Alan Darvill’s life on the edge

What’s a person to do once they have checked off all the items on their bucket list? For daredevil and extreme sports enthusiast Alan Darvill, the answer seems to be pottery.  

At his home in Savannah, Mr. Darvill has what some might describe as a “man-cave”. It’s a shed in the garden, but the fridge in there is not full of beer, it’s full of clay. The shed also houses two wheels, two kilns and dozens of buckets full of glazes. He’s been throwing pots (in the sense of making them, rather than hurling them) on and off for 35 years. “Now,” he says, “it’s coming more to the front as I am not doing so much of the other stuff.” 

By “other stuff” he means setting world records. Mr. Darvill holds six Guinness World Records, all of which involve extreme sports and nausea-inducing heights.  

As a former British Royal Marine, having a penchant for dangerous activities was probably a prerequisite for the job – and the taste for adventure clearly did not desert him when he left the military.  

It was while he was living in Yorkshire, England, that he embarked on his quest to set a variety of new world records.  

“In the UK there’s a charity called Children in Need run by the BBC. All around the country they have events to raise money for children in need. The Humber Bridge, which is in Yorkshire, was the biggest suspension bridge in the world at the time. So I thought, why not get a helicopter to hover over one of the towers, abseil (or rappel to Americans) out of the helicopter on to the top of the bridge, then we’d abseil down off the top of the bridge onto the road, then we’d go to the middle of the bridge and from there abseil down into a boat and make our way to shore.” 

Simple. And so he and his Marine buddies did it. “We raised 40,000 pounds, which was the largest amount raised that year by any single event.” 

Watching him delicately shape a lump of clay into a perfect bowl, it’s hard to believe someone can have such a delicate touch when so much of their time an energy has been devoted to far hardier endeavours.  

It’s not just the stunts he pulls – but the organisation involved. Alan has coordinated each of these world records (only one of which has been broken so far) many of which have taken months to get off the ground, so to speak.  

In attempting to break the existing record for the highest rappel (or abseil) from a building, which at the time was 642 feet, Mr. Darvill first approached the Empire State Building. After much to-ing and fro-ing, the powers that be denied him permission. So he took his proposal to the Twin Towers. Again there were months of discussions before it all fell through. Not to be put off, he set his sights on what was the tallest building in the world at the time – the 1,815 feet high CN Tower in Toronto. 

“At first they said no. Then they said okay, but you can’t go from top because there is this sort of donut at 1,100 feet that is full of radio transmitters that will fry your testicles. I said, ‘No problem, I’ve had the operation!’. So they said, ‘Okay you can do it – but you have to wear a space suit to protect you from the radiation’.” 

He managed to sweet-talk them out of the space suit and, in July 1992, 12 Marines and 12 Canadians set a new world record rappeling down the CN Tower from 1,400 feet.  

Another of this Guinness World Records was set on Seven Mile Beach and entailed descending a mile vertically, by means of various extreme sports: rappeling from a helicopter, then letting go and sky diving several thousand feet, parachuting the last part, landing in the sea, and immediately donning scuba gear to make a descent to 100 feet.  

“I want to do that one again,” he says. “Because of the wind, the boat wasn’t positioned right over the wall, so it took us longer than it should have.” 

It’s hard to tell the age of a person when they have so much energy, but by my calculations he must be into his 70s. Living proof that it’s never too late to do something new, Mr. Darvill has recently had his first pottery exhibition, featuring a selection of the ceramics he makes – bowls, teapots and casseroles and more. Working in ceramics might seem as far as one can possibly get from sky diving and repelling, but Mr. Darvill’s great gusto and zest for life seem to come through in his art, which is brightly coloured, quirky and, in his words, a little wonky.  

It doesn’t sound as though this daredevil will ever call it quits on the danger and adventure front. “If somebody told me I’d got three months – or a month – to live,” he says, “I would go out and do all the things that I haven’t done.”  

Somehow, that’s not hard to believe. 

Alan Darvill

The fridge in Alan’s potting shed is not for beer – it’s full of clay. – Photo: Natasha Were