It’s a trip that, depending on which direction you take it, is quite short and relatively scenic. A 45 minute, 32 mile journey from central Glasgow will suffice, heading south-west along the M77 towards Kilmarnock, with a final burst towards Ayr where the motorway narrows into the A77. Just before you arrive you should be able to see a swell of silver gray water where the Firth of Clyde begins to merge with the Irish Sea.
It’s also a relatively niche trip – in that, in non-pandemic years, only around 670,000 passengers make it. But then Prestwick is only the second busiest airport in Scotland’s second city – and only the fifth busiest in Scotland as a whole. Although it has been in service since 1938, it currently hosts only one airline Ryanair, which uses it as a hub for flights to Portugal and mainland Spain, as well as the Canary and Balearic Islands.
Still, Prestwick is okay with the ‘niche’ – because it has a reputation that no other airport in Scotland or the UK can match. It is, of course, the only verified place in Britain ever visited by Elvis Presley – whose plane landed on its tarmac, to refuel, on March 3, 1960, as he was returning home after two years of military service in West Germany.
The king’s return
Presley is back in the spotlight this week, assuming you think he ever left it – via the cinematic release of Elvis (Friday, June 24). While the story is largely familiar, its narration is spectacular, with rising American actor Austin Butler in the title role, Tom Hanks as Colonel Tom Parker, the singer’s ruthlessly ambitious manager, and Baz Luhrmann – the director. personalities like Ballroom strictly, Romeo + Juliet and red Mill – behind the camera, bringing a trademark shine to a story that has never really lacked in glamour.
Indeed, Presley was the biggest star on the planet during his time in Ayrshire. He had been two years earlier too, when he had complied with his duty to be drafted into the armed forces. America won’t abolish the ‘draft’ until 1973 – which means that in March 1958 the world saw a musical pioneer don the uniform and have his head shaved during his induction into the army American. His career was already in full swing by this point – in the previous two years he had released his self-titled debut album (which included Blue suede shoesMarch 13, 1956), made its first seismic appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show (September 9, 1956), and had hit the big screen in both love me tenderly (November 1956) and Jailhouse Rock (November 1957). Every strand of his black hair buzzed like a cut branch from the budding rock ‘n’ roll tree.
It didn’t work that way. Parker had perceived that two years on the front line of the Cold War would realign the image of his office – sweeping away fears in older America that Elvis’ singing and dancing would have a corrosive effect on his teenage fans. In its place would come broader approval for a young man who did what his country asked of him – while still top of the charts. The decision that Presley would properly enter the military — rather than take the easy option of “special duty” and 24 months of troop shows — was also a smart one. He returned as a hero as well as an icon, though he also carried the barbiturate addiction that would damage him so much later in life.