Sarah McQueen is a Hero - December 7th 2014

Sarah McQueen is Marketing Manager for Searcys the Gherkin and (along with GM Danny Kaljee) is in charge of the Top of the Building’s event calendar.  So to hold The Gherkin Challenge the NSPCC need both the 30 St Mary Axe Management’s support for the stair climb itself and for Searcys to donate the top of the building. The 30SMA team have already generously said yes and Searcys had offered dates in March, April and July but they were too soon, too near Easter and too-in-the-middle-of-the-Summer. September would be ideal but this is the start of the busy period for Searcys The Gherkin where their space is booked solidly until the end of December – and they already give two days for the Open House London weekend at the end of the month. What to do? I decide to plead! Sarah, Danny and I are all parents* and it only took a few minutes thinking about the work of the NSPCC for Sarah to agree to donate the top of the building space for September 7th. This is fantastic!! Sarah, thank you, thank you  – you are a hero!


*Not that you have to be parents to appreciate the vital work of the NSPCC!

The Gherkin Challenge for the NSPCC 2014 will be on September 7th 2014. Should it be held again in future years the aim is to hold it in the spring. 

Sarah McQueen

Millions of people at Gherkin for Open House London - 21st & 22nd September 2013

Last weekend I volunteered to answer questions at the top of the Gherkin for visitors during Open House weekend. I welcomed millions to the top and it has taken me a whole week to recover (well, ok, I exaggerate – it was only about 5,000 people and I did get eventually my voice back on Tuesday night…)

Day 1. The queue had already reached the end of St Mary Axe when Ben and I arrived at 7am, an hour before opening time. We chatted to everyone waiting and discovered that the couple at the very front had arrived at 6.15am. While Ben helped Jason from Searcys set up the Gherkin Guides I heard all about the success of Maggie’s Culture Crawl from three women who had made friends on the overnight route, watch the sunrise from the top of the building (the last stop on the Crawl) and stayed to chat. That was the last time I relaxed (or sat down) for the next 12 hours.

The building opened, the aim being 50 people every 15 minutes. It felt like an unstoppable ocean of visitors – I welcomed people as they came out of the lifts (congratulations you’ve reached the top of the Gherkin, thanks for queuing) , directed people (look out to the west on level 39, up the stairs to the glass dome – you must see the 360˚ view on level 40) answered everyone’s questions (Norman Foster, 7429 panes of glass), asked children if they could spot the only piece of curved glass in the building (they absolutely loved discovering it), took photos of people with their cameras for them (if you stand just here both you and your reflection will be framed by the diamonds of the building, it’s an amazing shot) and entertained queues waiting for the lifts down with facts and stories (one time for 20 minutes as the lifts stopped working!) It was a really lovely atmosphere at the top – we were all aware everyone had been waiting for ages to get in and all the Open House volunteers joined me in saying ‘Welcome to the Gherkin!’ ‘You’ve made it’ and ‘Thanks for waiting in the queue!’ as people arrived. The security staff were fantastic, smiling throughout and chatting as they brought people up in the lifts, and not a single person complained when their time at the top was over. Ben and Jason proved to be brilliant at selling books, which was just as well because I was hopeless – constantly answering questions, helping identifying things in the view or rushing to welcome another lift full of people. I spotted Victoria Thornton, the founder of Open House London, at one point and let everyone know who she was – she received a huge round of applause.

I did leave the top once when I popped out and speak to people in the queue – it took me 1.5 hours to walk around it!!! I thanked people for their patience, told them it was extraordinarily marvellous at the top and worth waiting for and that I would see them at the top to answer their questions. Of course, everyone wanted to know how long the wait was  and I could only tell them the 30 St Mary Axe team were trying to get 80 people in every 15 minutes (rather than 50) to try and fit in as many people into the building queue as possible. If they pushed for an exact time I had to say I was doing ‘queue encouragement’ and someone from the building would be round to do ‘queue management’! In the end we stayed open till 6pm, two hours later than advertised. The last people left by 7pm – I got home at 9pm and had to lie down the moment I got in.

Our first visitor of the day!

Our first visitor of the day!

Day 2. Twitter came into it’s own for me this weekend – in the early morning queue I met Natasha (@ishootandtravel ) who had tweeted the day before that the #gherkin queue had put her off, I had replied back that she should try coming early – she did and so got to the top in the first bunch of the day and took some amazing photos. There were loads of other lovely messages on Twitter throughout the day (and over the days since). The Sunday queues were really long and again the 30 St Mary Axe team extended the opening hours to try and get as many people in as possible. After the queues closed the Open House volunteers were allowed in to thank them for their work over the weekend – after that they went off to a celebratory party, I had no voice left and went home to lie down again.

The Gherkin Guides proved very popular which was wonderful, and on Monday morning someone who had visited showed hers to her boss – who immediately contacted Searcys and ordered 200 copies – hooray!

The whole weekend was great, I’m glad I did it. Right now I think I’m never doing it again!!

Our best dressed visitors! Thanks to Mum and Dad for photo permission. 

Our best dressed visitors! Thanks to Mum and Dad for photo permission. 

The Gherkin Guide sellers (in a rare moment sitting down!) 

The Gherkin Guide sellers (in a rare moment sitting down!) 

1,000 Gherkin Guides for Open House London - 13th September 2013

I meet Searcys The Gherkin GM Danny Kaljee today to discuss using one of the photos from ’360˚ at the Gherkin’ in his Christmas campaign – we decide on the South West view, taken at dawn on a snowy morning – it will look fabulous. I remember the morning we took it. It had been snowing all week, as yet it hadn’t settled in the City but I was positive that finally it would stay overnight and made Baizdon photographer Joe Plimmer promise to meet me outside the Gherkin at 6am. Searcys opened the Club early for us and Joe got the most spectacular shots – both the east and the south-west photos in the book are from that morning.

Danny also asks me to bringing 1,000 extra Gherkin Guides especially for the two-day Open House weekend, as they will be on sale at the top of the building. 3,000 visitors are expected over the two days. I am thrilled – but do wish I could offer them to people waiting in the queues, everybody will be a fan of the building so they will love all the information in the Gherkin Guide and Adam Parker’s unique metre long image of the building – it would certainly help make the waiting time more enjoyable!