‘They call us reckless daredevils’: meet one of London’s death-defying ‘rooftoppers’

Will Tahta

London’s ‘rooftopping’ community risk their lives in the name of urban exploration. The climber known as @spidergirl explains what draws her to such great heights…

‘I’m 20 years old and I grew up in east London. My mum was always concerned by my inability to listen and my fascination with climbing things – furniture mostly. I broke countless shelves as a child, and later became a climbing instructor. But I didn’t take naturally to urban exploration at first.

My first rooftop was a small construction site in Mile End. I was invited by some friends I’d been doing parkour with. It was late and I was nervous at first: the cameras and tall fences were off-putting, and I had never climbed scaffolding before. But upon reaching the top I stared around in awe. It wasn’t even that high, but to me, the view was phenomenal: I couldn’t take my eyes off it.

I wanted to experience more views like that, so I joined my brother on climbs when I could, but my studies got in the way and my interest started to fade. It was after I finished studying that I met a keen urban explorer, who rekindled my interest in the hobby. He was confident and inspiring, and led me to start sharing my rooftopping photography on Instagram.

My first few climbs terrified me. I’d never been that high with no support, no ropes and nothing holding me back. I’d apprehensively peer over the side before edging out carefully, holding on to any available ledge or bar. On my first crane climb I remember nervously telling my friend about my cat to take my mind off the death drop below me.

Since then I’ve climbed quite a few buildings around the city, mostly in central London. As I’ve continued to climb and meet new people, I’ve noticed changes. I’m much stronger physically, and I’ve become far more confident. While I’m still constantly aware of the danger, I feel comfortable and even calm when I’m sitting at the end of a crane or on the edge of a building.

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Imogen Anderson

The most memorable climb was in Vauxhall, where I was lucky enough to witness one of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen. When I choose a building to climb, it’s for one of two reasons: either it has interesting architecture, or I think it’ll have a new and stunning view of the city. Not all climbs are successful, however, and I’ve missed many spectacular sunsets because of locked doors or roof hatches. I don’t always plan carefully – spontaneous climbs are always the most exciting, giving you an unexpected new perspective.

Lately I’ve noticed urban exploration getting a lot of negative coverage in the media. They call us reckless daredevils, performing dangerous stunts for social media, but I think that urban exploration is like any other extreme sport: there’s always danger, but it’s about not taking the unnecessary risks, knowing your own abilities and trusting yourself.

I often wonder if it’s selfish of me. It’s not me but the people around me that would end up the most hurt. ‘What would I tell your younger sister?’ my mum asked me recently. I tell her I trust my own abilities and wouldn’t do more than I’m capable of, but it’s clear why she worries like she does: people have died doing this. But my aim with my Instagram photos is to inspire people: not to follow me up tall buildings, but to step out of their comfort zones, try something new and follow their passions. Whatever you do, you can have fun without taking unnecessary risks.’

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