'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.”


Esther Addley

The GuardianTramp

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