Building security can now breathe a little easier, as George King, the guy who was caught freeclimbing Lotte World Tower half a year ago, has left the country.
Back on June 12, King made worldwide headlines when he was caught halfway up the tower, the world's sixth-tallest. After being escorted down, he was detained for about three days before being released.
It was reported that police investigated him on charges of trespassing, but as he hadn't entered the building, they forwarded the case to the prosecution on charges of business obstruction. After months of waiting to find out his punishment, and if he'd be imprisoned (again, as he had previously served three months of a six-month sentence for free-climbing the Shard in London), he was issued a fine.
"The punishment was indeed settled out of court with a 5 million won fine, paid by my sponsor: RIOT Labs," he told The Korea Times.
The "British Spider-Man," as the media dubbed him — not to be confused with Tom Holland or Andrew Garfield — faded from the headlines, especially when another King (no relation) made even bigger news with his own infiltration, but he remained in Korea the whole time, living free.
During the investigation, he was banned from leaving the country, but after it was all over, he wasn't ready to depart.
"I stayed for so long in Korea simply because I did not get bored — every single day from the start to the finish was extremely eventful. The fast-paced lifestyle of Seoul mirrored my character perfectly. I found a second home here," he said.
"It helps that the Koreans are generally a very welcoming and appreciative culture of people. Respect and politeness seems to be at the forefront of their thinking in their day to day interactions with people," he said. "I also like how I can leave my laptop on the table in a cafe to do a phone call outside and return to see that it remains unstolen. You do not get this kind of reception in London."
He spoke enthusiastically of exploring Seoul's underground techno scene, claiming to have explored "every single techno club in Seoul." He said his favorite was Faust, "a Berlin inspired techno club in Itaewon, where you can often find pounding industrial-style techno ricocheting off the walls of its misty interior." He also mentioned attending a 72-hour rave at Beton Brut, also in the Itaewon area.
He continued climbing during his stay, but not buildings — instead he explored the country's many mountains.
In order to survive in Korea without any income and being unable to leave, he relied on community support, settling in the Itaewon/Haebangchon area for the rest of his stay.
"Around a week after getting released from jail, I needed a haircut and so searched online for an English-speaking barber. I found Blackmarket Barbershop in Itaewon and made my way towards it," he said. " I sat in the barber chair and asked Beau Walder for a skin fade. Beau asked what I was doing here in Korea and so spoke at length about my story of climbing Lotte World Tower."
After the haircut, they had a beer together and got to know each other more. As well as being a barber, Walder specializes in screenprinting. Later on, they discussed the idea of collaborating together on a screenprint, combining Walder's skills with King's adventures.
"Beau and I were both mutually inspired by each other's work so we felt it was important to create a piece of art which symbolized time together," King said. "We became transfixed with the idea of creating a print from my story of climbing and jumping off Europe's tallest roller coaster. We felt the stunt was appropriate because it represented the courage involved when facing the metaphorical highs and lows of life."
With materials bought in Euljiro, they made 30 screenprints with four gradient layers on 700 grams per square meter cushion paper. The print, which they named "Virtus" (a term he said comes from Ancient Rome and means courage combined with military strength) is now available for purchase. The limited-edition copies are signed and numbered are on sale at Blackmarket and online via the Blackmarket store.
"The process of printing mimicked how I would approach climbing a building in relation to the meticulous calculations — I felt at one with the process," King said.
"I feel very inspired to continue making art out of my work. As my stunts develop, I will also make screenprints out of the photography which comes from them."
After months of putting off preparations for his eventual departure, King went to the immigration office on Nov. 24. "Something I have been putting off for several months in order for me to remain put in Korea," he said. "Due to no visa, I was an illegal immigrant in Korea and so I was a little bit nervous as to what the verdict could be. "
While having coffee at a cafe next door, he noticed a banner at the office offering a fine exemption and suspension of entry restrictions to all illegal foreign residents who voluntarily depart Korea by the end of the year.
He got his hopes up, but then found out that his criminal record exempted him from the benefits of the voluntary departure scheme. He was given the option to pay a 3 million won fine, or face a five-year re-entry ban.
"Due to my insufficient funds I chose the second option, so I have a five-year ban from re-entering Korea," he said. "If I had the funds I would most definitely pay the 3 million won fine, as I dearly do love Korea. I hope to be back after five years and if there is an option to pay the fine overseas in order to reduce the ban from re-entering, then when I have the money, I would be willing to do that."
Life after Korea
After so much time away, he noted that he has checked in with his family in the U.K. since returning.
"They are very happy to see me back at home. Of course my family would have liked to have me home as opposed to being away for six months in Korea….but they were also happy to see that I was experiencing an eventful lifestyle in a completely different culture," he said. "Ever since I was young I was curious about exploring my surroundings and actively pursuing experiences which scare me. My current lifestyle of traveling the world climbing buildings has never been a surprise to my family — it is all I have ever done."
While he said his interest in future stunts has not being diminished, as he still has aspirations to complete an urban freebase (climbing and flying off a skyscraper), he said he's also done some reflecting.
"During my time in Korea I have had time to reflect on my capitalization processes of my 'lifestyle,'" he said. "It seems as though the idea of my main source of income, being solely sponsorship for doing highly dangerous activities, does not feel sustainable."
He said he is going to focus on his public speaking, with plans to tour across the U.K. and Europe. "During the course of 2024 I will be giving talks concentrating on fear with the context of my story," he said.
He also said he's interested in documenting his story, and by the end of next year he hopes to complete his first book, "a book I started writing whilst in HMP Pentonville prison in 2020."
Also, after finding his love for screenprinting at Blackmarket, he will continue developing art out of the photography that comes from his work. He hopes to release another screenprint in a few months.