Elvis Has Left The Airport ... A Legacy

By Maureen EllisFeb 25, 2010

It barely lasted more than an hour, was without so much as a curled lip, a hip swivel or a note sung, and consisted of the King asking on at least two occasions exactly where on earth he was, but the memory of Elvis Presley’s sole UK visit at Prestwick Airport won’t quickly be forgotten.

Almost 50 years to the day since that DC-7 aircraft touched down in Ayrshire, one corner of the country is dedicated to keeping Elvis always on the mind.

And next week, on March 3, Prestwick Airport will mark the golden anniversary of the fleeting stopover made by 25-year-old Sergeant Elvis Aaron Presley, en route from military service in Germany to Hollywood.

Even listening to a few bars of his music, or spotting a picture in a newspaper brings back memories for Ian Ghee, who was an official British Air Ministry photographer seconded to the US Air Force’s 54th Air Rescue Squadron.

“Every time I see or hear Elvis I’m immediately transported back to that night,” says Mr Ghee, 75, who lives in Kilmarnock. “I really feel an affinity to him, although that’s maybe slightly misplaced. I’ve had a lot of mileage out of that particular night.”

Mr Ghee was sworn to secrecy over the arrival of the VIP, who had already released Love Me Tender, Hound Dog, Jailhouse Rock and All Shook Up.

He managed to disguise elder brother George, now 79, as his assistant by equipping him with a spool-less press camera and a case full of flashbulbs. Little did Ian realise it would be “bold George” who would stride out to welcome Presley by shaking his hand on his walking off the plane, or feature prominently in many of the photographs.

“I had to disown him because obviously it would have cost me my job,” recalls Mr Ghee. “I was probably about 10-15ft away. All I heard was mumble, mumble, mumble. He’d said: ‘Welcome to Scotland, Elvis, we hope you have a nice trip back home’.”

While the aircraft was being refuelled, Mr Ghee spent around 45 minutes cataloguing Presley signing autographs for fans, his visit to the airmen’s club and the sergeant’s mess, where Presley made a phone call to Priscilla.

Even although he is one of only a handful of photographers given such access to Elvis, Mr Ghee admits to a few regrets by not shaking hands nor having his own photo taken with the star. Yet he still possesses a full set of prints, in addition to a treasured collection of CDs, DVDs and tapes of the King.

“He was very, very mannerly,” adds Mr Ghee, who worked for almost 30 years as a photographer with Scottish Aviation, which merged into British Aerospace.

“I read some reports that there was supposedly a driver – but he never used a taxi, he walked around – who said he was very arrogant and cheeky, which was rubbish. It was ‘yes sir’, ‘no sir’, ma’am this, ma’am that.”

Prestwick’s proudly held status as where Presley made his only footsteps on British soil was called into question in 2008 after reports that British rocker Tommy Steele secretly accompanied the star on a sightseeing day out in London in 1958.

The claims, made by theatre producer Bill Kenwright haven’t been confirmed, and a spokeswoman for Elvis Presley Enterprises in Memphis denied the trip ever took place.

The Elvis effect is keenly felt in Prestwick, where a plaque presented by two members of Elvis’s band, Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana, was unveiled in 1993, and where you can sup a pint in a bar named Graceland.

Next Wednesday, Prestwick Airport’s 16-hour day of celebrations, with proceeds going to children’s charity Clic Sergeant, include a “best dressed” Elvis competition, unveiling of another plaque and music from The MacDonald Bros.

Airport managing director Iain Cochrane said: “This is an opportunity to mark a milestone as well as promoting Ayrshire and bringing together the travelling public, local people and fan clubs worldwide.”

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Reactions

SuziB (profilecontact) wrote on Feb 27, 2010report abuse
OurKing4life, are you actually being serious or writing before you actually think? In 1960, part of Prestwick was a USAF base - and that is where (and why) Elvis landed. So the decision to fly was a US military decision - besides in thse days, it was very difficult to predict weather patterns for aircraft, especially over such a long flight.
rupert (profilecontact) wrote on Feb 26, 2010report abuse
I went through Prestwick last year and there was an Elvis-themed bar on the way through - all the tables in the bar were large colourful pictures of Elvis at various times and the entrance "No underage drinkers" style banner was a large classic picture of Elvis in the Aloha special. I seem to recall there was a career-wide timeline of Elvis's life along a wall in the bar too?
Monster (profilecontact) wrote on Feb 25, 2010report abuse
I live in Scotland now (though I'm Irish) and I've been through Prestwick quire a few times on flights home. I think there used to be a restaurant called Gracelands or something and there might even be a plaque there somewhere. But by God you'd have to have sharp eyes to know there was any connection to Elvis here. I suppose it's too far out of the way and small (the airport I mean) to warrant anything significant like a framed picture on display somewhere reasonably prominent. Still, good luck with the charity day next week.

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