It must be difficult being physically different. People who don’t conform to generally accepted expectations of how one should look tend to have a rough ride through this uncompromising world of ours.
There are exceptions of course and one of them is a genial Geordie called Neil Fingleton. Officially recognised as Britain’s tallest man, this cheery 33-year-old is seven foot seven and a half inches tall and weighs 25 stone and takes size 15 shoes.
That can’t be easy, but Neil – who appeared recently in Game of Thrones – seems remarkably comfortable in his own skin. Refreshingly unselfconscious, he says, he has never been embarrassed by his height. “Why should I be?,” he asks. “I’m really proud that out of 64 million people in this country I’m the tallest. I’ve never lacked confidence and I’ve always had good friends and family who just accept me for who I am. My height has never been a problem.”
Even as a seven foot tall 11-year-old he determined to turn his great height to his advantage. As a teenager he headed for America and aimed for a career on the US basketball circuit. After some success his professional playing days were ended by a back injury and Neil headed home to Britain where he focused on a new life as an actor.
Which is how I first met him at a photo-call for a regional panto production of Jack and The Beanstalk. Cast inevitably as the giant opposite former Coronation Street Jenny Platt ( 5ft 2 inches tall in her stockinged feet), he was fully aware of the fine line between character actor and freak exhibit.
Quietly confident, he told me that though he accepted that he is always going to be typecast – “it kind of goes with the territory” – he was still optimistic that his unique physical attributes would eventually bring in serious work. “No one’s going to cast me as a seven foot seven waiter or something but certain roles would be right up my alley. I’m just waiting from them to come along.” he told me. “I’love to play a Bond villain for instance.”
Neil says the biggest problem with his height is the sheer cost. He sleeps in a customised eight foot bed, has to use adapted car seats and for years his clothes had to be specially made – he now runs his own clothing company for extremely tall people called (of course) Seven Foot Seven.
He also eats vast amounts of food – around 8,000 calories a day or three times as much as the average person – and when it comes to celebrating, he says he has to drink up to 25 pints of beer just to get merry. “I’m a big fella and I do like a drink now and again but I really don’t do it very often.” he said. “It gets quite expensive if you’re drinking 20 pints every night.”