Staring up at it from underneath, with my hand touching its imposing, futuristic frame, 20 Fenchurch Street – aka The Walkie Talkie – bulges out like an impossibly warped cartoon. It’s unreal. The front of the building actually seems to lean out and hang over you like a wave of blue glass. The white beams on its side are like twisting water slides touching the sky. And the top has a Sky Garden lookout point that’s free and open to the public – as long as you book two weeks in advance. Let’s go!
At ground level, the Sky Garden lobby looks like an all-white customs terminal, complete with beautiful smiling women in Emirates Airline-style dresses and stern security faces checking bags with plastic trays. The crowd builds steadily, as well-planned tourists with backpacks seemingly join the queue straight from the airport.
Things move pretty swiftly, though, and we’re soon ushered to a swanky lift door – and before we know it we’re on the 35th floor! Wait, did I miss something? The whole trip took seconds, and I can only imagine how fast we were actually travelling. A mate of mine lives on the 15th floor in Shoreditch, and his lift groans and gurns all the way up like a clanging old dinosaur. This was like Willy Wonka’s glass elevator.
Stepping out and around the corner, the view is breathtaking. The layout at the top is a lot like the lobby, and reminds me of Dubai International Airport; glass, steel and soulless with a bright blue skyline. There’s a posh-looking cafe in the middle of the hall, uncomfortable-looking IKEA couches scattered around the edges and massive-looking leftover meringues piled up on plates. We step out on to the balcony and take in our surroundings. Wow, my legs turn into jelly.
As usual, the first thing that grabs your attention is The Shard. And to be honest, the view is even more impressive than the one from the other side. The View from the Shard’s almost twice as high, and things feel much further away. The landmarks are tiny and – most importantly – your photos don’t look as good. The Sky Garden, on the other hand, is the perfect height; you’re high above enough London to gasp and breathe it all in, but not so far away that you’re looking down on a city for ants.
Zara seems spellbound by her lofted take on things. She stares at the view with a look of wonder and amazement on her face. And I wonder what’s going on inside her head. How does this all make sense? Two seconds ago we were on the ground, way down there, and now we’re in the clouds.
Eventually, when we can drag ourselves away, we head up the stairs and take in the rest of the view – but nothing compares to the lump you get in your throat stepping out on to the balcony for the first time.
The actual “garden” is much less impressive, and feels more like an underwhelming add-on collection of neatly potted plants than the lush, botanic jungle in the sky we were expecting. Still, it’s a great morning that Zara really seems to get a kick out of.
We head back down to Earth, breeze through Leadenhall Market and end up walking across Tower Bridge, before hopping on a bus and heading back home for a snooze, to digest our morning of sensory overload.