Meeting Spider-Man

I’m not talking about the web-shooting, masked hero who prefers his kisses upside down. I’m talking about the real deal – the man who regularly appears in the top daredevil lists alongside Evel Knievel and Harry Houdini. The climber who has conquered some of the highest skyscrapers from the Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai to the Petronas Towers of Kuala Lumpur. He scales glass buildings without any safety ropes, and is now leerily eyeing up the Shard in London. He’s also been arrested more times than he can remember.

If you haven’t guessed already, I met the Frenchman Alain Robert who’s been nicknamed Spider-Man. If you want to see him in action, watch this video where C4’s Cutting Edge series follows the daredevil who is championing the new sport of free urban solo climbing.

I was fortunate to have lunch and a boat ride with him in Bangkok, and he was both inspiring and terrifying at the same time. Clad in a red leather suit, with the trademark long rockstar hair and a decided taste for champagne only, he had more than a whiff of Iggy Pop about him. What struck me was the size of him – I’d imagined a miniature body builder with fingers of steel but in reality he seemed rather lean. His wrists carry the scars and gnarly bumps of an earlier fall that should have ended his career. But perhaps most surprising of all: he suffers from vertigo.

Now, how can a man who climbs hundreds of metres high up sheer glass buildings without safety ropes be afraid of heights?! I hear you scream.

Well, of course, this could just be a publicity stunt. But after hearing him recount some childhood stories, I let go of my cynicism and realised this is a man who has not just overcome his fears, but completely obliterated them. He answers this philosophically:

” Climbing is my passion, my philosophy of life.
Although I suffer from vertigo, although my accidents left me disabled up to 66%,
I have become the best solo climber.”

(I also forgot to mention, he is painfully modest.)

I think my lasting impression of Alain Robert is simply that he is absolutely, irrevocably, and rather entertainingly, mad. If you want to see more of his gravity-defying feats, check out his website.

Alain Robert

Picture credit:


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