I'm a coward. I've never denied it. I am neither proud nor ashamed of this fact. I don't watch horror films, I am scared of any creature that has more legs than me, I am the coat holder at fairgrounds and I am incredibly scared of heights. I repeat I am incredibly scared of heights. What I am really good at, however, is agreeing to things that are either going to take up lots of time, cost me lots of money or demand some sort of pain, either physically or emotionally; more often than not all of the above are included. Running a Marathon, walking 54 miles in 24 hours through the rainy Scottish highlands, supporting West Ham. My epitaph will surely read 'It seemed like a good idea at the time'. This is why I found myself at a sky dive airfield, four hours after being picked up from what seemed like the smallest airport in the world in Queenstown, New Zealand. After a dutch courage pint of lager, we were quickly ushered into our ‘designer’ jump suits and taken through extensive training in the art of tandem skydiving New Zealand Style. I hoped I would remember it all, there was so much to take in:
1. Set on the idge of the plane, and put your fit undernith the plane.
2. Hold on tuy the harness strips and when your Skydiver tips you on the shoulder put your arms out.
3. Kiss your bottom goodbye.
Ok, I made the last one up.
I met my skydiver and cameraman and we proceeded to get packed into a plane roughly the size of a can of beans. My traveling companion/person who stitched me up, had completed a tandem jump in Australia a few years previously at 9000ft. We were going up, and up, and up to 15000ft.
It was on seeing the first diver literally fall out of the plane into a turbulent sky that reality finally kicked in. I was now strapped to my skydiving partner so tightly that I feared I would be claiming child maintenance from him nine months down the line - this seating position may however have helped alleviate some of the fear. I won't lie to you, it's a bit of a blur. Apparently I took on a pallor never witnessed in a human before and there was a lot of head holding and 'oh Gods'. Inwardly I was berating myself for getting into the predicament in the first place.
As I found out afterwards no one thought I was going to see it through, in fact the stitcher upper feared I would die of fright before even leaving the plane - whichever route I took. Thankfully her mind was taken off the thought of my sudden death by her own inability to breathe at altitude, (did I mention we were at 15000 feet?) so the oxygen was passed around the tin can. Strangely, being strapped so tightly to a hunky Kiwi gentlemen that by now it could be twins, the decision to jump or not is very much taken out of your hands. I said my goodbyes in my head and was suddenly half hanging out of the plane door and before I fully realised it, was hurtling at 200 kph towards the ground.
If you haven't done something this stupid before I will attempt to describe it. Imagine you are facing a big wind. That's it. Ok a really big wind with a Kiwi man strapped to your back but all the same a big wind. No stomach lurching, no feeling sick, all fear gone. I shook hands with the camera man in mid-air and after 60 seconds the main chute opened (I'd never doubted it, of course).
I grinned so much my next role could well have been in an advert for sensitive teeth due to guzzling so much of the biting wind. The views of the south Island terrain were quite literally breathtaking as we fell through the delicate clouds. Seven minutes later I was landing, far more quickly than I’d assumed during my surreal fall through the sky. Granted, once landed, your head does feel a little bit like it's been ripped off and put back on upside down for about 18 hours, but what a fairytale feeling. It's just a shame that the cameraman caught me a couple of times with my eyes closed, what are the chances of that?