By Niamh Anderson
AN OPERA SINGER was turned away from a hot air balloon ride for being “too fat to fly.”
Justine Riccomini, a singer with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra chorus, dreamed of soaring into the sky in a hot air balloon.
But when her husband organised a flight over the late Queen Mother’s Glamis Castle home for her 40th birthday, she was mortified when she was deemed too overweight for the attraction.
The opera singer tipped the scales at 17 and a half stone- around two stone too plump for the balloon to take off.
The singer was officially grounded, horrified to be branded “too fat to fly.”
The balloon ban was, she recalled today, the final straw of her weight gain.
She embarked on a strict diet and incredibly within only four months had lost nearly seven stone.
Today the 5ft 10ins singer is 11 stone and has exchanged her 20-stone dresses for a sexier size 10.
The 44-year-old said: “It was incredibly embarrassing to be told I was too heavy to fly.
“Part of arranging the flight meant I had to tell the organisers what I weighed.
“I was over 17 stone but the weight limit for flying was around 15 and a half.
“I was horrified.”
Justine, who works by day as a tax specialist with Edinburgh firm Chiene and Tait, had piled on the pounds during three stressful years caring for her mother, Mavis, as she battled breast cancer.
“Mum was in Spain and there was only my step-father and me to look after her, so I was travelling backwards and forwards,” said Justine.
“I had three years of total piggery, not caring about anything other than my grief. I couldn’t walk past Greggs without buying a packet of scones, which I’d eat one after the other.
“I was drinking loads of red wine, too.
“The balloon trip was embarrassing. So too, were the times when people on the train would ask if I wanted their seat, they must have thought I looked so unwell I couldn’t stand.
“Another time was when someone offered to carry my handbag.
“They must have thought I wasn’t capable of carrying it myself.”
She embarked on the strict LighterLife diet- which Emmerdale star Pauline Quirke has recently endorsed after losing eight stone on the plan- and swapped her pastry habit for 500-calorie-a-day meals of snack bars, breakfast, porridge and soup.
Within the first week, she’d lost a stone.
“It’s a really gruelling diet,” she said. “But it makes you change the way you look at food. It’s as much about the psychology as what you eat.”
But while being plump might be seen as part of the typical opera singer’s image, Justine realised that her voice had changed for the better since her dramatic weight loss.
“Singing is physical,” she added. “Because I can’t push air out using my big belly any more, I’ve had to re-educate my body to sing in a different way.”
Losing the weight inspired her to create a CD of her mother’s favourite opera songs, which is now selling in the hope of raising £10,000 for Marie Curie Cancer Care.
In December, she will perform at the Frogstone Road West hospice.
And now she’s lost the extra baggage, Justine, who lives with husband Allessandro at Bo’ness, has been up and away-finally-in her hot air balloon.
She said: “I went during the summer and it was amazing.
“But the best bit was being able to fill in the form and where it asked for my weight, I was able to write 11 stone.”