POP opera star Jonathan Ansell hit a high note today as he took the plunge holding a giant pink balloon to begin Worthing's Birdman.

Top tenor Jonathan, formerly of opera group G4, admitted to pre-flight nerves prior to his 30ft leap from a platform on the town's pier.

Thousands of spectators on the beach cheered as Jonathan, wearing a bright pink cape, became the madcap rally's benchmark flier, singing a few bars from Nessun Dorma before jumping.

He managed 16.04 metres, setting the distance which all other competitors had to beat to earn their Birdman wings.

Jonathan, sporting a Mr Incredible-style pink hairdo, hoped to raise at least £1,000 for Breast Cancer Care.

He said: “It's silly but it's a great spectacle. There's a real history to it being in Bognor but it's really great that Worthing has taken it on.

“It could quite easily have gone to another region in Britain but we've kept it in West Sussex.”

Jonathan revealed that he completed a 30ft jump from sea cliffs in Italy about a month ago – but only at the third attempt.

He said: “I was really nervous.”

Crowds gathered early on the beach to watch the second annual Worthing Birdman.

First to arrive, three hours before the event was due to start, were Simone Squires, 37, son Karl, 11, and Wendy Birch, 53, who had travelled from near Heathrow Airport.

Ms Squires, sitting in a ringside deckchair, said: “I will definitely come back next year.”

Renee Tilney, 66, of Barrington Road, Worthing, was another early bird together with her daughter Tracy Tilney, 42, of Wigmore Road, Worthing, and two grandchildren, Abigail, eight, and Harry, seven, from Bubworth, near York.

Ms Tilney said: “I think it is something the grandchildren will always remember, and it gives Worthing lots of publicity.”

Threatening grey clouds fizzled away as 11 serious competitors aiming for a £30,000 first prize for the flier going over the 100 metre mark, assembled their contraptions next to the pier's Southern Pavilion.

Event organiser Sharon Clarke, said conditions were near perfect with a 9 knot south westerly wind.

Among those preparing for take off was former Durrington High School pupil Ryan Williams, 20, of Oxford Road, Worthing, who spent three weeks building “Ryan's Rocketship”, which had an 8.9metre wing span.

Having put it together in the back garden, it then needed ten people to lift it over the garage.

Mr Williams, who is studying aeronautical engineering at Imperial College, London, said: “I have always been interested in aircraft and thought it would be cool to build one.

“If it does well then it's gold for my CV. If it doesn't, it's all good experience. Loads of people have turned up to watch.”

Tomorrow's rally, which features both serious and fun fliers, starts at 1pm.