James Isaac has seen some of the best views we’ve never seen. Until now. James is a free runner, climbing buildings and structures in the middle of the night to reveal the most amazing vistas of our Capital — which he's shared with us.
“I first started doing this when I saw on my Facebook feed someone had reached a certain rooftop and put some photos up of this amazing view. I thought ‘hold on, I know what building that is’. I’d recently been reading up on urban exploration, so called a friend and asked if they’d be up for the challenge of getting to the top of this building. He was on board as soon as I showed him the photos, so we went for it.”
“It was this huge feeling of achievement, nice and challenging and it was a really fun experience. I thought ‘this is much easier than I thought it would be, what’s stopping me from doing this on other buildings?’ That’s how I got hooked.”
Free running (also known as parkour) and the climbing of structures such as buildings, cranes or radio towers goes hand-in-hand. Southampton-born free runner, James Kingston was the recent subject of the Channel 4 Film ‘Don’t Look Down’ which brought a spotlight on this unusual pastime.
Isaac explains: “A key part of free running is about getting from point A to Point B as efficiently as possible. Normally that just involves jumping a couple of gaps and vaulting over some walls, but there’s nothing stopping point B from being the top of a building.”
And it is the tops of those buildings that allow those unrestricted, unobstructed and exclusive views, not to mention the feat of getting up there.
“It feels great knowing that you’re exploring something that hasn’t really been seen by a lot of people and you’re getting this unique view. It really is quite restrictive if you tried to get that sort of view in London normally. Places like the Shard would charge you a huge amount to get a similar view."
Aside from the view, there are other motivations that drive the 24 year old Londoner up the floors and on to the roof tops.
“I find that especially with skyscrapers, they are this magnificent feat of engineering, and once you get to see the construction up close, it's mind-blowing that something so immense was built by humans."
But of all the views in London, there has to be one that ranks above all others?
“It’s difficult to pick out a best view as each one is unique in their own way; London has these different pockets of architecture.
“One that was great was the Walkie Talkie. We got to the tip of a crane on the roof – an extra 50-100ft above the building itself. That was above the Thames and it had an amazing view in every direction. It’s the tallest building in its area so there was a really good unrestricted view.
“Another really awesome view was Kings Reach Tower on the South Bank. After you’ve done about 30 flights of internal stairs, you come out on to the main roof area. You then have to climb up another service ladder then you emerge out on this flat, completely open rooftop area with a 360 degree panoramic, unrestricted view of the entire city, head to toe in all directions.”
But as nice as it is to eulogise over the views, the significantly-sized elephant in the room that needs to be tackled is the risk involved in scaling these buildings and structures without safety equipment.
“Falling isn’t a significant risk at all. I’ve been doing parkour for years, climbing and using my body in that way is something that is now just second nature. When you’re doing a big climb, you’re really in the moment, 100% focused, so the chance of falling is just extremely unlikely. It’s something I’m very confident and comfortable with.”
He goes on to qualify his point: “I’d say that something like driving to work each day would be more risky because a lot of the time, you’re tired, you go into autopilot and you’ve got all these other people racing around you who you’re hoping aren’t going to do something stupid that will injure you. But when it’s just you and the building, just your body that you’re relying on, that you’ve been training for years, I don’t really see it as a significant thing to worry about.”
It’s the training element where Isaac brought his second life interest; app development. Isaac designed his own app, called Nach, which would enable him to not only train, but to prepare for climbs with.
“The idea is it ties in high-level life goal setting with low-level day-to-day things like to-do lists and a calendar. Originally I had a lot of free time and wanted to plan how to use that time effectively in ways that would bring me closer to my life goals, but I could only find these granular to-do lists. I needed something where I could make quite intricate plans about, for example, how I could take on the challenge of climbing a skyscraper."
Despite intricate reconnaissance, there have been occasions where he and his co-climbers have been caught.
“In the beginning, we weren’t quite careful enough and were spotted by security on a couple of occasions. But what usually happens is once they’ve had an opportunity to understand what we’re doing, they’re actually completely fine with it and we have a good laugh looking over the photos and they send us on our way.”
“[Getting caught] is definitely good for the experience. I’ve done lots of different places now so you get a good idea of what is likely to get spotted and what isn’t. The risk of getting caught adds to the excitement.”