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Getting his teeth into a new role
by Hannah Davies, The Journal
Hannah Davies speaks to giant Gary Tiplady on billionaires’ parties, being a Bond baddie and his new art exhibition.
GARY Tiplady is an unmistakable figure and big of character as well as stature.
Gary,47, is literally a giant of a man, because of a brain tumour whichcaused the medical condition acromegalia in his late teens.
Althoughhis height, about 7ft 2 (he says he has lost a little over the years)has brought him a lot of pain, it has also brought him a new career anda certain amount of notoriety.
“I was in Monte Carlo doing anappearance,” he says, “and I asked the doorman if there were anycelebrities around. He laughed and said, ‘Only you, Gary’.”
Thisisn’t as far fetched as it sounds. Gary has a certain amount ofcelebrity in France as he had a leading role in French film Le Boulet afew years ago.
Meeting Gary is an experience. He has the largeface and hands of his condition and has to stoop to pass throughdoorways, but mainly it’s his huge personality which creates the impact.
Hetalks and talks, with anecdotes about famous poeple he’s met, fromRobbie Williams to Honor Blackman, tripping off his tongue.
Garyis best known in his home region – he grew up in Walker, Newcastle, forhis work as a Jaws impersonator. But he’s meeting me today to talkabout his greatest achievement yet – his own art exhibition.
Thosewho have passed through Tynemouth Station since September 1 may havenoticed Gary’s sculptures, created from galvanised steel and adorningthe bridge in the station.
This is a huge source of pride for Gary, who is after all best known for looking like someone else.
“This exhibition has given me the first opportunity that I’ve always wanted,” he grins.
Gary’slife has been dominated by his height since his late teens. At 16 hewas 5ft 4in, but a few years later he was pushing 7ft. Gary’sacromegalia caused his phenomenal growth rate.
The condition iscaused when a brain tumour presses on the pituitary gland,over-stimulating the growth hormone. In an adult this would cause bonegrowth and an increase in the size of facial features, but in a growingboy it can dramatically increase height.
“I hated it in theearly years,” he confesses. “It’s horrible to be so different fromeveryone else at that age and the thing about my condition is you haveno choice but to stand out.”
In addition, he had to have threeoperations to try to control the tumour and is on a course of drugs torestrict the growth hormone for the rest of his life. After finishingcomprehensive school Gary decided to go to catering college and signedup for a four-year course at the Sandyford Road college in Newcastle,where he studied from 17 to 21.
After this he worked in hotels across the North East and at 23 went to Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland.
“Peoplewho think Gordon Ramsay is outrageous have no idea,” he says. “I’veseen people threatened with knives – it was a very high-pressureenvironment.”
Despite this, Gary enjoyed his months of workingat Gleneagles, but concerns over his health prompted him to move backto Newcastle to be close to his consultant at the Royal VictoriaInfirmary. Nevertheless he enjoyed a successful career in prominentrestaurants on Tyneside, including most of its hotels, Newcastle CivicCentre and Newcastle Racecourse.
Inadvertently his culinary career reignited his creative passions.
Garyrecalls: “When I was little we lived in a house with a big garden whichhad clay in it. I’d take the clay out of the ground and model it intolittle pots and different shapes. I also always liked drawing, but Inever thought of it as something to do as a job.
“After finishing school I didn’t know what to do, so I decided to go into catering college.”
While cooking Gary learned that he not only had artistic flair in presenting food, but also that he enjoyed doing it.
Hewas working for a cooking team preparing for the Newcastle premiere ofA Passage to India by creating a magnificent banquet and someonesuggested a snake would be a good centrepiece. “I said I could makethat out of lard and it went down really well.”
So he begansculpting in lard, making displays for butchers’ shops, and as thingsprogressed sculptures for the likes of Newcastle United.
In the meantime he began to grow a bit tired of people commenting on his similarity to a certain James Bond baddie.
