Sheréll Cunningham grew up on a farm near Zeerust at the foot of the Enselsberg hills in South Africa.
Her father Ian Cunningham was a professional Tennis Coach, coaching many of the top South African Davis Cup players at the time. He eventually moved to Austria to continue coaching, where Sheréll completed her education, including a spell at a Finishing School in Switzerland. She later studied French at the Sorbonne in Paris, and is multilingual, speaking five languages.
After living and working in Europe for 10 years – during which time she learnt to fly at the London School of Flying in Elstree – she eventually returned to her beloved Africa, where her flying career really started. She completed her Licenses at Rand Airport, Germiston, and worked at a Flying School which she ended up owning. With 9 years of flight training under her belt she decided to move on and set up Africa Charter Airlines, becoming Managing Director and CEO, flying freight and passengers all over Africa on DC3’s, DC4’s, B707’s and B747’s. In addition, she offered themed ‘Out of Africa’ nostalgia flights on Dakota DC3’s to exotic destinations like Victoria Falls, Kasane and the Serengeti Game Reserve. She flew corporate groups and sports teams, including the touring New Zealand All Blacks. She also had many adventures flying into war zones, transporting Food Aid and Flood Relief to remote destinations all over Africa, including Angola, The Congo, Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia.
While juggling the demands of running an airline and being a single mother of two daughters, she decided to study for a Law degree – because – as she puts it: “I was fed up being ripped off by Lawyers”! She was a finalist in both the “Businesswoman of the Year” and the “Women on the Move” Awards in South Africa, before eventually selling the company. Following this she became a Director and Board Member of the Centre for Aviation Law in Africa, responsible for Civil Aviation safety on the continent, a role for which she was perfectly suited given her extensive flying experience and her newly acquired interest in Law.
After 21 years of involvement in flying she eventually decided to return to England for the sake of the education and safety of her two young daughters. From her base in the Cotswoldís she now delivers highly entertaining and inspirational talks based on her experiences, at conferences, dinners and corporate events.
A natural story teller, Sheréll describes how she refused to conform to the expectations of what can be achieved by a woman in building a business from scratch in what is traditionally seen as a manís world. In addition, she captivates audiences with extraordinary tales of her hair-raising and sometimes harrowing adventures flying in to some of Africa’s most notorious trouble spots. Her story is an entertaining roller-coaster ride, from someone who has “walked the talk” and achieved success through determination, hard work and a passion to deliver excellent customer service to her clients.
Sheréll Cunningham is a relative of the famous Aviatrix Beryl Markham, who was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic against the prevailing winds to America, departing from Abingdon Airfield in 1936.