I like to spend a bit of time raising money for charity every now and again. I tend to try to raise money for causes which I feel attached too. Last year I raised a bit of money and walked 100km in a day for Guide Dogs. The year before that I abseiled ‘the Orbit ‘ (the giant red curly structure) for an awesome Childrens Hospice, Richard house.
You see whilst you might consider hanging off large structures for charity something you’d never consider I look at it differently. I’m raising money for a great cause whilst challenging myself to do something I’m scared of…so for me everybody wins. I get to have a great new, although slightly scary and challenging, experience and Richard House gets some additional cash to continue their fantastic work.
So when the opportunity came up to do another Abseil I decided to take the plunge (not literally) and sign up. However this one was a step up. You see the Orbit, whilst being Britains largest piece of public art and still pretty tall, is ‘only’ 376 feet tall.
This time I was abseiling Broadgate Tower, the 13th largest building in London. As I write this I completely appreciate that this doesn’t sound particularly impressive. After all nobody says…”I know Usain Bolt won…but who came 13th!” but I’m sure you completely appreciate that whilst Thirteenth in most respects is a bit pathetic when in comes to buildings in London it’s still pretty tall.
However standing at 541 foot and nearly as tall as the BT Tower(Londons tallest building at one time) and the Gherkin it’s certainly not what you’d consider, erm, insubstantial in height.
It’s also an interesting building as it’s not as prominent on Londons skyline as the Gherkin or the Shard and it’s hidden in a cluster of buildings in Liverpool Street. This means that even as you’re leaving Liverpool Street station and walking towards it you don’t appreciate how tall it actually is.
It’s only when you turn the corner of Primrose Street and walk into the courtyard of the tower (and look up!) you appreciate it’s scale.
As walked into the courtyard of the building, where the registration tent for the charity was dwarfed by the giant structure in front of it, I still felt relatively calm. However then I looked up and realised that I’d be one of the tiny shadowy figures currently hanging off the roof. However the good news was that I couldn’t hear any screaming.
“Hi” I said to the lady running the registration desk “I’m Chris Daems…booked in for 11:30”
“Hi Chris” she said as she ticked my name of a list of a hundred people engaging in the abseil today “How you feeling?”
“I’m doing alright” I said. This was only a half untruth as the butterflys in my stomach hadn’t really properly kicked in yet…although I was aware they were coming. “How’s it going here today”
“Good” She said “Everybody’s gone up so far”
“Right” I replied “I’m more interested in how many have come down!”
She laughed. “Everybodys come down…” and then as she thought about her words she decided to add “…the building. Safely.”
“Thanks” I said smiling when I was approached by another guy representing Richard House. “Ready?” He asked.
“Now” I said despairingly and looked at Cassie for support…
“You might as well get it over and done with” she said if not virtually then verbally pushing me towards the back of the building where all of the abseilers were getting kitted up for the day.
Suddenly I found myself in a harness and in a lift heading towards the top of this 33 floor tower. I was sharing the elevator with a couple of fellow abseilers. A young French lady who was way too enthusiastic considering she’d be hanging 500 foot up off a building in a few minutes and her friend who looked how I’d started to feel.
I smiled at her and she provided me a reply in the form of a feint smile and then immediately back to a look of a woman whose French friend told how awesome it would be and she’d just realised the implications of saying ‘oh go on then…it might be a laugh’. I was expecting her to immediately mouth ‘help me’. She didn’t but even now I suspected she might have wanted to….I know I did!
Also in the life were our instructors. We had an instructor each who was going to abseil with us on the day. My professional climber was Tej and on the way up we started to chat.
“How many times have you been down today?” I asked
“Today…10!” Tej “I’ve still got a few to go too…”
The lift arrived at the top and as we stepped out into the open air. It was a warm September day and whilst there was a breeze the first thing I noticed was the amazing views. Tej was playing tour guide and was pointing out many of the most iconic parts of London.
From such a central point you could see as far West as Wembley and as far East as the Olympic park and beyond in both directors. You could see the O2, the Tate Modern, The London Eye, Many of the bridges snaking across the river and much much more.
Tej was keeping me suitably distracted but slowly I started to become more and more nervous as we watched our fellow abseilers make their way down. I decided at this point it might be a wise move to distract myself and decided to understand a bit more about the guy who was going to be the man I was entrusting my life too even if it was only until we reached the bottom.
