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The Heir Up There

The British royal line descends from Europe's second-tallest building

Author Sarah Warwick

LONDON—Looking up at London’s newest skyscraper, the 1,016-foot Shard, it’s just possible to make out an antlike speck near its pinnacle. The speck is Prince Andrew, the reigning British monarch’s second son, who has volunteered to rappel down the building for charity. Even from far away, you can see that he’s not entirely comfortable with the decision.

On the opposite side of the building, commuters stream over London Bridge and into the city, unaware that the only thing between the Duke of York and a perilously rapid descent is a nylon rope with a few strategically placed clips. Directly below the speck, meanwhile, a small crowd has gathered. “He seems nervous,” remarks one onlooker.

In fact, Prince Andrew doesn’t seem nervous so much as paralyzed. “They have to go slow,” says another spectator, who apparently knows about such things. “It’s a steady walk down.”

After half an hour of steady downward walking, the prince reaches his destination, the 20th floor, and disappears from view. With this, the cluster of onlookers dissolves into the morning flow, a few wearing expressions of mild disappointment, as if they’d expected something a bit more Tom Cruise-y.

Prince Andrew, at least, does not find the experience lacking in excitement. When asked what he thought of the descent, he responds, “I will never do it again.”

ILLUSTRATION BY PETER OUMANSKI

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