The Alain Robert Interview
Somewhere in a posh Vancouver television studio, a motley group of people are gathered. Four red leather couches face inwards, a coffee table sits in the middle. On one couch, four bikini clad girls are primping themselves. On another, an African dancer and a stand up comedian are finding common ground. On a third, sits a smallish Frenchman with long hair, the busted up face of a hockey player, and red leather pants that disappear into the couch. I sit on the fourth, taking it all in.
The Frenchman leans over and asks me, "what's with the girls?" I tell him they are modeling swim-wear for the TV variety show he is about to appear on. “Models? Those aren’t models. In France we reserve that word for the really beautiful girls like Kate Moss and Cindy Crawford”. He is talking rather loud, and I hope to God the "models" can't hear us.
Meet Alain Robert, the elite solo climber from France the world has come to know as Spiderman. Alain has climbed over 70 of the world's tallest skyscrapers, including Sears Tower, the Golden Gate bridge, Petronas Twin Towers, Taipei 101, the Sydney Opera House, and the Eiffel Tower. At 43 years old, with 4 skyscraper ascents to his name in the last six months, he shows no sign of slowing down.
His 110 lb frame has endured more broken bones and trauma than doctors would deem humanly possible -- given his profession and past, it is truly a miracle that he is alive today.
But today Alain isn't climbing anything. Today, Alain is on a whirlwind tour of Vancouver media appearances. Although he did offer to climb the TV studio building, which happens to be Vancouver's tallest skyscraper, for a small fee.
Do you plan to climb anything while in Vancouver?
No, if I climb anything in Vancouver I’m sure I am going to have some trouble. Years ago I climbed something in Montreal and I had some trouble. Because I have a lot of upcoming media events, I cannot afford to be stuck in Vancouver.
Plus no one has offered to pay my bail and lawyer fees, which can cost upwards of $15 000 US. People think that I climb a building and that is all, but really that is just the start of the process.
I suppose I could contact goldenpalace.com, but it’s too cold to climb anyway.
Alain attempted this tower twice before successfully climbing it.
On his previous attempts, his feet cut loose at 50m above ground,
causing him to barn door. Luckily he was able to remain composed
enough to descend. On his third attempt he wrapped his climbing
shoes in tape, making the foot jams easier.
Framatome, Paris. August 14th 1998
What was your latest climb?
I tried a building in Houston, but I didn’t even get to climb. I was sure that I didn’t even start, but they took my fingerprint on the building, and in fact it seems that I really did climb one meter.
Everything happened so fast because one of the media, most likely Fox News, called the police on the eve of the ascent. In the morning there were over 50 cops waiting for me from 6:00am. My meeting with the media was at 9:30am, but still I try you know. I dash outside of the cab and I run like a mad, and finally I get caught.
I was quite stupid, because I was so focused on the story, that I completely forgot that I could postpone the event. I thought I could trick the police. The thing is, when the cab stopped, I thought the building was right on the side of the street, but I had to cross over, so already I lost about 2 or 3 seconds. Also the cab, he stopped the car in front of another car, and I had to run around the car, losing another couple seconds. You know it’s a matter of seconds. If I had another two seconds, I would’ve done the climb -- that is what the cops told me.
But I was stupid. Each time I do an ascent I work with Reuters, AP, and AFP, because I know these people are not the type to call the cops. They are big press and TV agency, and they are selling the story in other countries. But this time I contacted Fox News, which was a mistake.
What were you charged with?
Trespassing, mischief, and drugs. The drugs charge is silly, since they are only prescription drugs. They were for my epileptic seizures which I suffer from since my fall in 1982. I carry them in my pocket just in case.
Trespassing and mischief are misdemeanor charges, however the prosecutor is trying to make it criminal trespass.
You know the prosecutor was a real bitch. She wanted me to go to jail for a long time. But the good thing is, I nearly have no chance of having the same prosecutor for my second court-case. It is a bit of a lottery who your prosecutor is each time.
You don't have a personal lawyer?
No it is not possible to have the same lawyer. Even in the US, state by state you must have a different lawyer.
Right now I am making a deal with a lawyer who may be willing to defend my case for free, in exchange for some publicity. I know David Letterman wants to do a story on me, so if I can mention the name of the lawyer this would be good. You know he is not trying to defend the criminal of the century, just Mr. Spiderman.
Alain trying out some holds.
TD Tower, Vancouver. February 25th 2006
Is climbing buildings always illegal?
No, I will climb a building if given permission. People pay me to climb their buildings to get media attention for a new building, or a newly renovated building, or perhaps for an upcoming event.
When I climb a building, the story is known throughout the world. That sort of advertising is priceless.
You are able to make a living at this?
Yes. Famous rock climbers are only in the climbing magazines. Climbing magazines are small and pay peanuts. Me, I get photos in Times, CNN, BBC, Reuters, AP, all the major publications; but not climbing magazines.
Many of these climbing publications are too narrow-minded. They look at me climbing a building and say, “that’s not climbing.” What is it then?
But I don’t mind. The major publications pay much more.
So you make money selling pictures and stories to news agencies?
Yes, but things have changed a lot in the last 10 years. Now everything is digital and instant. Anyone can take a good picture. Now when I climb a building, there are 100 good photos of the climb, so it’s hard to sell anything.
These days I sell the event.
Do you have any rock climbing sponsors?
I am sponsored by Boreal, but they no longer give me money, just shoes. They made a rule that they would only give money for people who get pictures in climbing magazines.
But you know I asked Lynn Hill if it would be possible to solo The Nose of El Capitan. I was worried that the Great Roof would be too hard. She said that it was a pitch after the Great Roof that was the hardest [Changing Corners, 5.13+], and would be very hard to solo. I think that perhaps this would be something for the next millennium.
Do you do any movie or TV commercial work?
No not really. I get offers, but mainly for stunt work, which pays peanuts. The hours are long, plus they want you to use cables and safety gear. When I climb a building, I get paid up to $50 000US -- that’s for one hour of work.
Sony sometimes pays me to climb for the opening of a new Spiderman movie, but I’m not in the movie.
That’s when you climb in a Spiderman costume?
Yes, but I would like to get away from the Spiderman image. I would to have my own identity. I am thinking of a different costume, maybe yellow and black.
How did you get into buildering?
I have been solo rock climbing for thirty years. But when I rock climb, I don’t really like to follow the routes -- I like to go wherever I want. Most people, they have a guidebook, and they stick only to those routes. Rock climbers can be very narrow-minded. For me, I just enjoy climbing.
Also, rock climbing back then is not like it is now. Back then it was something not completely safe. Now they are making climbing much safer. You know these companies like North Face, they want to be able to sell to as many people as possible, so they are going to make climbing as safe as they can. If they say, “climbing is fucking dangerous,” who is going to climb? So they say, “we are living in a safe world, and we are doing safe things.”
With buildering, I get to keep that element of danger. Plus, I very much like the feeling of height, and buildings have even more of a feeling of height than rock faces.