Everyone in Britain knows where they were during February’s Storm Eunice – because they were all probably watching the same thing: a live YouTube feed of a man standing in a horse paddock in Hillingdon, west London, filming passenger jets getting violently flung around by the high winds and providing real-time commentary, as he became more famous than he ever dared dream.
Little by little, word began to spread online about Jerry Dyer, his Big Jet TV channel and its procession of stomach-lurching near misses, as plane after plane rocked and tilted down towards the Heathrow runway. Viewing figures surged and comments poured in faster than they could be read, as Dyer fielded call after call from excited media organisations live on air.
But if they came for the planes, viewers stayed for Dyer, whose full-tilt enthusiasm for aviation was nothing short of irresistible. Watch the Eunice video now – all eight hours of it – and you will still be felled by Dyer’s giddy commentary. “Flipping ’eck!” he yelped as an A380 threw its passengers around like ice cubes in a cocktail shaker. “Easy son!”
“It went ballistic,” recalls Dyer during a rare day off in November. At its peak that day, 200,000 people were tuning into Big Jet TV. It’s a figure that Dyer still can’t get his head around. “I mean, you’re talking about a stadium full of people,” he says. The archived video has now been watched more than 7.5m times.
The effects of the live stream were instant. Membership of Big Jet TV leapt, with new viewers joining from around the world. “Literally all over the globe,” says Jerry. “Micronesia!”
Big Jet TV’s popularity has made Dyer recognisable in aviation circles. “Virgin Atlantic, they bump me up every time. Every time I go on British Airways, they all know who I am. We’ve now got a deal with [flight-tracking app] Flightradar24, too, so when we go live and say: ‘OK, folks, break open your Flightradar24 and we’ll track this aircraft coming in,’ before you know it, it’s the No 1 tracked aircraft in the world.”
What’s lovely about talking to Dyer is how proud he is of the community that Storm Eunice helped him build. He talks lovingly about the pilots and engineers and enthusiasts who join in with the live streams, swapping information and advice. He also reminds me to mention Gilly Prestwood, his tech person, without whom he swears he would be lost.
All this attention has meant that Dyer now gets to devote his life full-time to Big Jet TV. “The great thing is that we spend all that money on our members,” he explains. “Twice a month we fly out and do a European show, and we do a US show at the end of every month. The follow-on from Storm Eunice has been immense. It’s like a tidal wave. And I’m riding that wave all the way through.”
This doesn’t necessarily mean that all is rosy in the world of Big Jet TV. Dyer is still having trouble with the residents of the paddock. “They’re a funny crew, those horses,” he sighs. “They gang up on me as soon as I turn up. They’ve chewed the whole van. Really wrecked it. It needs five grand’s worth of work because of them.”