Artist Lucy Sparrow has made mini versions of London’s iconic buildings out of felt for our Ministructures series. For each landmark she sews, we hunt down a Londoner connected with it. This week, we meet Tee Dobinson, 52, writer of ‘The Gherkin Guide’, motivational speaker and businesswoman extraordinaire.
Hi Tee! What do you do here?
‘When tenants have guests that want to know about the Gherkin, or when VIPs come to visit, I get to show them around. I also do talks on the building at Searcys lunches and events at the top. I’ve made it my mission to know as much as possible about the Gherkin, because I can get asked about anything – from architectural features to what the Queen said when she was coming up in the lift.’
What did the she say?
‘”Ooh, one’s ears popped!”’
So how did you get to know the building so well?
‘Lots of research. As part of that, I decided to get to know hundreds of people that work in or with the building. I even went out with the window cleaners.’
How was that?
‘I have a fear of heights, so the first time I stepped into the window cleaners’ carriage, I stepped out again straight away. I couldn’t stop swearing – it was like I had Tourette’s. But I came back the next morning and did it. The sun was rising by Canary Wharf, and I felt like I was standing in the sky. It was beautiful. I did it for all women that are afraid of things.’
Why do you think people are so fond of the Gherkin?
‘The Gherkin started the pattern for pet names for buildings, which is funny because when it was built it was quite controversial. But it’s stood the test of time because it’s just phenomenal architecturally.’
How does mini Gherkin measure up?
‘I love it! The owners gave me a glass Gherkin paperweight, and they recently commissioned a LEGO version for charity. So with this one, I’d have a set of three!’
What do you get up to when you’re not Gherkin 9 to 5?
‘I love doing things with my son. Now he’s 14 I have an excuse to go and see things like “Iron Man 3” with him at the cinema. But I love my work. I’ve done a range of jobs – I started as a school teacher, then I spent eight years as a Nike athlete and became Fitness Leader of the Year. That was in my 30s, in my 40s I won Trainer of the year – and now, in my 50s, I’ve just been nominated for businesswoman of the year.’
Wowee! What’s your key to success?
‘I have an “I can do that” attitude, and I want to teach that to other people. I once told a friend I’d like to be a motivational speaker. And she said “well, you’re definitely good at talking”.’