Climber Who Was Jailed For Scaling The Shard Opens Up On Violent Life In Notorious British Prison
What were you doing when you were 20 years old? Perhaps you were studying at university, or working in your local pub, or maybe you were sitting on your arse watching re-runs of The A-Team?
Well, at that tender age, George King was planning for a stunt that would capture the attention of millions worldwide.
Whether you consider it to be stupidity, recklessness or bravery, you have to admit that it's quite a feat.
Upon his arrival at his final destination, the viewing platform, which is some 243 metres above the streets below, he was greeted by the police. He offered them his wrists to be cuffed, but was instead helped over the edge and eventually let go.
While criminal charges were dropped, that wasn't the end of it.
Three months later, the erstwhile personal trainer from Oxford found himself in HMP Pentonville, a notorious category-B prison in North London that was described in 2015 by then-Justice Secretary Michael Gove as 'the most dramatic example of failure' in the British prison system.
In an interview with LADbible, King told us about how he meticulously planned his ascent of the tower, what happened in the aftermath, and what his life has been like up until his release at the start of 2020.
Let's start at the very beginning. Why on earth would someone want to climb up a gigantic building with no safety apparatus?
King, who describes himself as an 'extreme athlete' or 'stuntman' because of his online pre-occupation with dicing with danger, said: "I've always been fascinated with just getting out of my comfort zone.
"What started as climbing trees has turned into climbing The Shard.
"I remember seeing it [The Shard] when I was 13 years old through a coach window on a school art trip and for some weird reason I just felt that my destiny included climbing The Shard at some point.
"What started as just a dream has turned into reality over the years.
"[I prepared with] rigorous physical training but what was more intense was the gathering intelligence, the mental side of it.
"I spent all night in London Bridge station pretending to be drunk on a bench with one eye open analysing security's movements.
"I did that multiple times and I built up a whole list of data and found correlations to find the best time to actually start the climb.
"That was 5.07 in the morning - enough light, and no security and cleaners going past."
"I also had to wear different disguises to avoid pattern recognition of the security cameras. Some days I'd be in sports kit, some days I'd be in a suit, some days I'd just wear completely different clothing to avoid them noticing.
"It was just obsessive planning, trial and error all the way through."
Obviously, to accomplish such a feat, George had to train rigorously. A former ultra-marathon runner, he also boxes, lifts weights, and keeps a varied regime to maintain his physical fitness.
That's not the main obstacle in play for a stunt such as this one, however. Conquering the mental side of the climb is arguably the greatest accomplishment of all.
He continued: "When I was at the bottom of The Shard there was no fear whatsoever. Having zero fear is actually beneficial. It's just control and the purest form of focus - my sight feels more clear, it's just a heightened sense of things.
"If you have fear you start to sweat, you start to shake and you start to tremble, so you've just got to keep this calm mindset and with that comes a state of psyche - you can do these sorts of things.
"Fear is definitely the biggest barrier, but I utilised the fear to help me do it. Adrenaline is a powerful tool if you can tap into it. I chose to do that."
The climb itself was relatively painless. Once the proper planning and mastering of his own mental condition were out of the way, there was nothing to do other than trust in the process and let auto-pilot take over.
There were hairy moments as he started to slip while approaching the 243-metre tall viewing platform, but he eventually crested the barriers without incident.
There, he was greeted by law enforcement officers. Expecting to be arrested, King presented his hands and arms to receive a set of handcuffs. Contrary to his expectations, he was released and no criminal charges were brought against him.
However, three months later he came crashing back down to reality in an altogether different fashion.
Real Estate Management Limited, the company that manages The Shard, brought civil charges against him relating to an injunction that he'd breached.
The company has since told LADbible in a statement: "The High Court found Mr George King-Thompson guilty of breaching the terms of the injunction, which is not restricted to a named individual and applies to all who breach it.
"Our hope is that the Court's decision will deter other prospective climbers, and help them recognise the great dangers that these actions pose to the public, emergency services and themselves."
King, while aware of the injunction prior to the climb, perhaps didn't understand the seriousness of what he'd done.
That realisation was yet to dawn upon him. It came in the courtroom.
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He explained: "Leading up to the climb, I knew jail was on the table. When the police gave me a slap on the wrist, I thought that was the end of it.
"It was only when I stepped into the courtroom and saw how big the f**king court papers were that I realised the seriousness of the case and how far out of their way they went to put me in prison.
