Inspiration Hour: Tim Shieff

World-class free-runner Tim ‘Livewire’ Shieff has toured Asia. He’s climbed pyramids. He’s scaled Manhattan’s lofty high rises (good scaffolding apparently…) What’s the next natural step? A motivational Q&A with M&C Saatchi’s athletically challenged. Obviously.  

Tim Shieff 1


Why so keen on jumping, and how did you learn to free-run?

Every kid has that compulsion in them. They climb on sofas and duck under railings, anything to explore their environment. Free-running is the adult version – I’m just too big for playgrounds now. I taught myself. You begin with tiny jumps. Then you introduce curbs, higher leaping points, longer distances. Everyone is born with the ability – we just forget how.

And the fear of falling?

Fear isn’t a real emotion. It’s impractical. It doesn’t tell you what’s actually possible and what’s not. Try to understand fear; if it’s coming from your brain, just ignore it, but if it’s more of a gut feeling that something’s amiss, sometimes  it’s best to back away. Free-running isn’t  about being fearless, I’m not an adrenaline junkie. It’s about learning to have faith in your skills, and trusting that faith. I feel calm when I’m jumping – it’s like meditation.

Tell us about your recent trip to Egypt?

Three of us paid this local kid to sneak us past armed guards, to climb the Great Pyramid at 2am. We were there above the clouds and heard the morning call to prayer ring out across the entire city. It’s incredible moments like that when your best creative ideas tend to materialise.

You’re a YouTube sensation – do you think about viewers’ reactions when you’re choreographing new sequences?

Yes, I have to think like a director now as much as an athlete. But that’s okay – videos are my creative outlet. I started with a rubbish little fisheye camera and edited everything myself. Now I have a team and it takes 5-6 days to make a 4 minute video. I’d like to film in Singapore – good walls for jumping!

How important are social channels in promoting your sport?

They’re huge. In Egypt, we gave a town one day’s notice and a hundred kids turned up to see us, just through social media and word-of-mouth. I also co-created last year, which shows free-running in different international cities. TV is limited in that the not everyone has access to the same channels the world over. But any kid can sign into YouTube at any time.

What happens if you try a stunt a few times and it’s not going well?  

Quite often I’ll change it – you’ve got a time and energy scale to work with. But sometimes you do stay there until it’s nailed. When I look at the best videos, it’s the ones where they’ve taken three days to get one clip that really stand out. That’s where there’s potential for free-running to go further as an art form.

How does it work when you collaborate with another free-runner?

People coming together with a common goal is always a powerful thing. It gives you the right energy and inspires creative ideas. It’s hard to see what you’re doing well, so it’s good to have someone there to give you an audience’s perspective. It’s the same in any creative industry; when you’re in a brainstorming meeting, you’ve got to have an ‘anything goes’ approach. Encourage everyone to say whatever’s in their head until someone starts to put forward good ideas.

Any advice for us?

Don’t apply formula to any creative process. The more you force your brain, the harder it resists, and that causes stress, which inhibits creativity. Also, you should find something to be grateful for. It’s only then that you move forward in life (and work).