Campaign with a tall order: The Tall Persons Club is calling for longer beds, clothes that fit and fewer jokes. Martin Whittaker finds two members in high dudgeon

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Indy Lifestyle Online
WITH head held high, Phil Heinricy, 6ft 8in tall, walks through the front door of his office out into the street. Then he turns and walks back in.

'There,' he says. 'I didn't have to stoop because that doorway's seven feet high. Now why can't they all be like that? The only trouble is, it makes me forget to duck going through the doorways at home.'

Mr Heinricy, 41, is the founder and full-time organiser of the Tall Persons Club of Great Britain & Ireland. He runs it from a Hereford office that seems very small when he is in it. As he sits down, his legs stretch under a makeshift desk, four inches higher than a standard office desk.

'I can't get my knees under a standard-sized one,' he says. 'So let me ask you a question. If an office chair is adjustable, why the hell isn't a desk?'

Phil says he has spent his life being dictated to by people whose heads he looks down on. It started at school. 'If you are six foot four at 14, like I was, you don't have anybody else your height to relate to. It is an incredibly lonely time.

'PE teachers are the worst. They give the tall kid a very hard time because he doesn't live up to expectations of athleticism. That then gives the signal to the class bully that it's all right to kick the crap out of the tall kid. If you hit back you're told to pick on someone your own size. You complain to the teacher and you're told you're big enough to sort it out for yourself.'

Adult life wasn't much better. He was picked on in pubs, and never became immune to everyday comments such as 'Gosh, you're tall]' or 'What's the weather like up there?'

'It took me until my late twenties before I started to appreciate I was as good as anyone else, there was just more of me. That's the sort of psychological hassle I do not want to see kids go through.'

So he set up the club for the estimated 1.2 million tall people in the UK. Originally, the idea was merely to socialise and swap useful information. Phil produced his own directory of suppliers, where tall people could find everyday items in special sizes. There was much media interest, but it was mainly curiosity value. 'I was invited to be the token prat on shows such as Wogan,' he says.

The club briefly had a powerful member - a Cabinet minister, about whom Phil is sworn to secrecy. 'Sorry - it was a condition of him becoming a member of the club. He actually joined us to get hold of our directory because he was having the same problems as the rest of us. He didn't renew his membership.'

Nevertheless, the club grew beyond all expectation: it now has 2,030 members, of whom the men must be over 6ft 3in, (1.91m) and the women 5ft 10in (1.78m). Phil - previously a chemical salesman - has been taken over by the club. His wife, Carol, 5ft 3in, is 'very understanding', though the current club premises came about through a domestic ultimatum. 'It was get an office or get a divorce,' he says.

Instead of the school bully, Phil's new foes are designers and bureaucrats. Baths, desks, beds, doorways, kitchen units, aeroplane seats, cars, clothes, shoes, cinemas - all the mundane things in life that people of average height take for granted - can be endlessly irritating for the tallie, says Phil.

Take beds. At home, he has to sleep diagonally. 'Otherwise my feet just lie over the edge. So I sleep across the corners. My wife sleeps in one corner, the dog sleeps in the other.'

If he wants to chop vegetables on his kitchen unit, he has to stoop, causing him backache. Cars are another problem. His provides good back support but little leg room.

Fellow club member Jon Wright, 20, nods in sympathy. He has just travelled to Hereford by train from Cornwall for a Tall Persons' get-together. 'I haven't learnt to drive yet,' he explains. 'The driving schools down our way use little cars. I'm literally head to one side, knees under my chin.'

Like Phil, Jon is 6ft 8in. He has size 15 feet, the sort only usually seen on cartoon policemen, and he takes a 38 leg in trousers. Shoes and clothes are therefore hard to find, and expensive. Jon says: 'I was in London a couple of weeks ago, in a specialist shop. I bought two shirts, one denim, one cotton. They cost me pounds 110.'

Phil wears a modest size 13 Reebok. 'Normal retail on this is nearly pounds 80,' he says. 'It's not uncommon to have to pay pounds 100 for a pair of shoes.

'I believe we should be entitled to an additional tax allowance to offset the extra cost of living which is inflicted upon us. Because of the supply situation, our clothes are always going to be more expensive.'

Phil regards it as commercial discrimination. 'We would never think of ourselves as disabled, but I believe our environment disables us. And the only reason we are disabled by our environment is that designers are all five foot two.'

One of the club's tasks is to talk to industry, lobbying manufacturers to think tall is beautiful. 'As a population, we are becoming taller. Therefore when you look at certain standards, some of which have been in use since the 1860s, we're actually creating a rod for our own backs. My goal is to see standards applied that are more relevant to today's population, to all people, not just tall people.'

Roughly half the members of Tall Persons are women. 'It's even worse for tall girls and women. The taller woman will sometimes find herself discriminated against in the job market because of the five-foot-eight male boss's fragile ego. There's one case of a lady in Windsor, who says her boss will only talk to her when she's sitting down. As soon as she stands up, his authority evaporates.

'A lot of guys feel intimidated by the tall woman, who's then portrayed as overbearing, whereas she's nothing more than tall. So why is the ideal woman portrayed as the six-foot supermodel, when most men's egos are so fragile they wouldn't be able to cope?'

Phil believes joining the club can have other benefits. 'A lot of people out there have found liberation knowing that we exist. It's almost like giving them permission to be tall, and not to have to apologise.'

So if designers, manufacturers and suppliers refuse to listen, will the Tall Persons Club take direct action? 'I don't like the word militancy,' Phil replies. 'I prefer the words reason and logic and common sense. But if that doesn't work, then we kick 'em,' he says, eyeing his size 13 shoes.

Tall Persons Club of Great Britain & Ireland, 29 Stanhope Street, Hereford HR4 OHA (01432 271818)

(Photograph omitted)