"I was sitting there like, 'I'm probably going to go to prison now.' I was like, 'F**k it, let's go.'"
"I was shipped over to HMP Pentonville and I didn't really know anything about it. It was only when I turned up that everyone was saying that this was the worst prison.
"I got a notice through my door on the first day, informing me that someone had been killed.
"That was kind of a wake-up call, like 'welcome to Pentonville, this is serious'."
It was serious.
Despite being sentenced to six months in a young offenders institute, he was taken to Pentonville where he spent 12 weeks.
King said: "I think they were trying to make an example out of me.
"Let's say someone else were to climb The Shard who couldn't firm prison, and they were to get stabbed or they were to get robbed and develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder... it begs the question, does the offence correlate with the punishment given?
"The simple answer is no, so I think it's harsh to put someone of good character and with no past criminal convictions in prison.
"I didn't agree with the sentence, but I didn't at any point feel sorry for myself. It was on the table, I never ruled it out so I just had to adapt and be hyper-aware of my surroundings throughout."
The Ministry of Justice has been taking measures to increase the standards of Pentonville. In fact, a spokesperson told LADbible: "HMP Pentonville has made significant improvements in recent months with a new strategy to tackle drugs, more money to refurbish cells and appointing specialist staff to work on reducing violence.
"Alongside this we are spending £2.75bn to modernise and maintain our prisons, create 10,000 additional places, and step up security to stop the flow of drugs and mobile phones."
However, life inside the prison was tough for George. Pentonville has a reputation for being a difficult place to do a stretch, let alone for a 20-year-old from Oxford with no prior convictions and no criminal record.
He continued: "It's a tough place. It's a f**ked up place.
"You regularly see stabbings, attempted suicides, the jail is infested with rats, cockroaches, and mice, but you see some fascinating things.
"The currency is based on trading things - [for example] two mackerels is one haircut - and there is a use for every item. I've seen toasters being made out of four kettles with the top parts chopped off and wired together, so it was an interesting place.
"I saw someone getting kettled. A form of attack is boiling water and putting sugar in it, and then chucking it over someone so it sticks to the skin. It's not uncommon to see that in jail.
"Every other day you'd see some kind of violence - stabbings, kettlings or some kind of attack - it was a really violent sort of place, really hostile."
Despite that, knowing he was in there for his own actions led him to find ways to survive and keep his head above the water.
He explained: "The thing is, the number one rule in prison is respect. If you show respect and don't appear weak or vulnerable you should see that come back.
"So, I just kept a low profile and showed respect and didn't act cocky at all.
"If you didn't show respect, you could look at someone the wrong way and a conflict can start just like that.
"I never feared for my own life."
"I spent my time in my cell shadowboxing, working out, reading and writing. I just kept myself busy and kept myself stimulated because 22 hours locked in a cell can do your head in if you let it.
"I would say the hardest part is not being productive. When I'm on the outside I'm always progressing to some kind of goal or project. To be suddenly stuck in time, it's difficult.
"So, I had to find daily goals in my own self."
Eventually, after a bleak Christmas and New Year period spent behind bars, he was released and took his first steps outside the prison walls for three months, greeted by the most famous man in free-climbing, 'French Spider-Man' Alain Robert.
Fifty-seven-year-old Robert made his name in the game that King is just setting out in, scaling skyscrapers using only his wits and a bag of chalk.
Now, a career beckons for King. Offers have come in from TV companies to talk about his sport, as well as his time inside.
He's started writing a book on the same subject. More than anything, though, he also promises to remember and learn from his time under lock and key in Pentonville, as well as attempting to inspire others.
He concluded: "It changed me in a positive way. It was certainly out of my comfort zone on a social basis, so I definitely built an emotional growth because of the experience. In that way I'm actually grateful for going under.
"If there's enough emotion attached to the project, and I really want to do it, I'm not going to let something like this dampen my spirit.
"I would 100 percent do it again. I will be back to shock the world again at some point in the near future."
"My message is passion. That is my philosophy on life. I feel if you don't have passion you're simply not living. I'm not saying go and climb big high buildings and go to prison, but if you take up art or music, just pursue it relentlessly and make it your purpose.
"You want to get to your deathbed and know that you've given life your best shot and you don't have regret."
Featured Image Credit: Instagram/@shardclimber
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