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Daniel Witchalls Exclusive Interview – Extreme Base Jumper

04/12/2014

For those that aren’t familiar with Daniel Witchalls’ work he is something of a cult hero in the world of extreme sports. Former base jumping world champion and ‘The man who climbed The Shard’. Twice!?!
He’s been throwing himself off tall peaks and skyscrapers for a few years which has involved more than his fair share of scrapes with the law (authorities aren’t over keen on people lobbing themselves off big buildings in traffic stopping stunts).

StagWeb caught up with the man himself to find out all about Benidorm, Nelson’s column and monsters hiding under his bed.

You are the legend who climbed The Shard (London’s tallest building). Firstly how? (getting past security etc) and secondly WHY?!?

Why did I jump the Shard? To quote George Mallory on climbing Everest – ‘Because it’s there!’
As soon as it was announced that a 1000ft building was to be built in London I was interested (I also jumped the building they demolished to make way for the Shard).
I cannot tell you exactly how I got past security, but let’s just say I was resourceful, that and spending hours watching the site and the security measures in place there.

That’s utterly mad and we salute your balls of steel. So what are you scared of? (ie spiders, heights, being stuck in a room with the Chuckle Brothers…)

I wouldn’t say that I am particularly scared on anything, except wasting my life and not finding exciting things to do.
Also monsters! I’m scared of monsters, especially the ones that live under my bed when I go to sleep at night…

What do you listen to, to get pumped up before a jump/competition?

I don’t need anything to get pumped up before a jump/competition -just the jump itself is enough. If anything then I do my best to remain calm and focused and hopefully think clearly and make good decisions. Too much adrenaline can be a bad thing and affect your judgement.
I do like to have music after the jump and when I am packing my canopy, I always have my iPod and speakers with me.

What’s the one thing on your iPod you wouldn’t want us to know about (we won’t tell a soul, honest)?

My iPod music is quite an eclectic mix, from dance music to chill out to Jimi Hendrix to the Who, AC/DC, 80’s, Nirvana, Foo Fighters, also some classical. I have some opera on there but don’t tell anyone, it doesn’t fit the image of a crazy, hardcore adrenaline junkie!

How do you kick back and relax when not throwing yourself from great heights?

I now have a daughter (aged 2). I love spending time with her. Walking my 2 rottweilers together with my wife is also a release from work and jumping.
I like to train, it helps to stay in shape for the climbing, hiking and occasional bad landings.

Who are your favourite base jumping partners?

Neil Q was my first ‘Jump Buddy’, we started together and made up a lot of what we did as we went along; we had many adventures and amazing experiences along the way around the world. Unfortunately Neil died.
Next was ‘The Hippo’, we rampaged around London for years jumping just about everything that was possible to jump (and a few that were impossible!). The Hippo had a couple of bad accidents/injuries and is now in retirement (allegedly).
Jools (The cockney northerner) is my most recent victim, very enthusiastic with a very positive attitude; if there is a way to do a jump, he will find it. If there isn’t a way, he will look anyway. Fortunately Jools is still in one piece.
There have been many others over the years, both from UK and abroad, Polish, German, Italian, Aussie, Kiwi, South African, Irish, Spanish Dutch, Belgian, French – It is an international family.

Have you got any big competitions coming up?

My favourite competition and one I go to every year is the ‘Basejump extreme world championships’ held in Benidorm, Spain, jumping from the hotel Gran Bali, the tallest hotel in Europe. I won the competition in 2011, 3rd in 2013 and 3rd in 2014.
Benidorm is great for bandit jumps (without permission) so many tall buildings!

What’s been the highlight of your career so far?

Becoming World Champion in 2011 was great.
Some of my trips/jumps have been amazing, spending 5 days in the Amazon jungle to jump Angel Falls takes some beating. Wembley Stadium, Nelson’s Column, the inside of the O2 Arena, The Shard, Petronas Twin Towers, Tiankeng Cave in China, these are all special, not just for the jump but also the people I did them with.

Do you get any weird requests from companies/film crews with bizarre sites/objects they want you to leap off?

One company that run speedboat trips down the Thames wanted me to jump from the Shard and land in one of their boats in the middle of the day but they weren’t prepared to get permission from the Shard, they expected me to sneak in…
Another company asked me to jump Battersea Power Station dressed as a witch (broomstick included) to publicise a new Theme Park Ride.

daniel whitals

Were you always keen to risk life and limb even as a young kid? What did you want to be when you grew up?

I was a normal kid, climbed trees played football in the street, swam in rivers and lakes – normal for those days, things kids don’t seem to do now.
I never wanted to grow up, but if I did I always wanted to be a dolphin trainer.

Have you ever had any injuries?

No injuries to speak of, just the usual bumps and bruises, nothing broken.

You make it look easy but have there been any close calls?

If you basejump for long enough you will have close call / mishap / accident / bad luck – call it what you will, it’s is inevitable.
One night jumping in London my canopy opened facing the wrong way and I bounced of that building. I ended up landing on the sloped roof of another building and then started to slide of the edge. I managed to stop the slide, get my shit together and self rescue, that was quite exciting…

What’s the most adventurous thing you’ve done/would do on a stag weekend?

My stag do was a trip to Tallinn (Estonia) where a base event was going on (coincidence eh!) So I did several jumps of a 500 ft tower (that and the usual of course!)

We’re pretty scared of heights even with a parachute so what is a good way for us to get a feel for the sport without putting ourselves in danger or having to dodge security guards?

A tandem skydive where you are strapped to an instructor is a good way to experience freefall without having to do any course or training.
Or visiting a wind tunnel (indoor skydiving) where you get the sensation of floating but from a cushion of air from a fan rather that jumping from a plane or building.

What’s your motto for life?
‘Everybody dies but not everybody lives!’

Big thanks to Heritage Oil PLC who paid for all of my equipment (canopies, wingsuit, tracking, helmet) & Rapanui Clothing for all my t-shirts and clothes.


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