Glen Donnelly hopes to raise $15,000 for charity by attempting the World’s Highest Musical Performance in Free-fall.
Australian violinist Glen Donnelly will attempt to set a new Guinness World Record for the World’s Highest Musical Performance in Free-fall later this year. Skydiving from 15,000 feet, Donnelly’s performance will take place on August 27, his 30th birthday – and he plans to make the jump in his birthday suit. Violin in hand and naked under his harness, Donnelly hopes to raise $1 for every foot he will fall, raising funds for three charities that focus on what he describes as an ‘unsung epidemic’ – men’s body image.
Violinist Glen Donnelly plans to break a Guinness World Record – and do so in the nude. Photo © Wiley Cochrane, Coffs Skydivers
Donnelly has toured Australia for chamber music concert series Selby & Friends, studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London and has performed with the London Symphony Orchestra (his great great uncle Bernard Donnelly led the second violins in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in the 1960s). But despite his burgeoning musical career, the violinist from NSW’s Central Coast suffered from a severe body dysmorphic disorder that caused such intense performance anxiety on stage for ten years that he was forced to hang up his instrument in 2013.
“I grew up a competitive violinist in competitions my entire youth, and remember starting to connect feelings of shame and thoughts that I’m lazy or undisciplined to the idea of not having a flat stomach or not exercising enough in my mid-teens,” he tells me. “A pivotal moment at 18, a tiny comment from a cellist friend, cemented what would be a ten-year journey of body shame eventually leading me to have such troubles with nerves on the musical stage that by 2013 I told my parents in an email, ‘I’m not a musician anymore’.”
“Males are four times as likely not to tell anyone about their body image problems than females and I am a classic case of this statistic,” he says. “So I am doing something about it.”
But for Donnelly, it didn’t start with leaping out of planes in the nude. He founded the body-positive organisation Nude Movement in 2016 with the intention of raising awareness about the issue.
“I realised something should be done about getting real about our bodies,” he says. “I come from a caricature but I realised there was something for us all to learn. I realised that if we can just learn accept our own body, collectively as a species, it is a great litmus test for us being able to move on and tackle greater issues in society and life – like, you know, ending war. Most artists, especially dancers, sculptors and visual artists, are already comfortable and used to the naked human body, and during my big hiatus I’ve dabbled in a bit of life modelling myself.”
“So if I can help society to grow a little mental healing as our civilisation progresses,” he says, “then I’m doing something a little bigger than just giving people beautiful music three times a week.”
So where did the idea to skydive naked come from? “I started a personal art project last year where I would, to symbolise my journey with my violin and me, immerse it with myself in the four elements of the earth (water, wind, earth, fire),” he says. “I had already jumped into the ocean with a violin for ‘water’ and when thinking of how to do wind, a friend suddenly said ‘you could skydive with it’ and the next day I envisioned the whole thing.”
While Donnelly hasn’t been skydiving before – clothed or otherwise – it’s long been a dream for him. “I have wanted to skydive since I was 14 and went on The Giant Drop at Dreamworld five times in a row at 9am on a weekday and got totally bored with the experience,” he says. “I almost went ten years ago, so now’s my chance! I’ve actually inherited a bit of vertigo from my dad but I know that once I’m playing that fiddle in free-fall, all I’m going to feel is total freedom and exhilaration. I know I’m ready.”
Donnelly has also been busy preparing for the physical challenges presented by the event. “I never knew I’d practise the violin by winding down the window in a car and playing out of it while my friend drives me at 120 down the highway,” he says. “We’re going to have at least one practice skydive a month before to test and refine the harness rigging, audio and GoPro tech – a different kind of violin practice! As for being naked at minus ten degrees, I have no idea how to prepare for that.”
He’s also still deciding on the repertoire. “At the moment it’s looking like Flight of the Bumblebee, but I’m still tossing up between that, Happy Birthday or Beethoven’s Fifth. I will get everyone’s votes on social media!”
Donnelly’s jump will be raising money – through online fundraising platform gofundme.com – for three organisations. “I want to tell my story and inspire others to come out and also tell their own, but I want to raise funds to actually do something about this epidemic because each year for young boys and men it’s getting worse, and worse in our culture,” he says. “It’s time for this to stop.”
Glen Donnelly. Photo © Wiley Cochrane, Coffs Skydivers
The first $5000 raised will go to The Butterfly Foundation – an Australian charity that provides support for people with eating disorders or body image issues (male or female) – while the next $5000 will go to Donnelly’s own Nude Movement, which plans to use the money to commission a scientific study into men’s body image issues, investigating why males tend to suffer silently and contribute to the literature on whether and how naturism can help those who suffer. The final $5000 will go to The ManKind Project Australia.
“These three charities are going to do something real about the epidemic of men’s body image,” Donnelly explains. “Education, research and treatment are what these three charities will seed from this fundraiser and prevention, understanding and support is what can be done with donor’s money to the cause.”
Where, I wonder, does Donnelly see himself after the jump – will he be returning to the concert stage? “I feel like I’m taking a long, slow journey back to the classical music vision I once had as a boy,” he says. “But for now, I’d rather do it nude. Really. Becoming nude has been a metaphor for truly looking at myself and accepting it since my breakdown in 2013, and maybe in 2018 you’ll see me playing Naked Bach in an art gallery near you. I’ll hop up on a Greek statue base, put the bar heaters on, tell my story, and we’ll go for a journey.”
“Maybe I’ll never be the same again,” he says, “and not only is that life, but it is beautiful. It is art, in and of itself.”
Donnelly also has a message for other men who might be suffering from negative body image issues. “The first step is to realise you’re not alone, and the second step is to start talking about it,” he says. “I suffered silently, and males are the ones who keep doing this. So ring up The Butterfly Foundation, ring up ManKind Australia, start talking to your friends and family about this because we’re here to help and it’s time to stop suffering – it’s time to take control of your life.”