Does anyone remember a man living in a glass box hanging above the River Thames near Tower Bridge? He promised he would stay there 44 days! Thousands came to cheer him on and he kept his promises by staying up there, cooped in this little space for the entire 44 days! That was David Blaine, US magician, in what was clearly his most ardorous stunt to date. And it was called Above the Below.
Its fifteen years since Above the Below began. On this day in September 2003 Blaine began his month and half endurance fast in his 3 X 7 foot plexi-glass box. Huge crowds queued up to see the magician begin his stunt. I was one of them, right at the front with a good view of the proceedings, although the camera I had was an early digital one and not too good in very low light. But I did manage to get some reasonable pictures.
The very start of Above the Below
David Blaine checks everything is okay before lift off takes place
I was there on about 30 of those days which Above the Below took place. I’m sure some went daily or even twice daily as many familiar faces were soon seen and friends made. Some of us even got to know the famous people who were around David Blaine, perhaps the most notable being Manon von Gerkan, at the time the magician’s girl-friend.
Up he goes! The plexi-glass box is lifted towards the sky
I went to Tower Bridge’s Potters Fields – or ‘Camp David’ as many were calling it – at all different hours – in the night, at dawn etc. Some stunning pictures of the sun rising. Even went when it rained.
As the stunt went on people were doing things to try and disturb Blaine, even make sure he didnt get to complete his 44 days. These were called the ‘Blaine-baiters.’ Some turned up in the night and played loud music, drums, others shone lasers in his face (this was quite stupid actually,) whilst the usual egg throwers turned out in force. It was all taken in good faith but soon became far too much. Eventually the security were instructed to take any perps down. Manon in fact herself tackled quite a few people and I have several shots of her tackling or manhandling perpetrators until the police could arrive.
Manon and the security apprehend a perpetrator
Those doing the fun saw it differently:
“If you put a famous bloke up in a box and hang him over a place like this, I’m sorry, the British have a sense of humor, they’re gonna react,” said British journalist and Blaine-watcher Graham Culliford. “You put Mother Theresa up there and she’ll get tossed eggs as well!”
Another perpetrator, Manon clearly hard tackling him, she had no fear at all!
Some acts however verged on the criminally dangerous:
“At least one prank was not funny. Early Tuesday morning, a 38-year-old Briton, encouraged by his rather inebriated mates, managed to scale a scaffold tower that held Blaine’s water supply and tried to cut the magician’s water tube, damaging the supply in the process. He also wrenched Blaine’s support cables, startling the slumbering escape artist, who shouted for the police. The prankster was arrested and booked on charges of criminal damage and threatening behavior.” (NBC News)
A book Blaine had been given to read
Fasting for 44 days without food or even proper toiletry is quite dangerous. The case of Lamarr Chambers who refused to go to the toilet for 47 days in prison whilst on suspicion of having swallowed drugs is one example. Its very dangerous to even go beyond perhaps 20 days or so at the most. There were lots of discussions as to whether Blaine was doing it for real or had some secret arrangement of eating food and disposing of his stools. Its often said the water he drank was filled with top nutrients so that would have been an enormous help. The Telegraph tried to test that theory and its expert found it was plain old H2O!
Super enhanced fortified H2O? Nope just the plain stuff!
The countdown clock. Clearly this was the 12th September 2003
People were outraged even a stunt should be attempted because it sort of made a mockery of those around the world who faced famines, and it was said if the event had been used to highlight those in need it would have been a more worthy event. As it was, it seems it was perhaps nothing more than a publicity stunt for the purposes of generating profits. No doubt Blaine earned commission from the television companies, whilst the broadcasters in turn raked in profits from their advertising. These lengthy comments from the BBC on Above the Below show the wide ranging views that ranged from full support for Blaine to the incredulous and even total disgust that he would even attempt such a thing.
These pictures: The wonderful Sir Trevor McDonald checks up on his friend, and later prepares to make a TV report. I am not sure however this may have been for a news segment in Tonight with Trevor McDonald.
For me it was something to go and see, and to make friends with other people. So there was that benefit. We became a sort of a community who cared about Blaine getting through his 44 days. None of us wanted it to fail but at the same time many of us thought he would not do his 44 days, at times Blaine looked very tired and weak. As a whole month passed the prospect looked more realistic and it was a huge relief for many of us, as well as his own friends and the organisers that he managed the full 44 days.
Admirers from Manchester
Aerial photo-shoot with Manon and others on the platform. This was once daily
Yes he can do 44 days – and he did!
The pictures shown here are mainly from the first three weeks or so of Above the Below. I may do another post showing the other three weeks! I took hundreds of David Blaine however they are all simply of him sitting, standing, smiling, waving, but doing little else. There wasn’t much for him to do really other than sort of wait out his 44 days. What went on around him was probably a different matter. So many things going on and this is why I have shown more pictures of this rather than Blaine himself.
The great Krishnan Guru-Murthy preparing to make a report for Channel Four
Manon chatting with a street artist in Potters Fields
Manon von Gerkan would often come out of the secure area and perhaps sit down in the sun as the above picture shows, or join us for a chat and some photographs, perhaps tell us about Blaine’s health, sometimes she even expressed her fears for him. Even the security staff were fun. Yes they would be extremely tough with anyone trying to do things that were not allowed, but other than that, those of us who become acquainted with them, it was pleasant being at Potters Fields because there was many a laugh, teasing, and rib-tickling. Admittedly it too was therapeutic also as I was really down in the doldrums at the time and this was a chance to get away from some nasty people in my life… On several occasions I spent the entire day here!
Wonderful technology at the time – now quite ancient!
Small Blaine admirers’ camp in Potters Fields – notice London’s skyline as it was in 2003
The time spent at Potters Fields in 2003 was interesting from today’s perspective. Most of More London had not been built. The Rill had only just been completed and flowed down its course with barely a building to be seen. The Paddle Steamer Waverley made several trips through Tower Bridge into the Upper Pool. In fact the famous steamship is due to make another bout of trips into London very soon. Details are here.
Thumbs up from Blaine – note all the writing on the side of his plexi-glass box
Notice warning people they would be exploited for TV purposes LOL!
Even from Potters Fields in 2003 the London skyline looked very different. There was just Tower 42, The Gherkin, and St. Helens Tower. In 2018 its just so amazingly different! All these new skyscrapers – which I have covered in most of my City Spires and Towers posts. This ongoing series depicts the City’s skyline as it morphs beyond recognition. Potters Fields itself wasn’t the area we see today either. It was rough grassland and barely landscaped, mainly surrounded by building works. Comparing the 2003 pictures and the scene as it is in 2018, there’s just one bit of the original park that remains to this day. This is the lower bit of the stepped terrace that runs alongside the riverside walkway. That changed by way of the addition of a second terrace and thus raising the entire park to a higher and more level elevation. The area where Above the Below was, its now partially built upon with new residential blocks.
Halfway there! This was day 22 – the 27th September 2003