Story transcripts

The Real Spiderman

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Reporter: Peter Overton

Producer: Nick Greenaway

All we can say is, wow!

As a little kid, Peter Overton read the comics, as a big kid he saw the movies.

And now he’s met Spiderman.

Not nerdy Peter Parker, but a real life superhero, a Frenchman called Alain Robert.

What he does is pretty astounding.

Like a human spider, he climbs the tallest skyscrapers on earth.

No ropes, no safety harnesses, no back-up crews, one slip and he's dead.

It sounds crazy, but it's made this pint-sized daredevil a rich man, a star who can attract 100,000 fans to one of his performances.

It's also a dream fulfilled, his way of escaping his greatest fear.


Full transcript:

INTRODUCTION: PETER OVERTON: All I can say is "Wow." As a little kid, I read the comics. As a big kid, I saw the movies and now I've met 'Spiderman' - not nerdy Peter Parker, but a real-life superhero, a Frenchman called Alain Robert. What he does is pretty astounding. Like a human spider, he climbs the tallest skyscrapers on earth - no ropes, no safety harnesses, no back-up crews. One slip and he's dead. It sounds crazy, but it's made this pint-sized daredevil a rich man, a star who can attract 100,000 fans to one of his performances. It's also a dream fulfilled, his way of escaping his greatest fear - boredom.

PETER OVERTON: His world is not one of cliff faces or rugged mountain peaks, but the modern urban towers of concrete, steel and glass. Look high up into the skyline and you'll find the man they call the 'Spiderman' Alain Robert. Are you crazy?

ALAIN ROBERT: Yeah, most likely I am crazy but I'm crazy to do what I do and I'm doing it quite well so it's a beautiful craziness.

PETER OVERTON: Superheroes don't come much smaller than jockey-sized Alain but what he does is extraordinary. Using nothing but his hands and feet, he's conquered some of the tallest skyscrapers on the planet - the Petronas Twin Towers in Malaysia, Chicago's Sears Tower and, at more than 500 metres, the tallest building in the world, Taipei 101.

NEIL GRESHAM: Every time Alain solos up one of these buildings, his life is in his hands. You know there is no backup, there is no rope, there is no safety net, there is no invisible wire.

PETER OVERTON: For 15 years, Alain has stunned the world with his bravado. It's proved very lucrative and also earned him rock star status. In Abu Dhabi, more than 100,000 people watched him defy death.

ALAIN ROBERT: Any little mistake and then you're dead. So of course for yourself, you do need to be very focused and concentrated.

PETER OVERTON: You really only have two options? Yeah, it's very much like that, two option - whether you live or whether you die and of course I keep on choosing the first one.

PETER OVERTON: We've come to Paris to join Alain on his latest crazy challenge, not to climb the Eiffel Tower - he's already done that - but the Total Tower in the heart the financial district. Climbing, it's my whole life. I did start to climb when I was something like 13. Now I'm 46, so it means that all along I have decided that I was going to climb and I climbed.

PETER OVERTON: It's not only dangerous, it's illegal, so to avoid security we drive to the back of the tower then quickly, quietly, Alain starts. Gripping the narrow metal edge of the window frames, he works his way up the building. Alain reckons this is about the 100th skyscraper he's scaled, and this form of climbing actually has a name. It's called 'urban freestyle solo' - no ropes, no safety nets, no hooks, just an extraordinary amount of self belief. The amazing thing about spiderman is that when he was a boy growing up in provincial France, Alain was terrified of heights.

ALAIN ROBERT: As a young boy, it was like a phobia and then the funny thing is that I did turn my nearly biggest enemy to my best friend.

PETER OVERTON: So when he was 13, he decided to tackle his phobia head on and started climbing.

ALAIN ROBERT: I was dreaming to be a bit like my heroes Zorro, Robin Hood, and maybe all the more because I was shy, I was afraid of everything but I did place a very high value on being courageous so that was my goal - one day being courageous.

PETER OVERTON: Show me your hands. They're very small.

ALAIN ROBERT: Very...don't insult me.

PETER OVERTON: And very soft. Where is the strength? You pull against me? It's in the historic village of Pezenas in the south of France where Alain works on that phenomenal strength. His bedroom also doubles as a climbing gym. It's here he really earns his name, the Spiderman. He looks like a huntsman crawling on the ceiling. How often are you doing this, climbing on your ceiling, Alain?

ALAIN ROBERT: Well, I'm, I'm trying to do it twice a day when I'm home, which is quite rare nowadays. PETER OVERTON: How does this training help you?

ALAIN ROBERT: Well, just to have some good strength, good stamina.

PETER OVERTON: How heavy are you? ALAIN ROBERT: I'd say 52kg.

PETER OVERTON: Can I test, can I lift you up?

ALAIN ROBERT: Oh, now you want to take your revenge. I understand

PETER OVERTON: Oh, light as a feather! I can't do it, not so easy, I can't even swing my body up, You're amazing, I marvel at you. And seeing Alain tenaciously climb up this skyscraper on a cold Paris morning, you do truly marvel at him. To get some idea of the skills needed to survive up there, I sought out one of the few who would know. If I fall will this rope catch me?

NEIL GRESHAM: Yeah, for sure.

PETER OVERTON: Neil Gresham is one of Europe's leading climbing instructors.

NEIL GRESHAM: OK, away you go.

PETER OVERTON: I must admit, it's a struggle. I can't begin to imagine doing this without a rope and harness.

NEIL GRESHAM: C'mon Peter keep it going mate. You're nearly there. Go on, keep looking for your feet. Don't pull too hard with your hands. You're nearly there.

PETER OVERTON: This will do.

NEIL GRESHAM: Keep it going. No, no, you're not at the top yet, mate. Keep going.


NEIL GRESHAM: You can't quit now mate, you've only got another two metres. Let's see it. I think the key skill is shutting out the fear. You just concentrate on getting that hand correct and that hand as good as you can do it, relaxing your muscles so that you don't become too tense, placing your feet perfectly so that they don't slip. You are just focusing on the process that's getting you to the top of the building. As soon as you come out of that and look around you or worse still, look down, you're, you're in deep trouble.

PETER OVERTON: It was hardly the Empire State building, but it was a start.

NEIL GRESHAM: It was a start.

PETER OVERTON: I think that's what the respect I have for what Alain does, he could be up 60-70 storeys with nothing.

NEIL GRESHAM: Respect? What are you talking about mate, he's a nutter!

PETER OVERTON: He's been going for about 15 minutes now and he's already halfway up the building, and while it's difficult to watch, it's irresistible at the same time. It's not long before the police, ambulance, fire brigade and emergency services arrive, unsure whether they're here to stop a terrorist or a suicide. It won't be Alain's first brush with the law. In 2007, after climbing the Jin Mao building in Shanghai, he was jailed for a week and then frog-marched out of China.

ALAIN ROBERT: I won't be allowed to come back to China for five years, so it's a bit tough.

PETER OVERTON: Today in Paris, Alain is about to be busted again. The authorities are waiting for him up the top. He's arrested, but released an hour later. Spiderman lives to climb another day. Could you live without climbing skyscrapers?

ALAIN ROBERT: At this point of time in my life, I want to continue. If tomorrow I die because of the buildings, then that would be a bit of my destiny.

PETER OVERTON: What does danger mean to you?

ALAIN ROBERT: Danger for me, it's having a boring life. This is danger. It's bad, it's certainly unhealthy. I think that's the true meaning of danger. What I do, overall it's not dangerous. I am doing stuff that I love so I call it living my dream.

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