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Hong Kong courts

Why climbing is still a game for French Spider-Man despite jail, beatings and 15-metre fall

Alain Robert has been barred from daredevil stunts in Hong Kong for a year – but that does not mean he can’t explore what to tackle when ban ends

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 August, 2018, 7:01am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 August, 2018, 11:04pm

He may have just been banned from climbing Hong Kong’s famed skyscrapers but for the “French Spider-Man” the next target is never far from his mind.

“For me climbing is do-or-die stuff,” Alain Robert, 55, said of his passion for scaling some of the world’s most recognisable buildings.

The ban was a condition of a behavioural bond, or binding-over deal, he was offered at Eastern Court on Thursday for creating a public nuisance seven years ago when he climbed the 27-storey Hang Seng Bank building with his bare hands.

After sparking a rescue operation and causing traffic in one of the city’s busiest districts to be blocked for 23 minutes, Robert was ordered not to commit any crime, including climbing, for the coming 12 months, or he would have to pay HK$1,000 (US$128).

But the daredevil urban climber, who flew in from his second home in Indonesia days before the court hearing, said he had already been exploring what he could tackle when the ban ended – even before it was in place. He was arrested last month for the 2011 incident after he completed another daring climb – for which he had secured permission – at the city’s Four Seasons Hotel.

French Spider-Man barred from any daredevil climbs in Hong Kong

In an exclusive interview on Thursday, he teased the Post about his possible targets.

“I went to Eastern district. I went to Causeway Bay and Kowloon,” he said.

But Robert ruled out the International Commerce Centre in Kowloon, the tallest building in town. “ICC is not possible,” he said, adding he had checked.

While flicking through photos on his phone, including pictures of him dangling from Dubai’s 75-storey Cayan Tower and posing with former French president Francois Hollande at a dinner party, Robert said few people really knew about his history.

He called up a photo of his solo assent of the near vertical Verdon Gorge in southeastern France.

“People do not really know much about my background. When I was doing all the [rock climbing], there was pretty much no internet. So people think I am a guy climbing buildings, but not at all.”

Robert said his childhood dream had been to do something courageous, and all of his later achievements stemmed from an episode when he was 11 years old. Locked out of his home in Digoin, eastern France, one day, he climbed up seven storeys to get into the flat. And he was hooked.

He began practising solo climbs on cliffs near home – skills he would later use to scale some of the world’s tallest edifices, including Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the Petronas Twin Towers in Malaysia and his “hardest” climb, the Sears Tower in Chicago.

He wanted to use his publicity to raise awareness on issues he held dear, including global warming, and to give inspirational talks. “I am living my dream,” he tells people.

But his breathtaking stunts come with a price, including about 120 brushes with the law in various countries, among them a five-day jail term in 2007 for scaling the 88-storey Jin Mao Tower in Shanghai while dressed as Spider-Man.

In 1998, his attempt to climb a building in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district was almost thwarted after a local broadcaster inadvertently tipped off police. He returned the next day, climbed the building and was then beaten up by arresting officers, before being thrown in jail. French diplomats had to come to his rescue, he said.

“It’s part of the game for me. I like climbing because of that,” said Robert, who enjoyed being “playful with the authorities”.

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Injuries have also taken their toll, leaving him 66 per cent disabled. He suffered his worst fall when he was 19, a 15-metre plunge that broke many bones and left him in a coma for six days.

Hong Kong was his first ever stop in Asia back in 1996, after he read about the city’s skyscrapers. He climbed the Far East Financial Centre in Admiralty that year and was given his first binding-over order. The second one was on Thursday.

Robert, who turns 56 next week, plans to keep climbing as long as he is healthy and has the stamina.

“I like it. I am having fun. For me it doesn’t make sense to stop something if I like it,” he said.