The Biggest Man

It’s surprising how you learn things. There I was, minding my own business, sipping a fruity pint of Plum Porter, in a Nottingham pub that claims to be oldest in England (it isn’t, but 1189 is pretty ancient), when the portrait of quite a chubby dude caught my attention.

The odd thing is that said dude isn’t even associated with Nottingham, but in nearby Leicester he’s something of a legend. He makes up the local celebrity triumvirate with Gary Lineker and David Icke.

Daniel Lambert (born 1770) was a gaol keeper, animal breeder and inexplicable fatty. He claimed not to eat large portions of food, said he drank only water and didn’t suffer any of the medical conditions associated with weight gain, and yet, aged 35, he was 50 stone (320 kg).

He stood just short of six foot tall, but his girth made him a beast of a man. There was even a tale that he fought, and beat, a bear on the streets of Leicester. He punched its lights out. Now I know what sort of imagine that creates in my mind, but the story is light on details. Perhaps he just laid into a koala before picking it up by the ears and drop-kicking it into the canal. Who knows?

Once his gaol closed down he was short on cash and so moved to London, charging people the equivalent of a fiver for entering his house and chatting to him. It became quite the done things to pay him a visit and he received up to 400 people a day. At those rates it was probably a good idea to keep shovelling down those secret gateaux.

His size is difficult to comprehend. It was said that six normal-sized men could fit inside his jacket. So much material was used to make a suit for him that each one cost £1,700 at today’s prices. Maybe this is why hiring a Daniel Lambert outfit has never been a popular option in Leicester fancy dress shops.

His name became a byword for large people in general and he was mentioned in literature, by both Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray. It’s important to remember back then that obesity was a curiosity rather than a source of any shame. Nowadays, if a doctor suggested that Daniel might, like, y’know, want to lose a pound or two, he’d be struck off. In fact, Lambert’s London physician was called Dr Heaviside. That’d be deemed too insensitive today too.

In June 1809, aged just 39, Lambert died suddenly. At the time of his death, he weighed 52 stone 11 pounds (335 kg), the heaviest known human at the time. Despite his coffin being built with wheels, and a sloping approach to the grave, it still took 20 men half an hour to drag his casket.

The cause of Lambert’s death was never determined. Sources suggested it was fatty degeneration of the heart or a sudden pulmonary embolism. My money’s on that koala pulling itself out of the canal and giving him a damn good kicking.

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