Somewhere between harvesting a low-key reliance on Love Island and needing a holiday myself, a blessing landed. I was invited to a sun-kissed villa on a Balearic island to party with young revellers and all the beanbags and ready-made mojitos a boy could ask for. But this wasn’t the ITV show. It was Stormzy’s 25th birthday party.
In 2016 the beloved grime artist famously hired out the whole of Thorpe Park for the day, for friends and fans. Fast forward two years, and he’s taken the birthday celebrations to another plane. Literally. Partnering with Spotify, Stormzy’s friends, his girlfriend, broadcaster and presenter Maya Jama and a bunch of lucky fans were invited to join him on the #StormzyBirthdayBash private flight to an undisclosed location, promising on an Instagram post that “THIS WILL BE A MOVIE”. The day is basically that, as camera operators flit between guests while somehow also managing to avoid ruining those guests’ Insta stories. Sure, this is a branded thing – Stormz's 23rd birthday in Thorpe Park was backed by Nando’s money, too. But it’s hard to deny how a sense of genuine fun soon permeates (not just from the copious amounts of free booze). And that’s thanks to our host, who chucks aside any overly worthy notion of ‘giving back’ to have a laugh instead.
After I arrive unfathomably early at Stansted Airport, reps in #MerkyAirways T-shirts guide us to the check-in desk where we queue with the likes of Lethal Bizzle and Big Shaq. The reps hand us #merkyairways boarding cards and a goody-bag containing branded towels, sunscreen, sunglasses and bluetooth headphones. The info-board gives the secret of our destination away: Oh, we’re going to Menorca! “Wait, is Menorca just a different spelling of Majorca, or are they different places entirely?,” I overhear someone ask in the queue. To be fair, at seven in the morning I’m finding it hard to to tell the difference. At this point though, it doesn't matter. Spotting our #merky suncream, a lady at security loses her cool and enviously asks us where we got it from, before spotting Krept and Konan and losing any interest in our 125ml travel-ready liquids. She would probably have been even more delighted if she’d seen Stormzy stroll up to the gate to the sound of cheers, clutching a gourmet sausage roll.
Onboard, the Merky Airways branding continues on each seat’s headrest, and we watch a silly safety instruction video featuring Stormzy and co on iPads. Before long, the pilot is welcoming us aboard. Frankly, I think he misses out on a prime chance to say “it’s 32 degrees in Menorca but with Stormz on the horizon expect some turbulence,” but you can't have it all.
Menorca’s airport is small enough that though I don’t think we’re being escorted through a VIP fast-track, we may as well be. Shuttle buses take us along the hot, arid roads to our party villa, a mansion from which you can already hear the thumping bass and sweet falsetto of Avelino’s “So Fine.” After Stormzy makes a quick costume change from his characteristic Adidas tracksuit to a Burberry two-piece, the party begins in earnest. I’d estimate that it takes about 49 seconds for guests, some of them gathered around the pristine pool, to realise the cocktail bar is entirely free.
The vibe is glamorous. The house overlooking this luxury villa, which we’re not actually allowed into, looks like the kind of place that seems to only exist in music videos. I take in the wide drive, suitable for showcasing high-end cars, as other guests implore their plus ones to take the perfect shot of them by the pool for the ‘gram. Weirdly no-one actually goes in the water for a while, until one young woman takes a first plunge. One of the several #merky reps who helps keep hold of our passports and dignity as the afternoon gets messier tosses a bunch of inflatable pink flamingos pool floats and beach balls into the mix. Before long one guy is doing lengths.
I spot Dave, 26, poolside and between singing along to Drake’s "God's Plan”, he’s happy to tell me how he sorted his invite. “Me and my boy were at Kisstory at Streatham Common on Saturday and we were a little bit drunk and saw Stormzy’s Instagram post and were like ‘fuck it, shall we just apply? Why not?’ We were fully gassed. Fully gassed. Well, firstly, we didn’t think it was real, like anyone else—wait for it: ‘I TELL HER ONLY PARTLY / I ONLY LOVE MY BED AND MY MOMMA IM SORRY’ – but yeah, so we got the email, they said, ‘yeah you're in’, and that was it really. It’s been surreal. All the guys are so calm, everyone’s just on a good vibe; there’s no hate at all.”
He’s not wrong. A friendly vibe hangs in the air, thanks mostly to the birthday boy’s enthusiasm and unrelenting grin. At one point as I was ordering six mojitos to avoid the awkward situation of letting people bigger than me push in line, the realisation that we’d all have to return home in a few hours started to settle in. Stormzy jumped in, though: “don’t worry about your phones, don’t worry about back home, let’s just use the next few hours to get fucked up”. And that’s exactly what we all do.
“It’s my birthday tomorrow, but this is big Stormzy’s party,” shouts one 28-year-old party-goer, who only gives his name as Big Mole. “I’m here because I listen to his tunes that much. It's a GAS TING! Look at my face. Fuck birds, fuck everything – I’m having a ting. Jheez!”
At one point comedian Shiggy, who initiated the viral #InMyFeelingsChallenge, showcases the dance making Stormzy’s laugh and sway into his friends, looking like either his white, heart-shaped glasses or all 6ft 5 of him is about to fall into the pool. And before we start making our way back to the airport the likes of Not3s, Ray BLK, Avelino and Big Shaq join the stage for a massive rendition of “Mans Not Hot.”
Then, it’s all over. As we start climbing the stairs and board the charter, Stormzy stands at the top, overlooking the sunset that has begun to bathe the plane in a salmon-pink hue. “That is lovely”, he says sentimentally to everyone, as if to no-one. “Wait, how do you spell lovely?,” he adds a second later, making a finishing touch to his magnum opus of Instagram stories. “Don’t laugh, I’m good at English. I’m good at English!”
Not only that, but he’s also adept at blurring the line between friend and fan. I wake halfway through the flight home sometime after 10PM to see him, bottle of Patron in hand, spurring everyone on to tell their jokes – the cheesier the better. “No smut though,” he adds. “This is a place to love and support one another”. By this point it’s difficult to tell who got a personal invite or who was rewarded a place for their streaming loyalty.
A cynic may see today as an elaborate example of bonkers-budget experimental and experiential marketing from one of the biggest streaming services in the world. But really, it was an excuse for us all to get extremely lit. Thank you Stormzy for one of the most surreal days of my life.
You can find John reliving the sunny glory on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.