In 2009, the magazine Intelligent Life ran an article lamenting the decline of the polymath, claiming that, in an age of specialisation, they had become an endangered species. To cheer everyone up, it ran a list of 20 inspiring living examples.
Coming in at number five was Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson, whose “five strings” as “a singer, TV presenter, pilot, record producer and fencer” (they forgot he is a novelist too) put him ahead of even the multi-talented Noam Chomsky, who could sadly claim only four.
Five years on, it’s anyone’s guess where Dickinson, 55, would come in the rankings. That’s because the rock frontman added yet another string to his bow: fledgling aviation tycoon.
In 2012, he set up Cardiff Aviation Ltd in South Wales. The aim, says The Wall Street Journal, is to provide a one-stop-shop for airline leasing, plane maintenance and pilot training that significantly undercuts the services of rival outsourcers. There are also plans to launch a new business jet service (see box).
In the midst of all this, Dickinson has just completed a three-year world tour with his legendary metal band. He’s also launched a beer brand – called Trooper – after one of the band’s 1980s anthems.
A long-time real-ale aficionado, Dickinson said he thought he’d “died and gone to heaven” when Robinsons Brewery in Stockport approached him about creating an Iron Maiden beer, say Wales Online.
It’s not as if he needs the cash, says The Sunday Telegraph. In a career spanning more than three decades, Iron Maiden has sold around 90 million albums worldwide and Dickinson’s personal fortune is put in excess of $100m.
Born to teenage parents in Worksop, Nottinghamshire, he was initially brought up by his grandparents. But his father’s subsequent business success financed an education at Oundle School – until Dickinson was expelled.
According to the band’s biography, Run To The Hills: Iron Maiden, he was eventually kicked out for “participating in a prank in which he urinated in the headmaster’s dinner”. But it was at Oundle that he acquired a taste for hard rock that he developed while reading history at Queen Mary College, London.
After fronting several small bands, he was asked to join Iron Maiden in 1981. His debut album was The Number of the Beast, the first of several smash albums that led to him becoming a legendary metal vocalist.
It was Iron Maiden’s drummer who first introduced Dickinson to flying. He got his pilot’s licence in 1991 after a trial lesson in Florida. “I had what can only be described as a semi-mystical experience,” he told The Sunday Telegraph.
“The reason I do the things I do now is because I love them. If your only arbiter of anything is money, really you should just go and rob banks.”
“Live to flyyyyyy! Flyyyy to liiiiive!”
“Run! Live to flyyyyyy! Flyyyy to liiiiive!” runs a classic aviation-themed lyric from Iron Maiden’s Aces High, says Passnotes in The Guardian. And Dickinson has been as good as his word.
Having learned to fly passenger planes in the 1990s, he worked part-time as a pilot: first for British World Airlines, which went bust in 2001 after September 11th; and then for the Icelandic-owned charter airline Astraeus.
Dickinson also sometimes flew his band round the world for gigs, says Rory Jones in The Wall Street Journal. “In 2008, Iron Maiden decorated an Astraeus Boeing 757 in their own branded livery and flew it on a world tour.”
In 2011, Astraeus also collapsed, with Dickinson performing the very last landing. The airline “went bust when I was mid-air between Jeddah and Manchester, flying 220 Hajj pilgrims home”, he told James Quinn in The Sunday Telegraph.
He teamed up with former Astraeus CEO, Tony Fulgoni, to explore other ventures. They lighted on a Welsh aircraft maintenance business on the verge of going under, based in a former MoD base near Cardiff.
The business sells maintenance services to aircraft-leasing companies and airlines. But Dickinson has bigger plans than that. Ideally, he’d like to establish an airline operating out of Cardiff International Airport, a few miles away.
In the meantime, Dickinson has further fish to fry, notes the hard-rock site, Blabbermouth.net. Last year, he became chairman of Aeris Aviation, the European distributor of Eclipse Aerospace, the US manufacturer of Eclipse 550 business jets.
Dickinson hopes to make Cardiff airport the home of a fleet of planes, using a fractional ownership scheme that could slash the hourly cost of access to these super-fast jets to around £500, says Alud Davies in Corporate Jet Investor.
It’s fairly clear from flying with him that Dickinson “has a bit of love affair with the Eclipse”. Ask nicely, and he may give you a test flight.