Upwardly mobile on The O2 roof

By Giles Broadbent on June 28, 2012 12:58 PM |

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Here's the easy option: The O2 could have built a vast Stannah stairlift that took all-comers to the peak of its iconic roof. In a steady drone, rising to the heavens, the elderly, frail and obese could have ascended, strapped in but comfortable, conveyed and cowed.

There could be flask breaks and oxygen stops and chuntering counterweights descending to keep the balance, like a Welsh mountainside funicular.

That would be a way to go. Boring, yes, but inclusive and beige and all those things that modern life likes but you don't want in an attraction that takes you 52m into the sky onto a roof.

(Something magical about rooftops, isn't there? Dick Van Dyke and all that.)

No, here, in Up At The O2, (too many prepositions for a title) you want a taste of adventure, if only a tingle on the tongue from a pipette shot of adrenalin.

And if you want to see the vast panorama of east London - Canary Wharf, the Orbit, the Royal Docks, the Thames Barrier - well, remember what Debbie Allen said in Fame: "You want views? Well, views cost and right here is where you start paying - in sweat."

No faint-hearts. No-one weak of limb or soft of resolve. No lily-livered, muffin topped, state-coddled idlers welcome.

While the attraction doesn't exactly take you to the extreme, it does nudge you to the outer perimeter of the bit before the edge of your comfort zone.

I'm not suggesting roller-coaster thrill or a pilot-has-fainted thunderclap but it does leave you a little puffed and, maybe, disconcerted. For example, if you drop stuff over the side, it's gone - so that's like The Poseidon Adventure isn't it?

In fact, there's something very Disneyland about the experience from the outset. Waiting is not a pleasure, more an endurance leavened by a sense of impending adventure. Inform, entertain, get the paperwork done.

So we have Rupert briefing us on screen. A rather excitable Englishman, he calls on our heritage of derring-do, our sense of pride and patriotism to get us to the top, with all those pesky health and safety lessons tucked in between for good measure.

We know our purpose, our birthright our destiny - and where the toilets are, just in case.
An hour and a half for a complete trip, we were told. Seemed excessive.

But then there were the checks, the straps, the harnesses, the nervy banter between newly-bonded brothers and the lessons in clamping on to the wire so you don't tumble down, Jack and Jill style.

Part of it was probably prescribed by the HSE, but it did add to the drama - as though we really were steeplejacks, or mountaineers, or Chinese engineers in some Channel Five documentary.

Either way, the ascent was overseen by a Sherpa Tensing - ours was Adam, generous with his time and eager to please - and our excursion jellied the legs for the unfit (me) and curdled the lunch of the lesser folk (so not me).

If heights are not your thing, you wouldn't be here but if steep slopes that appear to lead to an eternal void stir the butterflies, or a route march on a trampoline ungirds your loins, then you'll be glad of the umbilical link to the sturdy wires.

At the top, the viewing platform and plenty of time for panoramic shots, for picking out buildings and cooing at cityscapes.

Pity the panorama is downbeat - too much industrial plant and not enough sky piercing drama - but for those of us who live and work round here, at ground-level mostly, there is enough to excite.

The empty cable car slung to and fro dejectedly, the planes rose from City Airport, the sun hit the Thames and the playful Shard hid behind the skirts of One Canada Square, a perspective that flatters the latter.

Then it was down the other side, marching sideways like crabs and both ruing and grateful for the benevolent weather (for the rain would have made the descent slippery and heart-pumping).

In our gear - jumpsuits, harnesses, climbing shoes - we were swashbuckling outsiders in an attraction busy with diners and gawpers and somnambulists.

But if there were any doubt that we were back down to earth then - well, we exited through the gift shop. Did Edmund Hillary? Did Chris Bonington? Did James Bond after his skiddy descent down the iconic parabola.

Oh, forget it. The moment's gone.

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FACTFILE

■ Climbs take place every 30 minutes and run noon to 8pm weekdays in the summer and 10am to 6pm at weekends.
■ Tickets cost £22 for adults and children (over 10) and all the gear is provided. Stringent health guidelines apply.
■ Pre-booking is recommended, online at o2.co.uk/upattheo2