“Iwas always getting people coming up to me and asking me if I was Jaws.I’d say what would Jaws be doing working in a kitchen in Newcastle?”
Jaws,played by Richard Kiel, is a henchman in the Roger Moore Bond films TheSpy Who Loved Me and Moonraker. But the comments led Gary, then in his30s, to inquire about lookalike work. Before long he was inundated.
“It came at the right time really,” he says.
“The benches in the kitchens had been far too small for me and it was really starting to cause problems with my back.
“After I got a couple of jobs coming in, I realised I could make a living at it and so I gave up the cooking.”
Formore than a decade now Gary has worked as a Jaws lookalike in all thesituations you can imagine. “I’ve done loads of corporate events. I’veworked in a lot of motorshows, for mobile phone companies, big companygatherings.”
But the thing Gary enjoys most, you sense, are thecelebrity parties, which have seen him rubbing shoulders with manystars, not least actors who have starred in James Bond films.
“Iwas doing a bookstore event once when Roger Moore popped in. He’d seenthe poster and thought I was Richard Kiel himself and wanted to sayhello.
“And at one party Honor Blackman came over, thinking I was the original Jaws.”
Youcan be sure if there’s a big James Bond-themed party going on, Garywill be one of the people recruited for it, and that includes a Bondparty in an episode of The Apprentice.
One of the mostimpressive parties he’s ever attended, Gary says, was billionaireLakshmi Mittal’s 50th birthday bash in London’s Billingsgate.
“All the guests arrived by different forms of transport, from London busses to helicopters.
“Butthe most impressive was this group of the billionaire’s friends whocrashed through the side of his wall in a tank. They’d got permissionfrom Mittal’s wife first, though!”
Gary’s role at these parties is generally to mix with guests and play the part of henchman to the party host.
Luckily,his day job has diversified. A few years ago he was cast in gangsterfilm Baby Juice Express and before that spent weeks filming in theSahara Desert for Le Boulet, which had great success in France, Spain,Germany and Japan.
Acting is irregular work, though. “You justdon’t know what people are looking for and if you don’t fit that, thenyou’ve got no chance.”
He is delighted to be creating hissculptures and now when he isn’t making personal appearances, mostoften in London, he’s to be found at his home in the East End ofNewcastle with his wife of four years, Helen. His daughter from aprevious marriage, Kirsty, 19, lives in Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire.
Hiswire sculptures keep him busy. “I first did one for an old people’shome in North Tyneside to put in the garden. But they liked it so muchthey decided to keep it inside, even though I offered to make themanother.
“It was there I spoke to Ylana First, who organises theexhibitions at Tynemouth Station. She came to the house and I told herwhat I was doing and showed her my work.
”She said she’d like to do an exhibition of my animals at Tynemouth Metro Station.
“Makingthe wire sculptures is something I love doing. I work a few days a weekas the Jaws impersonator and the rest of the time I get to devote to mysculptures, which I love.”
In addition to the Tynemouthexhibition, The Cooper Gallery in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, hascommissioned sculptures which he is working on at the moment. Garymainly creates animals – swans and dogs being particular favourites. Healso models famous local icons such as the Percy Lion and theBedlington Terrier.
“I get the idea and then create sketches ofwhat I am going to make. Then it’s a question of building up thesculptures with wire mesh.
“I’m hoping the sculptures are something which will grow in the next few years.”
For more information on Gary visit www.garytiplady.co.uk
GARY’S exhibition of his wire art is on the bridge at Tynemouth Metro station until the end of November.
TheTynemouth Metro Station Bridge is one of the most unusual visual artsspaces in the region, The Bridge (which spans the two platforms atTynemouth Station) launched its installation programme in July 1995with Gilly Rogers’s My Blue Heaven.
Since then, a wide-rangingprogramme of work has been shown, including specially- createdinstallations by professional artists Julie Livsey, William Pym, NeilCanaan, Heather McDonough and many others as well as school andcommunity projects.