The Daredevil Deficit
Who can rival David Blaine in the stuntman stakes?
So it has come to pass that the mighty David Blaine is about to mastermind another huge public stunt, and this time he’ll need his Speedos. Perish the thought! Evidently the stuntster Blaine is planning to live underwater for a week in a human-sized fish tank outside of New York’s Lincoln Centre.
This latest escapade will end after seven days and seven nights with Blaine attempting to break the record for holding one’s breath underwater.
Once upon a time my office was regularly visited by reincarnated Fred Karno types who had devious plans to grab column inches. Many were professional illusionists aiming to be the next Harry Houdini. If they weren’t magicians they were stuntmen hungry to make a name for themselves as the best Bond stunt double, keen to throw themselves off a 12-storey building on to a Slumberland mattress below.
On one damp autumn morning a visiting stuntman asked my opinion on the amount of coverage I could generate for his proposed leap over the Thames in a Routemaster double decker bus. I suggested that it was impossible to make the leap successfully. He looked up at me with sharp knowing eyes and said: “That’s the point!”
The question I would like to pose is why we aren’t producing showmen of this calibre anymore? Genuine performers that want to have a go for the glory of self-publicity.
Before Blaine’s South Bank fast I had the pleasure of publicising one of the biggest stunts in London, the Thames Wire walk. Didier Pasquette and Jean Kinder Martin walked across the river on a tightrope – the first ever double tightrope crossing of the Thames – a seven-feature stunt that generated worldwide coverage.
Alas nowadays health and safety and ludicrous red tape has hampered stuntsters. It is easier to sell a reality TV format than to stage a death-defying event for a brand. Corporate clients are also nervous of risk, and quake at the idea of a stunt that would promote a brand worldwide.
But there is a huge opportunity to pull off a moment of mad genius – the media and public alike love it. Through the decades all kinds of performers have taken their life into their hands to generate ink and fame.
My own favourite that inspired me when I was a callow youth was reading about a leap performed for the New York Selzer company back in 1982. On behalf of the soft-drink company a performer called Randy Miller became famous for leaping off the 15th story of the West Hollywood hotel into an airbag featuring the company’s branding. He survived the leap and the event generated TV and print coverage for a company that was brave enough to fund the stunt.
In the US, bridges and buildings and Vegas casinos regularly allow daredevils and stuntmen to strut their stuff, but alas Blighty is far too reticent to permit similar acts. Perhaps it is time for the adventurous to step up to the plate and give Blaine a run for his money.