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‘A few years ago, when I was drunk, I donated a stupid amount of money to a Kickstarter to bring back “The Crystal Maze”. As my reward, I played the game with 31 friends. Afterwards, one of them asked: had I heard of escape rooms?
I said: that’s not my thing. I don’t like being trapped. I’m exceedingly claustrophobic. I grew up in Clapham and when I was a kid, I would have an absolute panic attack if I was on the tube and it stopped in a tunnel. But then my birthday came around, and I hadn’t planned anything. I like doing spontaneous things, so that morning, I booked myself and some friends in to an escape room for the same day.
It was called Enigma Escape – they’ve all got bloody “enigma” in the name somewhere. We got out with nine minutes and seven seconds to spare. It was exhilarating. By the end of the week, I had played seven more rooms. Then we went on holiday to Italy for two weeks, and I booked in 15 escape games.
That was during my final year of medical school, and in my first year as a doctor, I got a bit obsessed. Every time I had two days off, I would fill it with escape rooms – otherwise I would have just been exhausted and done nothing all weekend. It was much better to blast stuff into space, or go down into a mine, or raid an Egyptian tomb. It mentally distanced me from work.
I’ve probably done too many escape rooms! I now play with a team of four and, in total, we’ve played 1,312 games. As far as I know, nobody has played more than that. Our average time to escape, playing as a four, is about 28 minutes, and recently we scored joint fourth in Red Bull’s Escape Room World Championship.
‘I went on holiday and booked 15 games in two weeks’
There’s a story behind all the rooms we have failed. Once something broke and it took the owner 12 minutes to notice. At one game in France, there was a translation error which threw us off. Then there are the gamesmasters who want their room to be the one that stumps us. One owner deliberately gave us a clue that had nothing to do with the room, and he was so happy when we didn’t get out in time. It was a bit sad, really.
People sometimes get a bit panicky if they haven’t heard about escape rooms before – they think it sounds like an anxiety-inducing, unpleasant experience. But I always say, “Think of the escape as escapism.” Any genre you can name, I’ve played an escape room to match. Some even feature love stories.
Everyone dreams about being the main character, and escape rooms are a step up from that: each room has a story and you’re the protagonist. There’s also a lot of fun in being able to just go into a room and rummage. You don’t get to do that very often – you can’t go round to someone else’s house and turn over all their furniture.
I’m a classic south Londoner – I’ve spent my whole life here – but I’ve visited more countries in the last three years than ever before in my life. We’ve played games with over 150 different people, and have made friends in Europe, Russia, America and Brazil. And it would never have happened had I not ventured out there to play some weird game.’
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