James Jefferies is a normal 24-year-old. He's currently studying for a masters degree at the University of Salford and loves sport, photography and wildlife. However, James' favourite pass-time sets him aside from the rest of the world. He is an avid free runner and free climber. And having successfully combined free climbing and videography, he's gained attention from the likes of BBC News and The Huffington Post.
No other sport is quite as theatrical as free climbing and I imagine James to be a bit of an attention-seeker. I expect to meet someone who is loud, skittish and quite possibly insane. But instead I'm met by someone who is calm and eloquent. He is passionate about free climbing and certainly knows what he's talking about. However, as I keep having to remind myself, the authority with which he speaks comes from experience. And that's experience of clambering up buildings, cranes and telephone towers all without a rope in sight.
How do you get into a sport like free climbing?
It was just a natural progression from childhood hobbies. I've always climbed trees and walls and jumped off things even since I was young. At secondary school I had a bit of a reputation for doing "crazy" things as I was always jumping and flipping all over the place, but to me it was always just in the pursuit of what I found fun and enjoyable to do. As I got older the trees turned into buildings and cranes but the same childhood fascination is still there.
When was the first time you scaled a building without ropes?
Again, it was just a natural progression. When I was much younger I used to climb onto garage roofs and jump the gaps between them and climbed the two-storey post office near where I live. Then I moved onto climbing multi-storey car parks in the area and it just kind of grew from there.
At what point did you decide to combine free climbing and videography?
I've always been interested in making videos, having made short movies on YouTube for around eight to nine years, both on my current channel and an even older one! I love the idea of filming something that isn't normally seen and others seeing it and getting excited and interested. I filmed the Radio Tower climb in Cyprus using my phone sellotaped to a headtorch strap, because I didn't even have a proper camera at that point! But it was after freeclimbing in Manchester for a few years that I realised how beautiful of a city it was and so I felt compelled to make a film about it - which eventually became 'Above Manchester'.
In your experience, is dealing with fear down to nature or nurture?
I think if you're scared of something you should definitely face it head on. I'm not saying if you're scared of heights go and climb a crane, but I definitely think if you're scared of something you can overcome it by exposing yourself to it gradually.
How do you mentally prepare for a climb?
I don't have to do much really. I just remember to not get carried away, and take my time as I'm climbing, particularly if I get spotted whilst climbing, as panicking could end badly.
How do you scope out a site?
Well I don't want to give too much away or write an instruction manual, but it usually involves looking at a site during the day, scoping out cameras and where security is, working out an entry route and looking for windows overlooking the area where you might be spotted from, but you didn't hear that from me!
Has free climbing ever got you into trouble?
Let's just say myself and Greater Manchester Police have had a couple of run-ins over the years...
Where is the coolest place you've climbed?
Probably Cape Verde purely because when I reached the top of the crane I realised "I'm 2800 miles away from home, on a tiny island 350 miles off the coast of Africa...and I'm still climbing cranes in the middle of the night." That was a laugh for me. Haha!
Do you ever feel like by helping to grow the sport, you're encouraging people to endanger their lives?
I don't want to encourage anyone to do the climbing itself, but if I can show someone an amazing view or get their heart racing that's cool. I've been climbing for close to 10 years so I feel pretty trusting in myself. I wouldn't want someone to go out and try it with no experience - that's a recipe for disaster.
Did the death of Dean Potter ever make you think twice about risking your life?
Well he died during a Wingsuit accident so I can't really compare the two. You can die from doing almost anything. My brother nearly had to have his entire leg amputated after a hockey game accident. I don't think you can spend your life not doing anything for fear of injury. And I'm very careful with what I do so I feel confident enough in myself that I don't feel I'm risking my life. I stray away from the more crazy things like hanging off cranes. For me it's more about the view and the feeling I get by doing it. But each to their own, of course!
What are your thoughts on Channel 4's "Don't Look Down" and other mainstream mentions of free climbing?
I loved the programme because they didn't just use it for shock factor. They actually spoke to James and discussed why he does what he does and I applaud the program makers for that. Other mentions aren't so favourable, usually choosing to portray it in a very negative light, which is a bit of a shame.
What motivates you to do it?
For me it calms me, it focusses me and it excites me. My mind is constantly swirling with thoughts and worries and ideas, but when I'm climbing, my mind is utterly focussed on what it is I'm doing. To me it's very peaceful. And once I reach the top I can just look down at everyone and everything below me and it helps to put everything into perspective. (Both metaphorically and literally.)
Who are your free climbing heroes?
James Kingston, Dan Osman and Alain Robert for sure.
What is your Everest?
Everest. Haha but if we're talking buildings I guess I'd love to climb the Shard in London or something in Dubai!
Where are you planning to climb next?
Well I don't want to give too much away but keep your eyes peeled on my channel for a couple of videos of some high climbs in London in the next couple of weeks!
Lastly, what does your mum think?
Haha! She chooses to not watch some of the videos and doesn't like the idea of it much. But she doesn't try and stop me doing what I love and I respect her a huge amount for that.
And if you want to continue the theme of living vicariously through others, check out this video of Steve-O attempting his biggest flip to date - off a huge dam. Rather him than me.