Three years ago, me and my friend from school (Will) were discussing how great it would be to have a Guinness World Record, and also how much we loved hugging. After a quick Google, we found that the record for the longest hug was 'only' 24 hours, and decided to try and beat it. Unfortunately, three years of faffing later, that record had been broken, and now stood at 32 hours, 32 minutes and 32 seconds. With the stakes getting higher, and as men of our (reckless) word, we set out to beat it on Saturday morning at 8.30am outside the Tate Modern on London's South Bank, aiming to go until 9.06pm on Sunday evening. And we did it – setting a new world record at 36:36:36.
We hoped that by holding each other for over 36 hours in public, we might demonstrate the importance of simply showing a friend that you are there for them
Will and I care passionately about mental health issues; we have both suffered personally, and watched those we love suffer through these illnesses. Because of this, and because we thought the charity fitted perfectly with the act (we all know how helpful a hug can be!), we chose to raise money for Mind, the fantastic mental health charity. We hoped that by holding each other for over 36 hours in public, we might demonstrate the importance of simply showing a friend that you are there for them. The hug was never an attempt to trivialise mental health by suggesting that a hug is all people need, we just wanted to try and emphasise the importance of support, friendship and kindness – in a world where sometimes the significance of these things is overlooked. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15-29-year-olds worldwide, and for each death there are over 20 attempts. Compared to other illnesses causing similar levels of deaths, mental health remains chronically underfunded, which is why the work Mind does is so vital. In the UK, 84 men take their own lives every week. We all need to be open to the struggles in people’s lives and in our own.
The hug itself was the most incredible thing either of us has ever done. The love (and hugs) we were shown from the thousands of random people who passed us on the South Bank was so uplifting and made us realise just how lovely the world really is. People seemed genuinely excited for us and what we were doing, and we were hugged by everyone from children to policemen, from a group of trans people protesting the patriarchy to drunk football fans celebrating England’s win.
Will and I had planned to share stories about our lives with each other during the hug, but the passing crowds meant we didn’t actually talk to each other as much as we thought we would, and when we did, we were reminded that we very much weren’t in private – as one old lady dropped a pound coin into our bucket, she said: "I’d pay a quid for the sex story alone."
Guinness Records insist that you take a five-minute break after every hour of any endurance activity (for health and safety, and for general sanitation), but other than that, we had to be standing up so we didn’t fall asleep (a sitting-down hug is definitely a snuggle, not a hug!). Other than those logistics, the two questions strangers asked us repeatedly during the hug were:
Q1: Did you know each other before? A1: Yes… This isn’t a first Tinder date…
Q2: What happens if one of you becomes 'overexcited'? A2: No comment.
The hug was infinitely more difficult than we thought it would be. Will couldn’t speak for about half of it and I was so confused that I spent a good hour trying to work out whether we were in Hyde Park or Richmond Park (we were on the South Bank…we were just near a tree). We were so nervous about the toilet issues – five minutes is not very long to run into the Tate Modern café – that we made the incredibly reckless decision not to eat or drink that much during the hug. This decision, made by Dr Will (yes, Dr) turned out not to be that conducive to standing for 36 hours in the boiling heat.
The lowest point was probably at 5am on Sunday morning when no one had been past for hours. Time goes so much slower without people hugging you and cheering you on, and we realised that we had somehow miscalculated, and that in fact 9am, not 5am, was two-thirds of the way through. It was a real dagger to the heart, since we’d been using 5am as our delicious carrot since 2am! This realisation was followed by one of the first morning members of the public looking us up and down, saying "I prefer trees myself", and walking on.
But the love we felt from everyone and the fact that every second we were raising more and more money for Mind kept us going, and we will remember the celebration at the moment we broke the record forever. Our friends stuck with us throughout – Guinness Records dictates that you have two people officially 'witness' the event along with the film of it (the 'favour cheques' we wrote to get people to cover the 3am-7am shift will be cashed in very soon, I am sure) – and there were crowds of the public supporting us, many of whom came back after having passed us several times during the weekend. More than anything, the image of my grandma Anne being passionately embraced by a giant Canadian man as we broke the record sticks in my mind.
The day after the hug, my body was in agony. But some lovely man from Urban Massage came by on Saturday and said he’d get us a free massage, and came back on Sunday with a gift card. When he came back, I said to Will, "It was really lucky he managed to find us again", forgetting we had been in the same place the whole time. I really didn’t know where I was by the end.
It’s so great to know that what started out as a reckless idea has created so much positivity – and my girlfriend will now be able to update her CV with the role of 'Girlfriend of the World’s Greatest Hugger'. We smashed our initial target and with everything included, estimate we are past £7,000. We would LOVE to reach £10,000 so any support Refinery29 readers can give would be so fantastic. JustGiving #hugformentalhealth