Des’s Big Drop

On 15th September 2023, Scottish Presenter and Comedian, Des Clarke, was challenged to abseil down the iconic Forth Rail Bridge, to raise money for the charity ‘Global’s Make Some Noise’.

He reluctantly agreed, and the date was set for 8th October, just 23 days later! The abseil was thereafter known as ‘Des’s Big Drop’.

You can see his reaction on Heart Radio’s instagram.

Des Clarke and Alison Barr

Fear of Heights

What you may not know is that at the time, Des had a debilitating fear of heights, caused by traumatic childhood experiences.

During those 23 days, Des worked intensely with Alison Barr (Psychotherapist & Director of The Green Rooms), to overcome his fear.

Des was able to complete the abseil and raised over £6k for the charity!

IRL Challenge 1

Floor-to-Ceiling Window, 8 Floors Up

Exposure Therapy Explained

Alison tackled Des’ heights phobia using Exposure Therapy. This involved:

  • Talking Therapy
  • ‘In Real Life’ (IRL) exposure to heights
  • ‘Virtual Reality’ exposure to heights

Alison slowly and carefully exposed Des to increasing levels of percieved danger regarding heights, ensuring he was safe at all times.

When Des was fully comfortable with one level, he and Alison moved onto the next one.

Des’ Heart Radio Breakfast Show co-host Jennifer Reoch helped with the IRL challenges. Jennifer was a brilliant help to Des, keeping him calm when he felt fear.

“We started small. I needed to gague how deep his fear was, and make sure we didn’t re-trigger childhood traumas”.
– Alison Barr

Exposure Therapy Challenges

Heart Radio filmed some of Des’ Exposure Therapy challenges, and shared them on Instagram.

The first challenge was to look out the studio’s 8th floor window. This was only day 6, and you can see how uneasy Des feels. Even though there’s a window preventing him falling, Des’ phobia kicks in and he wants to step away.

After more (unfilmed) therapy, Des was ready to ramp it up. He and Jennifer visited Cineworld in Glasgow, home of the world’s tallest glass lift. Des does very well to remain calm, but just look at that hand gripping the rail!

IRL Challenge 2

The World’s Tallest Glass Lift


man in liftDay 11, 26th September

Virtual Reality Challenge 1

Test your Limits up a Skyscraper


virtual reality glassesDays 2-16, 16th September-1st October

Virtual Reality Skyscraper

This video was recorded at the Heart Studios on 2nd October via the VR headset. This is exactly what Des saw.

In Virtual Reality, the images and sounds are all around you, not just on a 2-D screen.

Can you hear the creaking of the wooden ledge? Can you see the helecopter at eye level?

Virtual Reality Skyscraper

Virtual Reality (VR) Exposure Therapy

Virtual Reality is amazing technology for treating phobias. It tricks your brain into thinking a situation is real, while you remain perfectly safe IRL.

Alison and Des used a VR app which allowed them to go to the top of a city skyscraper, and step onto an outside ledge.

In Alison’s office (days 2-16) Des built up confidence with the app, and was able to walk from the lift onto the outside platorm.

“Virtual Reality allowed us to ‘visit’ places we would never have been able to in real life. VR is a powerful therapeutic tool for phobias “.
– Alison Barr

Stepping off the Skyscraper

Live on air, during the Heart Radio Breakfast Show, Des was challenged to step off the ledge.

This was only day 17 (2nd October) so was a big ask.

Alison told him to imagine he was attached to an abseil harness, just like the one he would wear on the big day.

Alison set the app to ensure Des would float in mid air, and not fall.

Des stepped off the platform and felt elated!

virtual reality glassesDay 17, 2nd October

Indoor Abseil

Des needed to feel as ready as possible for the Forth Rail Bridge abseil, so it was essential to minimise his fear of the unknown.

Des and Jennifer visited a climbing wall to learn indoor abseiling.

The instructor harnessed them safely, and taught them how to use the rope & belay to abseil down the wall.

Des and Jennifer abseiled 10 meters down the climbing wall, and Des gained confidence that abseiling (under professional guidance) is safe.

“Fear does not necessarily mean danger”.
– Alison Barr

Return to Childhood High Flats

Des has spoken openly about his fear of heights. It begun when he was a young boy, living on the 22nd floor of a Glasgow tower block.

He witnessed tragic events, and had recurring nightmares for years.

Children make sense of their experiences, using child logic. In this case the logic was that heights were life threatening.

It made sense to young Des to avoid heights, in order to keep safe. This was a successful approach, however it unfortunately created a phobia.

When an adult faces their childhood fear, they can use adult maturity and logic to remove the power it once held.

Des visited a block of flats similar to his own, and used his adult self to re-frame his childhood experience.

high flatsDay 22, 7th October

Des’s Big Drop

Abseil 165 feet down the iconic Forth Rail Bridge

Forth Rail BridgeDay 23 - Abseil Day, 8th October

The Forth Rail Bridge Abseil

The Met Office issued an amber weather warning the day before the abseil. Thankfully on the big day the weather was good enough to go ahead, but it was still wild!

Des, Alison, Fat Brestovci, ‘Finding Your Feet’ charity representatives, and, Heart Radio & Capital Radio crews met at the bridge.

The nerves were palpable from the people who were waiting. There was also a lot of excitement and relief from the people who had completed their abseil.

Was Des ready? Did he still have a fear of heights?

“Des and I met regularly for unfilmed Talking Therapy and Exposure Therapy. He was highly motivated and determined to do the abseil”.
– Alison Barr

How Des felt during the Abseil

“I feel amazing”.

“This is unbelievable”.

“This is the best feeling I’ve ever, ever, had in my life”.

“To anybody who’s struggling, who’s ever had a fear or a phobia, don’t stop”.



All 165 foot of it (approx. 50 meters)!


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Forth Rail BridgeDay 23 - Abseil Day, 8th October