The French Spiderman who's cleverly capitalised on his climbing
We spoke to the famous French climber Alain Robert who is in Dubai to climb the twisted Cayan Tower this evening.Neil Churchill April 12, 2015
On more than one occasion he has fractured both his heels, broken both forearms and his pelvis. He has shattered his wrists, dislocated his elbow and broken his nose. He's had more than 10 operations, has twice been in a coma and has spent over two months in hospital. As a result he suffers from cerebral edema and vertigo, cannot straighten his fingers and according to doctors is 60 per cent disabled.
When you read that, you're inclined to think Alain Robert should give up climbing. Maybe take up a safer, more grounded hobby. But then you read a list of his achievements and it somehow makes a degree of sense: Burj Khalifa, Taipei 101, Sydney Opera House, The Cheung Kong Centre, One Canada Square, Eiffel Tower, National Bank of Abu Dhabi, Empire State Building, Willis Tower, Petronas Towers, Singapore Flyer... the list goes on.
Known as the French Spiderman, Alain Robert is about to add Dubai Marina's Cayan Tower to that list of buildings he has successfully climbed, most of them without any safety equipment.Ahead of his latest attempt on the world's tallest twisted tower - which is set to begin at 20:00 UAE time today - we had a chat with the man himself. As he says, Cayan Tower's twisting structure will pose some unique challenges.
"Cayan building is especially challenging because of its aesthetic. It is everything but an ordinary building. It stands out," the Frenchman told EDGARdaily. "It will be a free climb [no safety equipment] which is my trademark, and for that I'm very grateful to Ahmed Alhatti, the chairman of Cayan Group, who gave me the approval but most of all his trust to do this climb."
Robert built his reputation for climbing the world's tallest buildings, but his frequency at being arrested once he reached the top helped cement his status. Many of his climbs were and sometimes still are illegal, often running at the foot of a building just as day breaks, without notice, without warning and far too quickly for any security to stop him.
He was arrested in 1997 and again ten years' later for trying to climb Malaysia's Petronas Towers. Only in 2009 did he successfully reach the top without being stopped, but afterwards was fined RM2000 - about AED 2,000 - in default of two months' jail time, after pleading guilty to criminal trespass. In 2007 he spent five days in jail for climbing Shanghai's Jin Mao building, the tallest in China at the time. In 2012 he was spotted in London's The Shard, presumably on a reconnaissance mission - the building's owner served him an injunction from ever returning.
But the days of a policeman's hand waiting to greet him at the top of his climbs are now matched by agreed, publicised climbs in partnership with the building's owners - and Robert has clearly noticed that the Gulf's construction-heavy cities are a rich hunting ground for him.
His ascent of the Burj Khalifa - the world's tallest building - in 2011 was done not just with approval beforehand, but with a safety rope - something that Robert, as he said to us personally, was not his style. With prior approval he has also conquered National Bank of Abu Dhabi's headquarters, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority building, Doha's Aspire Tower and now Cayan, his second Dubai feat.
We always have time for an entrepreneur at EDGARdaily, and loosely speaking that is what Robert has become. When you have as unique a talent and passion as he does, then why not capitalise on your ability and seek riches and rewards for your achievements? His years of arrests, being stopped mid-climb, prison time and court fines certainly played their part in building his reputation, and consequently increasing the demand for a service of which he is the only supply.
The Middle East is not the only region where he has been asked to complete a 'legal climb'. Mauritius Telecom Tower, Russia's Vysotsky skyscraper, Lisbon's Torre Vasco da Gama and New Zealand's Metropolis Residences - which was a promotion for Samsung's Galaxy Gear - have all been money spinners for Robert. Note the Zenith branding on his clothes in the main image of this article. The Gulf's cities however do enjoy celebrating the opening of a new iconic building, so we expect this won't be the last time we see the French Spiderman doing what he does best in this part of the world. After all, what better way is there to bring media focus and public attention to a newly-opened building than to have someone climb its facade.
"I do it out of love," Robert told us. "I'm 52 years old and I started climbing when I was 11. It's the biggest part of my life." We have absolutely no doubt that he does it out of love. It is after all a hugely dangerous hobby that surely only love can propel him to keep doing.
But we can't help but admire the business side of Spidey. We wish you luck for this evening, sir.