I started asked Tej questions and found that I was in pretty safe hands. He’d been a Fireman since he was 18 and was now ‘retired’ and was now a rock climbing trainer. He’d climbed in Yosemite national park and in the Himalayas. He’d abseiled a bunch of buildings in London too.
“Have you ever Abseiled the Gherkin” I asked Tej.
“I’ve been up there” Tej replied “but cleaning the windows….you’re not allowed to do charity Abseils from the Gherkin at the moment”
“I didn’t realise that” said a fellow instructor whose name I didn’t catch “Why’s that then?”
“I’ll tell you later” Tej replied “I don’t want to mention it as these guys are about to abseil.”
I liked Tej. He was a lovely man who was doing his best to keep me reassured. However the nerves returned as I conjured stories in my head which I’m sure are far worse than what actually happened on the Gherkin. Tej was probably right not to go into detail…but it made me start to invent stories about Gherkin related impalement and Sun Puns about Gherkin Related incidents (”Gher-Killed” or even “Now Nobodies Smirking at the Gherkin”).
Now whilst making up Gherkin related puns in my head had distracted me for a while and suddenly I was being asked to step up on the platform ready to head down.
“This is Graham” Tej said “He’s going to help you with your ropes” and before I know it Graham had connected me to the top of the building sturdily but also to Tej.
Now it was time to head down…and I was encouraged by Tej to slowly edge closer to the side of the building…and then came the hard bit.
“Just take some of the weight of the rope….and lean back”
If there was an award for the ‘most counterintuitive action to take ever’ I think this would win.
“Now bend your knees and step down onto the ledge…”
I tried to do as Tej asked but found my leg waving around trying to find a ledge which just wasn’t there. I panicked…and lifted my flailing leg back up.
“Don’t worry” Tej said in a voice (unreasonably calmly) “Let’s try again”
Again I lifted my Leg off of the platform to put it on the ledge only to find said appendage again waving about in thin air. Again I panicked and stepped back onto the edge of the building. Tej, who was already on the ledge my legs couldn’t seem to find at this point, called Graham for some help and with some help from both of them I managed to find the previously invisible ledge first with one leg and then with the other…
Then there was another small step down but before the main descent Tej gave me some advice.
“You’ve done the hard part….now take a deep breath, look around and enjoy the view…”
I took his advice, took a deep breath, looked around at the amazing landscape of the city I love and started to smile.
“Right then” he said “Are you ready to go?”
I was and I slowly started to release the rope and make my way down the building. Now I’d like to pretend it was smooth sailing from there. You see I’d like to pretend my descent was graceful. I’d like to pretend it was like a Tom Cruise stunt in any of the mission impossible films. I’d like to pretend I was perfectly mirroring Tej as he sailed down the tower like the professional he is.
However I can’t. Instead of a graceful descent it was clumsy and awkward. Instead of being like a stunt from a Tom Cruise movie it was more like a combination of stunts from all of the Normal Wisdom films with a bit of Mr Bean thrown in for good measure. Instead of perfectly mirroring Tej at times I was doing the exact opposite.
You see as Tej sailed down straight I found myself spinning around. As Tej had his hands in the right place in a controlled manner all the way down, I found one hand had got stuck half way down and I had to remove it and move it’s position a couple of times.
As Tej moved at a smooth leisurely pace I was at times too fast, at times too slow and at times at a complete standstill.
So, An expert abseiler I wasn’t. However as we approached the bottom I realised I’d really enjoyed my messy, shambolic but super fun descent!
I got to the bottom and as my ropes were being removed Cassie, Charlotte and Sophie came up.
“Did you see me up there” I said with a big grin on my face.
“Yep” Said Charlotte “You were spinning quite a bit…”
“He did great” Tej lied. I thanked him, shook his hand and went to give my family a hug.
The reality is that whilst the experience was at times terrifying, at times embarrassing and at times fantastically exhilarating throwing myself off the Broadgate tower was worth it. The fact that we raised a decent amount of money for a fantastic cause and helped Richard House continue the great work they do.
If you haven’t sponsored yet but, after reading about my sambolic (but super fun) abseil please visit here:-
Alternatively If you’d like to find out a bit more about Richard House, the work they do (and how to support them) you can do this here:-