Greatest Moments in Life: Meeting Geoff Capes

For a six year old in the 80s there could have been few bigger thrills than meeting the world's strongest man.
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In 1983 Geoff Capes wasn’t the budgie-rearing, figure of ironic retro fun he is today. He was the man.  Having been to numerous Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games as a shot putter he was now regularly on the telly winning The Worlds Strongest Man and the like. Pulling articulated lorries along runways and waddling around with huge stones balanced on his massive gut, he was the scourge of Scandinavian strong men the world over. A bearded, giant of a man, a less feral Giant Haystacks, Ian Botham on Steroids or a massive Peter Shilton. In my eyes he was Han Solo crossed with He-Man, he was the strongest man in the world for crying out loud, he could throw The Hulk over a building if it took his fancy. Big Geoff was also a favourite amongst various advertising houses, mostly for quite bizarre non-sport related products like roof paint or coach travel agencies. One example of which was a Scottish Regional TV advert for the popular double glazing firm my old man worked for as a salesman. In unlikely circumstances my Dad had been asked to pick Capes up in Edinburgh and chaperone him for the afternoon ahead of his advert shoot later that day.

This is only unlikely because my Dad wasn’t the most suitable employee for a macho afternoon with the Worlds Strongest Man. A rehabilitated hippy and man for the new age, I remember him telling me about testosterone fuelled sales lunches where the waiter would go round the table taking orders. Each bloated member of the sales team uniformly replying with the classic “Steak and a Beer” until finally reaching my Dad who asked about the potential for a salad and an orange juice to much mirth and disdain.  Despite this he regularly smashed the sales records and brought home the double glazing cash bacon on a daily basis, presumably slapping it down on the counter with a moist wallop before sipping his OJ and nibbling on his ‘rabbit food’.  Maybe this is why his bosses felt he’d be the ideal man to look after Geoff for the afternoon. Less likely to take him to a sauna or a strip club. Less likely to get the big man pissed.

Entering the steamy unisex changing rooms we were met with the sight of a huge dripping wet Geoff Capes

Either way, my sister and me were delighted. We excitedly jumped into my dad’s Citroen CX Estate, a ridiculously long company car that we were very grateful to be able to sit up front in for once. Sitting in the back was normally like being a passenger in a specially and cruelly designed machine with the sole purpose of successfully invoking car sickness in children and unfortunate family pets. We drove to Meadowbank Stadium, scene of Capes Commonwealth Games debut in 1970, and awaited the giant’s appearance. Nothing happened.  We waited and waited and waited. Eventually my old man’s exasperation reached fever pitch and we went down into the bowels of the stadium to try and locate him. Entering the steamy unisex changing rooms we were met with the sight of a huge dripping wet Geoff Capes with a massive towel around his waist glaring down at us all. Steam swirled around his massive frame like a weather system sent down from Valhalla to crown the new Norse God of Hairy Strength and Niche Eighties Celebrity. A low growl began from his cave-like mouth and rose like a jet plane into the words “Have some of that” as he snapped a towel in his giant paw at the track suited arse of a female athlete before booming out a terrifying gigantically loud laugh. He was Obelix come to life, a giant barbarian, a very, very big beast of a man who even managed to have toes that looked intimidating. We were all stock still to the spot and visibly petrified unable to speak or move. Needless to say there was little or no opposition when he outlined his plans to get changed and meet us upstairs “in a bit”. Meekly we trudged back up to the reception for more waiting and more exasperation.

After a good hour of sitting around, Capes emerged just in time for him to be taken to the advert shoot on time and for my Dad to stop giving birth to a litter of tiny meowing kittens’ right there in front of the nonchalant leisure centre staff. We quickly posed for pictures in the car park before being relegated to the back seat of the Citroen again which tilted and groaned heavily as the 23 stone monolith took to the passenger seat. Sitting behind him in the car I remember watching his massive ‘off-the-telly’ face in the mirror in stunned silence as he swapped small talk with my Dad about the weather and that. Shortly we arrived at his hotel and turning in his seat he shook all our hands. Huge and hairy his hands dripping in gold rings and chains, he enveloped my little white paw and like a fleshy bunch of bananas and said “See you later Boydy”. In one massive movement he exited the wobbling car and disappeared in through the revolving doors of the Sheraton.

The advert aired in the middle of the night, I saw a VHS copy and wasn’t impressed even as an easily-impressed six year old. Capes star slowly waned over the ensuing years and despite a sub Daley Thompson Decathlon computer game spin-off on the Amstrad which I nostalgically bought, nothing would match that brief few moments in the company of the Worlds Strongest Man.

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