Australia. I prefer London, or New York [where Caroline currently lives]. I like big cities. There’s just too much I need to do. I can’t sit still. It’s too geographically difficult to do anything from Australia.
“I loved Living in London. Right now I love New York. I may try Miami or LA in the next five years. I’m on the road half of the year anyway.”
Does the distance she keeps from Australia mean she hasn’t been following the fierce debate about gay marriage at home, where it remains illegal?
“Well, it’s good that they got that idiot [prime minister Tony Abbott] out. At home we have the Emu and the Kangaroo on coins. They are the only Australian animals that can only move forwards. Maybe we should change the animals for ones that can move backwards as well to better represent Australia.”
After racking up the air miles as Pam Ann, who does a surprising amount of corporate work within the airline industry, does Caroline have her own opinions about what makes a good flight?
“First class always make a good flight. Free drinks and a nice bed. Economy is your worst nightmare.”
Can she even remember the last time she flew economy?
“This year actually. American Airlines.”
And has she ever used her celebrity persona to bump herself up?
“No! I’d never do that. I’d be so embarrassed. That would just be too awkward. I’m lucky that I’ve worked with so many airlines who can be quite responsive when I need a ticket. But no, you just have to buy the ticket.”
That said, some remain more responsive than others. Caroline failed to secure a gig with Delta Air Lines after refusing to tone down her act.
“I’d love to take the money but in the end I advised them to book someone who was a little more politically correct. I guess it’s just in my DNA. I know I could work more but as an artist it feels like you’re selling your soul.”
Who would Caroline most like to sit next to on one of her many transatlantic flights?
“P Diddy.” Really? “He’s smart and could talk me about business.”
So it’s not because of any physical endowment? (Pam has previously expressed a preference for black men in terms I can’t bring myself to repeat here.)
“Well, there is that too.”
Caroline claims not to have a partner in her life at the moment. Not just the one anyway.
“I’ve got one in Paris, one in LA, two in Miami and another here in London!” None of which prevented her from once snogging a fellow passenger who was on his way to rehab. “It was hilarious. He was very cute.”
However, despite the occasional flirtation Caroline does not aspire to join the mile high club.
“It’s just too uncomfortable. Not sexy.”
In fact, she describes her perfect afternoon in London as “lying in bed watching the Great British Bakeoff, maybe followed by a shopping spree in Selfridges’ shoe department.”
It all sounds a little incongruous for a woman who claims there’s nothing she likes more “than the sound of a wheelchair hitting the tarmac before the plane has come to a standstill.” Previously she has joked about finding the missing Malaysian Airlines flight. “There was only one survivor, a Mrs Ting. Her first name was Flo!”
Has she ever taken a joke too far, opened her mouth, and wished she hadn’t?
“Oh God. Probably every show. I once called a guy pretentious for wearing sunglasses indoors. He said he was blind and held up his cane. I was like, yeah, right. Where’s your dog? Thank God he was blind because the rest of the show was diabolical!”