Don’t Look Down

You may not have heard of 24-year-old James Kingston. He’s usually up before most people are awake, before the sun pours into the sky. Slipping under fences, scrambling over walls, creeping through desolate building sites, all the while evading his only true obstacles: security guards and the police. But his aim is always the same: up.

In all the footage I’ve seen of James, he seems something of a pariah. He doesn’t talk much, but he’s mentioned how he felt disconnected with the educational system, often refused to go school and eventually left to tread his own precarious path. Many, including his mother, wish he lived differently. But he’s on his own mission. And it’s not just white-knuckle entertaining, it’s strangely illuminating.

James climbs. Cranes, towers, bridges, indiscernible structures, anything eye-wateringly high lures him irresistibly upwards. From the second highest building in Dubai, to the Wembley arch, he devours the challenges. And he’s quickly carving out a career for himself, the content of his ascension adventures is coursing through the veins of social media- shocking, terrifying and enthralling viewers. You only have to watch a few seconds of these videos to see the flabbergasting appeal of his escapades: he doesn’t use any safety equipment. Not a scrap of it. He doesn’t even wear reassuring sports gear. Not a thread of lycra to appease our nerves. No, we’re given jeans, hoodie, Converse. And we must accept it, and watch.

Sure, daredevils are nothing new and the existence of YouTube especially has certainly exploded the phenomenon, but the experience of watching James ascending is peculiar. It’s so very simple. Attached to him, we see hands and feet in front of us. He’s so alarmingly casual and assured, as though climbing the stairs to his bedroom. There isn’t any real hesitation as he navigates the poles of cranes in darkness, leaps across vast gaps and crawls like an insect atop bridges. Your heart pounds a bit harder, your palms feel a bit damper, your eyes widen in disbelief. Reaching the summit, he then does what all respectable attention-seekers do to commemorate the moment: gets out his selfie stick. But we won’t roll our eyes, they’ll stay glued to the screen, because we are on the end of the stick and he rotates us 360 degrees, showing the spectacular perspectives that he seeks. And if you haven’t imploded with anxiety just yet, James has another trick up his sleeve these days. He’s quite partial to a casual one-handed hang off the top.

A distinct sense of both panic and wonder washes over you as you realise: this guy has no fear. Or at least, he’s got it on a leash and in a muzzle. The thing is, the prospect of falling doesn’t mean James will fall. The fear of it could make him hesitate, wobble, or seize-up. But the truth is that if without potent paralysing fear, there would be no more reason for him to fall from something 1,000 feet off the ground than something 10 feet off the ground. Now, what a thought that is for us all to package up and hang on to. Granted, for James there are variables such as wind speed and moisture, but he takes those into careful account. Fear is not a factor entered into this equation of his. And it’s bloody brilliant.