Gherkin Challenge - The Numbers Keep Climbing...

Mid May 333 people registered 

End May 428 people registered

Mid June 567 people registered

End June 699 people registered

Mid July 777 people registered

End July 831 people registered

Mid Aug 904 people registered

End Aug 917 people registered

7th September 958 people registered!

All this plus people with Champagne Passes (going straight up in the lift), family and friends coming to support and enjoy the activities in the Gherkin Plaza and all the NSPCC volunteers - well over ONE THOUSAND people involved this year! 

This, the 5th anniversary of the event, is the BIGGEST and BEST Gherkin Challenge for the NSPCC yet. I am so proud to be associated with it! (Now just have the climb the steps...)


The Bouygues Director's Dinner

Bouygues have ordered 20 books for their high profile guests attending their annual Director's Dinner, being held at the Gherkin this year. They ordered them months ago so why I am on a train to collect the books two hours before the event?... 

All copies of the first edition had been sold out when they ordered but their  date fitted in with the arrival of the second edition so that worked. All was going to plan until some extra post-production work that had been done on one of the panoramic photographs meant the books wouldn't be bound in time. It's ok, issues arise and I know it's my job to find a solution -  I arrange to have 20 copies sent out to a specialist binders and sent to the Gherkin by 5pm.  So far, so good.  Copies were bound by 2.45pm but the courier tells me the van can't guarantee delivery until 6 or 7pm (haven't they heard of motorbikes I want to scream - I ask nicely instead, apparently they haven't). I work out I can go to Essex to collect them myself if the printer can bring them to the station. He can. I go. I arrive back at the Gherkin 15 minutes before the host arrives to set up. (So this is what they mean when they say an entrepreneur will do anything to make things work). 

The Bouygues Directors and an array of high profile guests arrive including the lovely Sara Fox, of building the Gherkin fame (yes, actually - on time and under budget). I chat to everyone over drinks, they go into dinner - the books go down well, the evening is a huge success. Job done.

@LewisHamilton joining the @NSPCC #GherkinChallenge?

Lewis Hamilton loves the Gherkin. We know this because he told the @EveningStandard it was the building he'd like to be locked in overnight "It looks cool and I'd like to hang out in the bar at the top.' So for months every Gherkin Challenge planning meeting has started with Francesca Valli, the committee Chair and I, suggesting we ask Lewis Hamilton to take part this year. He'd be great, we say - he's a huge star, we say - the most talented driver of his generation and a phenomenal athlete. Can you imagine how he'd speed up the stairs, we say 'Hamilton expertly avoids the wall as he overtakes 27 people on the inside...' Can you imagine what an effect he'd have on the participants, we say 'Lewis is cheered by all as he dominates the stairwell on his way to the top...' Maybe he'd do it in the fastest time ever we say. 'Lewis Hamilton accelerates to a record breaking finish leaving the rest of the field 10 floors behind!' Just imagine...we said (at every meeting), it would be amazing!

So, you say, is he coming? Well, the NSPCC did speak to #TEAMLH last month - He'd have loved to, they tell us, But he'll be a little busy at the Italian Grand Prix that weekend... Maybe next year... Ok, so this could be great news for 2015!

Meanwhile this year, while Lewis is busy winning the Italian Grand Prix on September 7th, almost 1,000 of you will be doing something amazing too by taking part in the 2014 Gherkin Challenge for the NSPCC.  If you need a little motivation just imagine drinking champagne with Lewis Hamilton in the bar at the top of the building and you'll find yourself racing up the steps! (Maybe I can put a smiling picture of him up to welcome you and make Francesca and I feel better - what do you think #TEAMLH?)

And if you're not taking part why not sign up for one of the few remaining places and join this year's record number of people running or walking up the steps of the Gherkin for the NSPCC? (You can even get a champagne lift pass and bypass the stairs). Winners medals for all, as every step up this extraordinary building makes a difference for vulnerable children. It would be good to make it 1,000 people taking part - only 29 places left.... Registration closes Sept 3rd.

Or, if you can't make it and want to make a difference to children, you could sponsor my son and I to climb the steps on your behalf.

PS - Message for #TEAMLH @LewisHamilton and the team are always welcome as my guests at the top of the Gherkin! @TeeDobinson #GherkinGuru


The Artist & The Expert

The Gherkin is, in my mind, a piece of architectural art so I was interested when Searcys' commissioned architectural photographer Paul Ratigan to create two pieces of art for the 39th floor of the building with the Gherkin as their central theme. I was further delighted to be asked to interview Paul in front of an audience at the inaugural opening event - we'd like you to talk to Paul about your shared inspiration, the Gherkin and the synergies between your approaches as artist and expert.

