Two-time World Champion Freerunner Timothy Shieff aka the ‘Vegan Prince’ on Using His Platform to Promote Animal Rights and the Environment
“I didn’t vote in the general election. It wasn’t ignorance or apathy – we weren’t being offered anything to vote for. You looked at these politicians, and they are all the same. You can’t change the world through the ballot paper, you have to look at yourself, you have to be the change. You enact change with your wallet. The three times a day you don’t spend money on animal products, you are making a difference.”
Considered by many to be the world’s best parkour athlete, two-time world champion freerunner Timothy Shieff, aka the Vegan Prince, uses his profile as a platform for his views on animal rights and the environment. “I’m lucky,” he says. “I’m an athlete in a sport which allows me to talk about this stuff. I am my own coach, which is great, I probably know more about my body than most of the other athletes in the world. I want to be one of the most well-rounded athletes on the planet and that is mental as well as physical. So I experiment with my own diet, eating lots of raw foods, and making the choice not to eat animals. I am sort of an amalgamation of activist and athlete.”
The 27-year-old made headlines after getting arrested in September last year at the People’s Climate March for jumping on a listed building. Despite describing himself as ‘not very politically motivated’ he was trying to draw attention to the current political hot potato of the environment. “I watched Jeremy Corbyn talking at the Labour Conference – when you hear him speak you feel his sincerity. It seems like he may be different. He gives me some hope, feels like he may be worth voting for.
“But I think change has to come from the younger generation more than the older one. We often look to our parents for answers, but they are not always right. They’ve learnt from their ancestors. Each generation should be better informed than the one before – that is how we evolve, and go forwards and upwards. We all want peace on the planet.”
Lots of vegans consider their lifestyle to be a pragmatic reaction to the horrors of animal use and abuse. “It’s hard being so pragmatic though,” says Tim. “You only have so much energy to deal with issues, and you have to choose what is the most important thing. Veganism makes the biggest impact with very little effort.”
For most people, the thought of leaping between buildings, and climbing up skyscrapers would be terrifying – how does he overcome those nerves? “It’s about believing in your ability. Recognise the voice of fear and doubt is not logical, and overcome that,” he explains. “For me, I did that through parkour. But it could work for people in whatever they do. A musician may compose music he is anxious about other people hearing, but maybe that’s the music he’s meant to write? It’s about having faith in what you are doing, and then doing it for the right reasons. That makes me feel protected I think if you’re doing it to show off, you will fall. I’ve never really had a serious injury – I’ve never broken a bone.
“I guess parkour might be a kind of rebellion within a city,” he says. “You are using the only thing you are given in this world, which is your body, and you are using it to dominate an unfamiliar environment. The city is so unnatural to us in a way.”
He sees nature as a salve to modern life, believing it’s easy to lose touch with the flow of life. He says: “If leaves are dying on a tree, you don’t sellotape them back on, and paint them green. You look to nourish the roots. But with our bodies, we try and change them, to fix them with cosmetics and plastic surgery. Nutrition is a way bigger factor than many people realise.
“People ask whether it’s hard to be a vegan. Being vegan is easy – it’s so easy when you think about doing it for animals. If you think about yourself, and how much you miss having one thing or another, that will make it harder.
“Veganism made me feel more empowered than ever. You feel your choice makes a difference – it feels like you’re doing something worthwhile, that will have an impact. It’s not popular to tell people not to eat meat. It’s so ingrained in our society, it’s like an addiction. I think that’s why charities like Greenpeace will avoid talking about the impact of animal agriculture on the planet – if they start telling people to stop eating meat, it might affect their donations.
“It’s a fact that a vegan lifestyle is better for the animals – it’s known that it is the healthiest way to live, and it’s better for the environment.”
Tim plans to continue his work on a diverse slate of projects, but does not tend to plan too much – ‘I always think I should be more organised, but I do best when I follow my instinct’ – passing on the vegan in the work he chooses.
He says: “There are no coincidences – we are more in control than we realise. We are the masters of our own destiny, and even if that is plotted out in front of us, we have no idea what it is. The experience of something is infinitely more real than the idea of it. It’s like veganism – you can talk about it all you want, but it was when I did it I felt the change. You wouldn’t talk to a virgin about sex and value their opinion. Someone who hasn’t tried veganism can’t have a valid opinion on it.
“It’s the most important decision I have ever made. I don’t tell people to do parkour, or to go running, but being vegan is something I want everyone to try. Something becomes unethical when you take the free will of another being. It is unethical to take an animal’s life for your own pleasure.”