'Like a damp towel on a line': the day Boris Johnson got stuck on a zip wire

The then London mayor stole the show on the day of Britain’s first 2012 Olympic gold

The rowers Helen Glover and Heather Stanning were still celebrating Britain’s first gold medal of the 2012 Olympics when their moment in the spotlight was hijacked by a man wearing a hard hat dangling five metres above a park in east London.

As mayor, Boris Johnson was visiting Victoria Park to highlight Olympic attractions across the capital when he was persuaded to ride a newly installed zip line. It was the sort of stunt from which any sensible politician would have sprinted. Instead, Johnson climbed a tower, allowed himself to be strapped into an undignified harness and, with a small plastic union flag in each hand, he set off.

Rebecca Denton had tried to ride on the zip line earlier that morning, but having been told it was not working, she opted instead for a lunchtime pint. “Then my friend came running over and said: ‘Boris Johnson is going on the zipline,’” she said.

Boris Johnson gets stuck on a zipwire

They dashed over in time to see him slowly slide to a stop. “He was hanging about a third of the way from the end, like a damp towel slung over a washing line on a soggy day,” Denton said. She took a picture of his dangling heels and posted it on Twitter. At that point, those around her assumed Johnson had done it on purpose, she said, since they all knew the line had not been working. “It just felt very much like a stunt,” she added.

In fact, video footage showed an inelegantly trussed Johnson shouting for a ladder, then a rope: “This is great fun, but it needs to go faster!” He was stuck there for so long – perhaps 10 minutes – that she got bored and went back to her pint.

Kois Miah, a freelance photographer who had been expecting slim pickings from the day until the mayor ground to a halt above his head, said: “He tried to play to the crowd but I think he was a bit annoyed, to be honest.”

Eventually, however, Johnson was thrown a rope and towed to the ride’s end, with its operator, James Mellors Amusements of Bulwell in Nottinghamshire, gamely taking the blame. The company had left the wire more slack than usual to allow Johnson to descend, “but it dropped a bit lower than it should have done”.

For any other politician, it could have been reputational death. Not Johnson. Denton said: “It was so in keeping with his whole persona around the Olympics. He seemed to take the buffoon and run with it. If Boris Johnson was ever going to have a golden age, that was probably it. God help us.”

Contributor

Esther Addley

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Boris Johnson promises to investigate Olympic torch cost
Mayor says he didn't know torchbearers would be charged £199 to keep their torches after Olympic flame relay

Hélène Mulholland

30, Mar, 2012 @4:14 PM

Boris Johnson planning £15m monument for Olympic park

Structure, to be funded by steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, will be erected in time for start of London 2012

Adam Gabbatt

25, Oct, 2009 @6:29 PM

Article image
London Olympics' ticketing process is peculiar, says Boris Johnson
Mayor comments come amid concerns over applicants being deducted money weeks before finding out what tickets they'll get

Owen Gibson

17, May, 2011 @6:47 PM

Article image
Boris Johnson urges transparency over Olympic Games ticket allocation
London mayor acknowledged public concern and vowed to pressure committee to release a detailed breakdown

Owen Gibson, Olympics editor

23, Feb, 2012 @1:22 AM

Article image
Boris Johnson 'ignored expert advice' over £1bn mayoral vanity projects
No 10 frontrunner defied senior officials over doomed projects including Routemaster and garden bridge

Matthew Weaver

16, Jul, 2019 @5:04 PM

Article image
Boris Johnson trumpets Olympic legacy as Usain Bolt returns to London
Jamaican sprinter defends his sport in wake of rivals' failed drugs tests while London's mayor announces huge skiing centre

Owen Gibson, chief sports correspondent

25, Jul, 2013 @5:32 PM

Article image
Rupert Murdoch could back Boris Johnson to take over as Tory leader
Media tycoon flies into London to be VIP guest of mayor at Aquatic Centre after praising 'brilliantly organised' Olympics

Lisa O'Carroll and Helene Mulholland

02, Aug, 2012 @6:53 PM

Article image
What diplomats really think about Boris Johnson
‘He was smart, but he had the attention span of a gnat,’ says one official – so what kind of PM will he be?

Nick Hopkins

18, Jul, 2019 @3:02 PM

Article image
Boris Johnson's early days as mayor: 'It was total, total chaos'
After rapidly losing three advisers, the ship was eventually steadied – largely thanks to those around him

Esther Addley and Rupert Neate

16, Jul, 2019 @3:00 PM

Article image
London 2012: Boris Johnson sounds '30-day alarm call' for start of Games
Final countdown to Games begins as organisers disclose they will use music and film to build atmosphere at Olympic venues

Owen Gibson, Olympics editor

27, Jun, 2012 @4:47 PM