I interview Paul the week before so I know what questions to ask on the night, I like him and we do have a lot in common, including the fact that we both walked around the building for months, (me mainly on the inside and him mainly on the outside).  I also decide to go in on the Sunday afternoon when the art is being hung, partly because this would give me more time with Paul (the more information you know about your interviewee the better job you can do) and partly because I was dying to get a peek at the art. The pieces are AMAZING! Layers upon and layers of architectural details, all transposed over each other but utterly clear - the clarity an important part of his technique I learn. Paul's is work is abstract and complex but the multiple layers have to be transparent (it would be easy to make the 50 or 60 images in piece look like a muddy mess instead of a thing of great beauty). Paul wants you to see through the picture, for your eye to go in and out, always being drawn to something new. This is exactly what happens.

(During the hanging process you'll be pleased to know I resisted the temptation to peel off the protective plastic on the artworks, although it was hard - I am in full admiration of those people who keep the protective screen saver plastics on their phones, I tell you, mine comes off in a millisecond).

The opening night was a big success, 'St Mary Axe I' and 'St Mary Axe II' wowed everyone and the audience enjoyed Paul's combination of outright enthusiasm and detailed explanations of the complexities of the technology he uses.

Thanks to Searcys The Gherkin and the charismatic Didier Donier of Doniel Gallery for inviting me to MC the evening and conduct the interview with such a talented artist.

Paul explaining his art to me during the hanging process

Paul explaining his art to me during the hanging process

At the inaugural opening event of St Mary Axe I & II

At the inaugural opening event of St Mary Axe I & II

2nd Edition of '360˚ at the Gherkin' On It's Way!

With all my publications there has been a lot of work behind the scenes* and the 2nd edition of '360˚ at The Gherkin is no exception. (*I'm sure it's the same for everyone's books, I just don't know about the development stories of anyone else's). 

London's skyline has changed radically in the last few years - when I arrived at the Gherkin in 2009 only it and Tower 42 could be counted as tall buildings in the City of London. One of the reasons I proposed the book in the first place was that people would arrive at the top of the Gherkin and find the 360˚ view disorientating and, as things look different from above, they'd often have no idea what they were seeing - after a while they would spot St Paul's course but lots of the rest was a mystery. The Gherkin, it seemed to me, to be crying out for a view guide. Searcys agreed and the first book was produced. It has now completely sold out.

For this edition the new cityscape - the Shard and the Walkie-Talkie to the south, the Leadenhall to the West and the Olympic Stadium in the East, meant new panoramic portraits of the views so our photographer Joe was busy again. As before we wanted to capture the views at different times of day, although we kept the snowy dawn shot of the South-East in as it's simply so beautiful (good news for Joe because that dawn shot was taken in January just before 7am and this week dawn was at 4am!)

As many of the landmarks we identified in the first edition are now behind either the new towers, the new edition needed more research too. Before the first edition I spent 3 months at the Gherkin recording what people pointed out in the views and what they asked questions about and used this information to help select the 100 buildings and landmarks we identified. Then Carolyn, Dan and I started to research for the right stories. This time the three of us looked out the windows to see what we could spot. Was that the Golden Hind? Dan thinks he can see a mast (we zoomed into Joe's photos on the i-pad, yes he could) meanwhile Carolyn is delighted we can include Fishmongers Hall and immediately gives us 3 stories to choose from (we chose one about Wat Tyler being killed there by the Fishmonger master). We have sprinkled new places and accompanying stories throughout all the views, I think my favourite is that the little clock tower atop Sugar House in the East is an exact quarter replica of Big Ben.

Hours of proofing with Sara Fox follow (yes, she of building the Gherkin fame).  Sara gives the same degree of attention to my grammar and typos as she does to getting a London landmark built, so thanks to her help the text is now perfect.

Design is next, the changes in photography and new wording mean each page has to be reworked. It's been done beautifully and I think Johnny (Creative Director) has made this edition look crisper and hang together even better than the first.

Now - we're ready for print - everything leaves today, June 13th, at 9am.

Incidentally Heron Towers was completed just as we finished the first edition and I struggled to find an unusual fact about it, then the day after we published they unveiled a gigantic tank in the reception area containing 1,000 fish and 3 sharks. The fish have made the second edition (the sharks long since being evicted for eating the other fish). 

Southbank International School visit the Gherkin

Today I am welcoming 31 small guests to the top of the Gherkin. One of Swiss Re's Director's has asked me to speak to her daughter's class. The children, from The Southbank International School in Hampstead, are incredibly well behaved and very curious - they have been doing a project on architecture and come armed with lots of questions and think of more when they are at the top. They are a pleasure to talk to and their teachers tells me later they do very well in the Gherkin Quiz that I sent them back to school with. 

The children have lots of questions about the Gherkin.

