Leicester Tall Person Club Weekend 2010

Leicester Mercury

Ping! The lift doors open in the lobby of Leicester's Holiday Inn to reveal a huddle of legs, arms, chests and … well, that's about it. It's like a badly taken family portrait with everyone's heads chopped off.

The missing heads, after much maneuvering and careful unfurling of assorted body parts, are eventually ducked under and out of the doorway.

Such is life when you're in the Tall Persons Club of GB and Ireland. Even exiting a lift comes with complications.

No-one takes much notice, though, because the hotel foyer this morning is a happy hubbub of similarly-sized XXX-largers all gathered to go off on a guided tour of our city's historic sights.

As someone who's just shy of 6ft, I feel like I should be wearing a white suit and shouting, "De plane, boss! De Plane!"

Carsten Mathiesen is marginally the tallest at 7ft 2in.

He's come all the way from Denmark for this, the Tall Person Club's annual get-together, held this year in Leicester.

"This weekend means more to me than Christmas, to be honest," says the 32-year-old. "It is the time when I meet all the persons I really love."

When Carsten gets out of a chair to shake your hand, it takes him an awful long time to reach altitude.

Yet for once, he's not standing head and shoulders over everyone else.

Being tall, today, is to be in with the in-crowd. Statuesque comes as standard.

It's like being in a room full of fairground mirrors.

Because there's so many of them, all the tall people sort of level one another out. It's the rest of us who seem strangely squat and dumpy.

And that, for them, is the whole point of this weekend.

"It's amazing just to be able to walk into a room and not tower over everybody," says 6ft 4in Helen Porter, a director of the club.

"You can have conversations with people and look them in the eye. You don't realize how much you have to adapt until you don't have to."

The only thing they will hardly talk about this weekend is being tall, says Carsten.

"We focus on getting drunk, instead," he laughs.

After much to-ing and fro-ing, the friendly rabble are eventually corralled into two groups to go sightseeing.

Everything changes once we're going walkabout in the small wide world.

Being this tall turns heads, albeit discreetly. Try as they might, your average passer-by can't help doing a double-take.

It takes a small child to say what everyone else is thinking.

"Look at the giants, Mummy!" she marvels.

Dad sniggers. Mum's cheeks begin to flush. "Stop pointing," she hisses, hauling down her little girl's outstretched arm.

No offense is taken. It was an innocent comment. They've all heard a lot worse.

"Being tall is like being famous without the money," says Helen. "People don't think twice about coming up to you and saying, 'You're tall! How tall are you?' I get that every single day.

"It doesn't matter how thick your skin is, it wears you down.

"I was 6ft 2in when I was 12. Can you imagine what that was like? To this day, I can't bear those Jolly Green Giant adverts."

It's only the second time 6ft 11in Matt Bedford has been to a Tall Persons Club bash.

Nineteen-year-old Matt is here with his girlfriend Emma, a comparatively bonsai 5ft 11in.

"I got such a massive lift when I went last year," says Matt. "It gave such a boost to my self-confidence."

Old-stagers will tell you that happens a lot. It's tough being a tall teen.

That's what weekends like this are all about: getting people out of their shells and making them feel good about themselves.

There are some upsides to being tall – "You always get served first at the bar and it's good at concerts," grins Matt – but unfortunately there are a lot of negatives too.

Living it large isn't easy when so much of the world is sized petite to medium.

Baths, desks, beds, doorways, cars, kitchen units, aeroplane seats, clothes, shoes, cinemas – things so many of us take for granted – all can be endless sources of frustration for the super-tall.

The Tall Person's Club is an antidote to all those aggravations, offering practical advice about where to find the best buys and campaigning for big things not to cost extra.

But the club is more than that, says 6ft 3in director Louise Ross. It's a surrogate family where your height is never an issue.

"Lots of big, tall hugs, that's what we're all about," she smiles.

Louise is from Leicestershire. It was her idea to have the club's annual get-together here.

More than that, she will be marrying her boyfriend John Foden during the weekend. They met through the club and most of their friends are here, so it seemed like the perfect occasion.

Lots of couples have found love through the Tall Persons Club. According to Louise, they've had 50 marriages.

Women slightly outnumber men, perhaps 60/40, this weekend. A few, certainly, would seem to be looking for a Mr Right.

Finding the man of your dreams isn't easy when you're over 6ft. You're more likely to meet the weirdo of your nightmares.

One woman, recently divorced, tells how, after trying internet dating, she started getting an in-box full of creepy height fetishists.

"They wanted to know how much I could bench-press and whether I could lift them up over my head," she says with a shudder.

Someone else, not unattractive, probably in her late 40s or early 50s, says that she's never had a boyfriend. At her age, she says, she's not living in hope.

Being tall isn't a breeze if you're a bloke, but it seems a lot harder for a woman.

"I've lost count of the number of times I've been mistaken for a man," says Helen.

"Or called 'Sir'," sighs her friend Hilary Roberts. "They don't look at your face, they just see your height."

"One time I was on a bus," remembers Helen. "I was wearing a skirt and some thick tights. A little girl was sitting on her mum's lap. At the top of her voice, she started shouting, 'Mum! That man's got tights on!'''

Terri Gleeson talks, very matter-of-factly, about how she used to consider killing herself every day.

"I used to stand on train platforms thinking, 'Shall I jump now or later?'," she says. "It's a good job I'm bad at making my mind up.

"I joke about it now, but this club probably saved my life. It definitely saved my sanity."

At 6ft 8in, Sarah Roberts is the club's tallest woman.

She's heard them all, has Sarah. What's the weather like up there? Did you used go to sleep in a growbag? Etc, etc.

A work colleague once, quite literally, dragged Sarah over to the local pub. She thought it was his clumsy way of trying to be nice. Then he got a tape measure out and told her he had been taking bets.

I ask her what is good about being so tall.

Sarah takes a long, long time to think about it.

"Coming here," she replies.