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Photo Interview: Hannah Betts

Photo Interview: Hannah Betts | by Zach Lewis | blueskiesmag.com
Written by Zach Lewis

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Originally printed in issue #58 (October 2014) of Blue Skies Magazine.
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It is about damn time! This interview has been a long time in the making, and I am happy to finally be able to share it with all of you out there in Blue Skies Magazine Land. You see, the concept of the skydiving photo interview series was conceived late one night over a few beers at the Bent Prop Bar during USPA Nationals in 2012. I was fortunate enough to find myself at a table with two beautiful world-class skydivers when I took it upon myself to ask them if they thought a skydiving audience, talented people in the sport and magazines might be interested in a slightly unusual concept. The idea was to have an interview and photo shoot with a skydiving badass that focuses more on who they are as a person, and less on how impressive their skydiving resume might be. The idea was endorsed by the girls, and one of the lovely ladies was the subject in the first interview in the series (Annaliese Peterson). Finally, after a few years and several near misses, I got the chance to shoot the second awesome lady getting pickled at the table with us that night.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to introduce you to Hannah Betts.

Photo Interview: Hannah Betts | by Zach Lewis | blueskiesmag.com

Zach: First things first: When it comes to a refreshing adult beverage, what do you prefer?
Hannah: It depends on what mood I am in, but I would have to say a margarita on the rocks.

Anyone who follows your social media will likely have seen photos and videos of you flipping around and beating the shit out of people. How did you decide to get into being a stunt woman?
It has always been in the back of my mind since I was a teenager, but I never committed fully to it. Through skydiving I had the opportunity to be involved in stunt work, and from there I got asked by the stunt coordinator, “What else can you do?” I mentioned that I had a background in gymnastics and kickboxing, and he basically told me he’d keep using me as that stunt double until I fucked up. After that, I started training seriously.

When you were competing, did you also have a day job, or was skydiving paying your bills?
It was a combination of the two. When I started competing I had a day job. I’m not sure I want the whole world to know this but I was a police officer, which is pretty hilarious because I was living on the DZ so I wouldn’t have to pay any rent or mortgage so I could spend all of my money on 4-way training. I lived in a trailer with no bathroom for two and a half years. My inspector from the police station wasn’t very happy about it. In his exact words, he “didn’t like having an officer who was living like a Pikey.”

Later, I got the amazing opportunity to train full-time on a team with the goal of being the British champions and then going on to represent the U.K. We were lucky enough to have an independent sponsor for a year. The second year we were training for the world championships, and the sponsorship got pulled from us and we went back to eating ramen noodles and sleeping in the hangar. We were then sponsored by our credit cards.

Photo Interview: Hannah Betts | by Zach Lewis | blueskiesmag.com

I saw you at Nationals last year, but I didn’t see any grippers on your jumpsuit; what was all of that about?
I know! I went to the dark side! My good friend Nicole Elliot somehow convinced me to do a freefly team with her before I could actually fly head-down. At first I laughed about it, but somehow she got into my head and before I knew it I was training with her in the wind tunnel. It was an amazing experience, and we won the intermediate artistic freefly event. Travis, my husband, was our coach and we managed to get through it without a divorce! Instead of coaching all the time, I got to focus on myself and being a good teammate, and selfishly, I got to work on my own skills again! It was awesome.

Speaking of Travis, you guys were married only recently; how is the whole marriage thing going?
It is awesome! I have to say that I was one of those people beforehand who didn’t get why people would get married. I would roll my eyes when people would say that it was so much better to be married. Now I am one of those people. It is great. It is better!

What is the best and worst thing about being on a team with all girls?
The best thing is when you get the right group of people, it is effortless, hilarious and easy to communicate. The worst thing? The other girls stealing your tampons.

If things worked out perfectly the way you wanted them to, what would Hannah’s world look like 12 months from now?
I would call myself a professional stunt performer/professional skydiver. I’d have the best of both worlds and some time to skydive for myself more again.

Photo Interview: Hannah Betts | by Zach Lewis | blueskiesmag.com

What do you suck at?
I suck at so many things! I suck at singing. I’m terrible at being quiet and I suck at holding my tongue and not speaking when I should probably just remain quiet.

How long have you been in the States?
I’ve been here six years in October.

When you get home to England, is there anything that you have to have or something you have an immediate urge to do as soon as you can?
Yes! Food! Before I go home I try to starve myself for a week beforehand so I can get everything I miss in my belly. Mostly things called Cornish pasties, which is like a savory pastry/meat-pie type thing. Also, every piece of English chocolate I can get my hands on. I also love that when I go home I can order a glass of water [wootaa] and everyone understands me on the first go! That is my biggest trial in the States.

Can you tell us a little bit about something that that you prefer about the U.S. over Britain, and vice versa?
The Brits are going to kill me for this. We like to be cynical and tease Americans about the fake happy-go-lucky attitude, but after being here for a while I would really much rather have someone tell me to have a nice day after packing my grocery bags than grunt at me. I genuinely think that Americans have a more optimistic and “anything is possible” view of life. In Britain we sometimes like to contain our dreams or think that it is silly to have big goals.

In regards to what I prefer about the U.K., the thing that stands out the most to me is that diversity is accepted much more in the U.K. than it is the U.S. We (at the risk of issuing a sweeping generalization) have a very different attitude about different cultures and races in the U.S. than we do in the U.K.

