'People are always making comments to me. It's the height of bad manners'
If you're a self-conscious giant, the Tall Person's Club is for you. Kevin Rawlinson (5ft 5 1/2in) was made an honorary member
Saturday 29 August 2009
Lanky. beanpole. Giant. The members of the Tall Person's Club have heard it all before. Over the years, many have been pointed, stared and even laughed at. But this weekend they are gathering in Kent simply to "not talk about being tall".
So asking each one how tall they were as they arrived turns out to be my first mistake. Each year, a group of them meet for one weekend. For many it is a rare opportunity to meet people who face the same problems they do.
"It can be difficult for us, from people asking questions when we're trying to do our shopping to finding a bed big enough," says Louise Ross (6ft3in), a member of the club's board. "But we try to meet it with humour. When people ask if we play basketball, we ask them if they play miniature golf. We even had T-shirts printed saying 'I like small people but I couldn't eat a whole one', that type of thing."
Carsten Matthiesen, the tallest member of the Club, stands at 7ft3in. (That's 21-and-a-half inches taller than yours truly, for the record.) He travelled from Aarhus in Denmark to be here. "People are here because they are tall – they don't need to talk about it – so we just get on with talking about normal things. That's not so easy in the outside world," he says.
"Children often ask about my height. I don't mind that. It is the older people who really annoy me. Surely they must know how it is rude to make comments when I am trying to pay for my shopping?" It dawns on me that pulling up a ladder to interview him may have been my second mistake.
"I have to get my clothes specially made," he continues. "There is a tailor in Italy who caters for people my height. He brings his catalogue to Denmark once a year. I am quite lucky because I pay the same price as shorter people would when I buy from him. But it can take up to eight weeks to get the clothes delivered."
But surely it is not all bad being tall? "There are benefits," says Carsten, a chef and stand-up comedian. "A lot of girls like tall men and they don't come too much taller than me. Men will often buy me a beer, too."
The Tall Person's Club was set up by Phil Heinricy in 1991. At 6ft8in and fed up of never being able to find clothes that fitted him, he decided to contact other tall people. "Within a few weeks he had taken hundreds of phone calls. The membership now stands at three or four thousand," says Ms Ross, who works as a detention officer for Leicestershire police.
The Tall Person's Club is one of a number across Europe. Mr Matthiesen has been on trips with Europa Treffen, which meets in different venues across the Continent. He says there is also a club in Denmark. "But they are all quite old. They have tea at around 5pm, then it is off to bed. I come here because they are younger," he explains (the average age is 38).
Thirty-seven-year-old civil servant Helen Porter (6ft4in), another member, says: "I came all the way from Newcastle to be here because I enjoy the company. We usually have activities on the first night, then go on a trip before the party to top it all off."
According to one board member, there have been more than 50 weddings between members in the 18 years the club has been running. However, membership has fallen in recent years. Ms Ross said she is keen to recruit the next generation of tall people to keep the club running.
"We need to get teenagers involved. The nation is getting taller but life seems to be getting smaller. Cars, mobile phones and the like are tiny these days. But the fact is that a lot of tall people don't have a great deal of confidence in themselves. Some members won't even come to the social events. Once they do come though, they realise that it is nice to see that they are not the only ones."
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