Forbes Balloon Event in France

Forbes had a balloon shaped like Château de Balleroy itself.


In the mid-1980s, Forbes Castle in Balleroy, France, hosted a notable hot air ballooning event. Malcolm S. Forbes, the publisher of Forbes magazine and an avid ballooning enthusiast, purchased the 17th-century Château de Balleroy in 1970. The hot air balloon events at Forbes Castle were lavish affairs, blending the excitement of ballooning with the glamour of high society. Malcolm S. Forbes, known for his larger-than-life personality and love of adventure, hosted these annual gatherings that became renowned for their opulence and exclusivity. He transformed it into a center for ballooning activities and founded the annual Château de Balleroy Balloon Meet.

The event at Balleroy was not just about ballooning; it was also a social affair, attended by a mix of celebrities, business magnates, and ballooning aficionados. The festivities typically included grand parties, elegant dinners, and various cultural activities, reflecting Forbes’ penchant for luxury and high society. The events attracted a diverse array of celebrities and notable figures from various fields. Some of the high-profile attendees included:

  • Elizabeth Taylor: The legendary actress was a close friend of Malcolm Forbes and frequently attended his events.
  • Mick Jagger: The Rolling Stones frontman added rock star glamour to the gatherings.
  • Barbara Walters: The famous journalist and television personality often covered the events.
  • Valéry Giscard d’Estaing: The former President of France, reflecting the event’s international significance.
  • Members of European royalty: Including various princes and princesses who were drawn to the elegance and prestige of the château and its events.

The Château de Balleroy Balloon Meet was a multifaceted event featuring a blend of competitive and recreational activities:

  • Balloon Races and Flights: The main attraction was the hot air balloon races. Balloonists competed in various challenges, showcasing their skills in navigation and aeronautics. Additionally, there were leisurely flights, allowing guests to enjoy the breathtaking views of the Normandy countryside from above.
  • Gala Dinners and Parties: Forbes was famous for hosting extravagant dinners and parties. These events often included gourmet cuisine, fine wines, and elaborate entertainment. The château’s grand halls and gardens provided a perfect setting for these lavish gatherings.
  • Cultural and Recreational Activities: Guests could partake in a variety of activities, such as horse riding, hunting, and guided tours of the historic château and its extensive grounds. There were also art exhibitions and music performances, adding to the cultural richness of the event.
  • Charity Auctions and Fundraisers: These events often included auctions and fundraisers for various causes, reflecting Forbes’ philanthropic interests.

The ambiance of the event was one of elegance and festivity. The château, with its well-preserved 17th-century architecture and beautifully landscaped gardens, offered a picturesque and luxurious backdrop. The sight of numerous colorful hot air balloons rising against the backdrop of the château and the rolling hills of Normandy was truly spectacular.

Overall, the hot air balloon events at Forbes Castle in Balleroy during the mid-1980s were not only significant in the world of ballooning but also in the social calendars of the elite, combining sport, leisure, and high society in a unique and memorable way.

The event at Balleroy was not just about ballooning; it was also a social affair, attended by a mix of celebrities, business man

Malcolm S. Forbes was known for his creativity and flair, which extended to his collection of special shape balloons. These unique and whimsical balloons were a highlight of the events at Château de Balleroy, capturing the imagination of attendees and spectators alike. Malcolm was known for using hot air balloons to celebrate and commemorate international relationships, fostering goodwill and cultural exchange through his ballooning activities. Some of the notable special shape balloons in Forbes’ collection included:

Harley-Davidson Balloon

Forbes was a passionate motorcyclist and a fan of Harley-Davidson motorcycles. He had a balloon shaped like a giant Harley-Davidson, which became one of the most iconic and recognizable special shape balloons in his collection. This balloon celebrated his love for the open road and his affinity for the Harley-Davidson brand.

Fabergé Egg Balloon

Inspired by the intricate and luxurious Fabergé eggs, Forbes commissioned a balloon designed to resemble one of these exquisite creations.

Château de Balleroy Balloon

To honor the historic château, Forbes had a balloon shaped like Château de Balleroy itself. This balloon was a tribute to the venue that hosted his famous ballooning events and symbolized his deep connection to the château.

Other unique designs include:

Golden Japanese Pagoda

Thailand Elephant 

Ludwig von Beethoven 

Egyptian Sphinx

Columbus’ Santa Maria Ship 

Scott van der Horst flew a remarkable balloon, known as “the Head,” in 1984 at the Château de Balleroy in Burgundy, France, a private castle owned by Malcolm Forbes (of Forbes magazine). Forbes replicated a balloon to match his castle and created numerous special shapes to commemorate U.S. and international relations with countries like Germany, Japan, Egypt, Thailand, the USSR, Spain, Pakistan, and others.

The Head was one of the first digitally created balloon designs. The shape was produced with 6,000 separate pieces of fabric, each calibrated and numbered by a computer rendering before being sewn together. Inside the shape was a normal envelope with multiple round holes surrounding its equator, allowing hot air to fill the separate outer ‘face and head’ compartment. The two envelopes were connected and separated by numerous strings that were independently adjusted to ensure the shape and contour of the face were accurate. The strings could be shortened or lengthened by knotting them off through tiny grommets covering the outer envelope.

The Swedish government essentially funded the production of this envelope because Swedish artists receive financial support if their art cannot sustain itself financially. The artist’s goal was to create this androgynous head in every possible material found on Earth as a tribute to humanity.

The balloon was quite heavy due to the double fabric and string infrastructure. To deflate it, you had to ‘milk’ the air out in both directions. There was a hole at the top with a parachute valve for the inner balloon and multiple vents at the bottom throat to deflate the outer balloon. Besides lifting its own weight, it could only carry a pilot and one other person.

“Frankly, it was quite a nightmare to handle, and I was grateful for a couple of robust French farmers’ sons who were eager to help us pack it up.”

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