Photo Interview: Hannah Betts | by Zach Lewis | blueskiesmag.com

What’s the best way to piss you off?
Condescend me. Patronize me. Ask me if I learned to skydive because of a boyfriend. For the record, I turned up to the drop zone by myself without a boyfriend.

Do you have any hidden or little known talents?
I am a pretty good salsa dancer.

Were you a good kid?
I was a good liar so people thought I was good kid!

When not doing something related to work or air sports, can you share some of the ways that you enjoy passing the time?
Hanging out with the hubby, and having as many non-skydiving adventures as we can. We enjoy doing mellow things like hiking and reading.

If you have a sweet tooth, what is your favorite dessert?
Cheesecake. Hands down, nothing comes close.

Photo Interview: Hannah Betts | by Zach Lewis | blueskiesmag.com

I would love to know if there any American words or terms that you use now that your friends and family back home would be shocked to hear you say?
Honestly, I’ve had to remove more words than add words. I didn’t realize how many ridiculous words or sayings we have in the U.K. I used to get a lot of blank stares and odd looks. But I did catch myself saying tomato [with the American hard A] instead of tomato [with the British soft A]. I think if my friends and family in the U.K. were to hear me say it in that way, they would beat the shit out of me.

When it comes to things with four wheels, what is your dream car?
Oh fuck! I don’t care! I’m a professional skydiver, so anything that moves and gets me from A to B without breaking down is a winner in my book.

I have to admit that I was surprised to hear you say that you were a police officer. Do you have any good stories from those days you could share with us?
I found the dead body of an elderly lady, and I started to fill out the sudden-death report before checking her pulse. While we were filling out the report she started speaking to us and I nearly fell out of my chair.

Photo Interview: Hannah Betts | by Zach Lewis | blueskiesmag.com

If you could have the absolute perfect meal, what would it be?
I am all about Mediterranean food. Anything within that category will be a winner for me.

You seem very comfortable in your own skin, and embrace the fact that you are in you mid thirties now. Is there any advice, or tips for the rest of us on how to stay confident and happy even after we’ve left our twenties behind?
I think it is easy. I really dig being in my thirties. I think it is a special time when you don’t have the insecurities of being in your twenties that you should not have anyway since that was the best are going to look! I care about being healthy. I would rather people remember me for who I am and what I’ve done, rather than what I look like. I think getting to know who you really are and who your real friends are is the most important thing. I think once you figure that out, everything else doesn’t really matter. The ones who’ve got your back don’t care if you’ve put on some pounds and got more wrinkly!

Photo Interview: Hannah Betts | by Zach Lewis | blueskiesmag.com

If your friends had to describe Hannah in just one word, what do you think they would say?
Just one word? Oh God. I think they would say “fun.” I hope they would say fun, but you should ask them!

So I did ask her friends. Some were not satisfied with the one-word restriction!

Annaliesse Peterson: My initial answer was that there is no way that one word can describe the insane, incredible, beautiful, talented, epic, genuine, down to earth, beautiful inside and out, daring, loving bold, woman that Ms. Hannah Betts is. And then I was thinking, if I HAD to choose just one word, I would pick “inspiring.” It doesn’t capture fully the true spirit of her. But I think she is inspiring. So there you go.

Ari Perelman: I’d say “driven” or “ummmmm.”

Karen Lewis Dalton: “Insightful.” I considered “inspiring” but while that covers the obvious of her talent and ambition, I didn’t think it scratched the surface to the depth of her personality. She is so much more than a talented skydiver. She is smart, inquisitive, wise … She gets it, in the most grand scheme of “it” being everything, if that makes sense. So, the best I could come up with to explain that she is so much more than just an amazing athlete and skydiver, I went for a word that explains more of her ability to think and her view of the world.

Amanda Lampton: “Intrepid.”

Photo Interview: Hannah Betts | by Zach Lewis | blueskiesmag.com

Are there any causes that you are passionate about?
I feel very strongly about violence against women in our backyard[s] and around the world. My last two years as a police officer I specialized in working with victims of domestic violence and that has really stuck with me. People need not be scared of the word “feminism.” It just means equality. I think there is still such a long way to go in regards to women being accepted as equals. I still feel very passionate about that and hope in my old age to do a lot of charity work for the cause.

What kind of music do you enjoy?
I am a big soul and funk fan. Anything like that normally gets me dancing. I am a massive Prince fan!

For many American guys, a British accent makes a girl sound more intelligent and seem more attractive. What do British girls think about men with American accents? Wait … don’t answer that. The answer can’t possibly be as good as I hope it will be.
I’ll answer it! The funny thing is, I actually find the Southern drawl accent really cool!
[At this point I slammed my head on my desk. We did the photo shoot, and then followed up with the interview a few weeks later over the phone. I am from Texas, and while I don’t have a Southern accent, I would have turned the accent up to 10, if I had only known!]

Lightning Round!
Sports car or sedan? Sedan.
Blackjack or slot machines? Slot machine.
Fresh greens or deep fried? Fresh greens.
Roger Moore or Timothy Dalton? Oh! Roger Moore!
Snow or sand? Sand.
Boxing or judo? Boxing.
Whiskey or beer? Beer!
Dan BC or Kate Cooper? That’s not fair, I can’t answer that question!
Cabin or cabana? Cabana.
Speed or precision? Speed.
Romantic comedy or horror? Comedy!

Photo Interview: Hannah Betts | by Zach Lewis | blueskiesmag.com

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