The children have lots of questions about the Gherkin.

Photo op time!

Photo op time!

The Gherkin Challenge - High Ambitions...


Signs ups are doing well, the Steering Committee have set an aim for 600 sign ups which is an increase on previous year's attendance based on the enthusiasm and expertise behind this year's event.  (I've worked out the building's capacity for the event and am encouraging them to go for 900+, at the moment everyone is putting that down to my natural exuberance - let's see what happens.... ) 

14th March - 78 people signed up

28th March - 120 people signed up

11th April - 228 people signed up

 25th April - 287 people signed up 

Definitely watch what happens...

Sign up yourself at

OSTC Visitors from Poland - February 24th 2014

OSTC have asked me to lead a guided visit to the Gherkin for a group of their brightest business students from Poland, something I did for them at this time last year. I rarely get to take large groups to the top of the Gherkin (as it's a working building of course) so everyone is very excited. The visit goes brilliantly and then becomes a conversation about their careers and about attitudes and I end up giving a stirring speech as we stand beside the lift about choices and the advantages of asking (people can always say no and they so often say yes!)  As I say goodbye at the bottom of the building I get a round of applause (lovely) and one of the group asks me if I've ever considered becoming a Motivational Speaker...

Later a member of the group, Mateusz Mucha, sends a LinkedIn request - of course I say yes.

The OSTC group 

The OSTC group 

Mateusz Mucha, who put my 'Always Ask' advice into practice immediately - well done!

Mateusz Mucha, who put my 'Always Ask' advice into practice immediately - well done!

Gherkin Challenge Steering Committee - February 13th 2014

Tonight Adam Lewis from the NSPCC’s Event Team presents the time line leading up to September 7th and we discuss how the committee can help enroll participants into the event. Lots is discussed, including a special event edition of my ‘360˚ at the Gherkin’ - as we ( are planning a second edition following the first one selling out I had offered to provide copies for everyone who reaches the top. Everyone liked the idea, and tonight we examine ways of sponsoring the books and at how we are going to let people know – if they just get it in their goody bags when they reach the top then the book is not helping encourage enrolment or incentivising fundraising so they need to know in advance. Various options are discussed.  We also look at overalls event budgets (Steering Committee Chair Francesca Valli is particularly exacting in her demand for minute details) – I am learning such a lot about fund raising!


Each member of the London Business Board promises to send details out of the event to their networks once registration opens. It would just be fantastic if the building was bursting to the seams of people reaching the top, enjoying the views knowing every step they’ve taken on the way up has helped children – I reaffirm (to myself and out loud) my personal commitment to helping make the event a massive success for all concerned – both those raising the funds and those benefitting. The rest of the committee does the same. What a team!! We are going to make this happen!

Johnny and Ben after completing the 2012 fundraiser.

Johnny and Ben after completing the 2012 fundraiser.

Apollo Tyres Gherkin Event - February 6th 2014

This is the day that the flu struck with a vengeance. On Monday I didn’t feel great, Tuesday was worse but Wednesday was a nightmare. I was convinced it was because I had been so smug when the rest of the family were ill earlier in the month "me and my vitamin C, I’m super healthy!" But now I was not. I couldn’t get out of bed. Luckily the tube strike had led to my first event of the day being cancelled but I was booked in the evening to speak to 100 people at the Gherkin - from 7.45pm to 11pm! (Sometimes I just talk and go home but tonight I was doing the version where I talk a little bit at the beginning and then come back and add more between each course – help!) I stayed in bed until 5.30pm then got up, got dressed (feeling about 93 years old) and went to work. Thank heaven for my work ethic, or maybe my ambition (or maybe just double Neurofen) – I did it and it went brilliantly. The Apollo guests were great, the CEO charismatic and charming and I loved meeting the people from C Jam who had organised the event. All in all a big success even if by the end of the night my voice was going. Woke up the next day to a voice that was lost completely and didn’t return for three days by which time the Flu had became Bronchitis… maybe next year I’ll have a flu jab (and not be so smug!) 

Thanks to Paul Brocklehurst for the photo - and for Apollo Tyres and C Jam's permission to use it.

Thanks to Paul Brocklehurst for the photo - and for Apollo Tyres and C Jam's permission to use it.

Welcoming LV= back to the Gherkin - 30th January 2014

It is fantastic to see LV= back at The Gherkin, for an evening event this time hosted by Victoria Wentworth. I soon see that everyone is really relaxed and an anecdote based, entertaining speech is what is needed - big smiles and lots of laughter tell me I’ve got it right.

Heidi Lees-Bell reminds me that when we last met in November she recommend I put a film of speaking at all the different events on my website – I have to admit it’s still on the To Do List! Thanks Heidi, it makes perfect sense - I make a mental note to move it a few places up the list.