Stories from The Shard came to the forefront of the national and international press at the start of April. Brad and Otter simultaneously posted reports on their blogs and within 48 hours, every major newspaper and broadcaster with any interest in London or the forthcoming Olympics was seeking information and interviews from anybody who explored in London, to run front page stories.
The whole charade bemused me greatly. Shard was first cracked in December 2010 and for it to finally make the press in April 2012, a whole 15 months after it occurred demonstrated two things. Firstly, how easy it was to keep quiet on something and minimising any great impact, and secondly, how much more interested the media is in security as the Olympic Games in London approach.
Shard itself WAS special. Seemingly endless, its concrete core had climbed and climbed over 2010, work occurring 24 hours a day. The fact it had recently become the tallest building in Europe added to it’s status, as well as the fact that it appeared to be quite well secured. There was a point when I believed that maybe it wouldn’t be infiltrated at all, until Dan and Patch took a trip in November 2010 that saw them reach the 37th Floor, before being thwarted by workers.
The media’s presentation of The Shard was largely sensationalist. “Infamous Daredevil’, ‘Daredevil Pranksters‘ and ‘Urban Thrillseekers‘ were amongst the many terms used, and the majority of the press appeared to believe that it was a sole escapade which demonstrated an unspeakable breach of some top London security. In reality there were at least 15 trips that I know of, as well as undoubtedly many more that I don’t. Access was really quite simple.
Climbing the stairs of The Shard was agonising. We ran the first twenty or so floors, and by this time I was dripping in sweat. My legs ached, the lactic acid was building in them, and I was panting more and more as I climbed yet another flights of stairs.
We’d identified the access ages ago. Oddly, it was one of the easiest sites to get onto. I guess the presence of the workers was the main deterrent but Christmas took care of that for us. Despite this, as I followed Dan over the fence, two security personnel walked around the corner. How they didn’t see me as I hastily climbed back, I’ll never know.
The main reason for picture and reports of The Shard being ‘sat on’ was that at the time we visited, the building itself had 65 metres left to grow and ideally, we’d have been able to get up again upon the building itself topping out. Unfortunately by the time this had occurred, security was a lot hotter and some friends were stopped and searched by police around Christmas 2011, simply for looking through a window onto the site. The access point was removed and without a massive ladder, it wouldn’t perhaps have been feasible at all.
It was a pretty special feeling to be on top of the largest building in Europe at the time. We’d walked a couple of miles of cut and cover track earlier in the evening, I was knackered and thirsty, but an experience like this is one to be savoured.
Immediately after the first articles were published, those involved came under intense criticism. While it may smack of glory seeking to respond to media requests, the reality is that if a newspaper wishes to publish a story, they will do so. Taking the opportunity to capitalise on this by selling the photos rather than having to retrospectively invoice for stolen images is a sensible one, as well as giving the paper the explorers’ side of the story. The newspapers can be a ruthless bunch, and I’ve never really trusted the press to represent us in the manner which we would wish. Requests made to me were declined or ignored.
Talk of positive and negative outcomes arose. The LCC managed to get two photography exhibitions as a result of this exposure, however associates and friends have come under pressure in the workplace as a result of these activities becoming more widely known, and scrutinised in print. Court cases have been won and adjourned, possibly as a result of the true motives of urban exploring being publicised, rather than the less benign intentions that can be associated with this activity, such as vandalism, theft and grafitti.
Not talking to the press at all has it’s value, as Cave Clan will no doubt testify. Picture editors may think twice about stealing images, but the damage they can cause through misinformed articles can be significant. In December, a court case was heard a day after a hugely critical article was published in The Standard, which could have been avoided if the press hadn’t been spoken to at all. The article was referred to by the judge and the tone of it was certainly echoed in his sentencing statement.
The most important thing to me is to protect the practice itself, whether that is by ensuring more accurate representation in the press by speaking frankly about it, or by keeping quiet on things like this until the time when they are no longer notable. In reality, the activities of the group are not damaging to anybody, nor is there ever a victim (aside from the incompetencies of a security guard/firm being exposed). We enjoy this wonderful city that we live in, and seek to enjoy it in every way we can find. I have had so many wonderful experiences partaking in urban exploring and for the prolificacy of it to be jeopardised by kneejerk reactions to the media and the stories that they tell would be hugely frustrating, especially as it’s something that could be avoided if the desire to share wasn’t so great.