Meet the Wallsend Sculptor, Chef and Jaws Lookalike
When Gary Tiplady was born in Wallsend they had to use the local butcher’s scales to weigh him. He came in at a whopping 16lbs and was immediately put in clothes meant for a six-month-old. Despite being an exceptionally large baby, by the time he left school at 15 he stood at a perfectly normal 5ft 3in tall.
‘In three years I went up to 6ft 11in,’ he explains. ‘My size is mainly down to my condition. It’s called Acromegaly. The pituitary gland at the base of your brain produces growth hormone at a high level. If you get it during puberty, when your bones are growing, it really accelerates your growth.’
Abraham Lincoln was said to suffer from a form of Acromegaly. It’s a condition Gary still has to manage on a daily basis with treatment and one that forced him into an early career change.
‘I started off as a chef but had to finish because of my size and condition. Working long hours in small, hot kitchens was okay when I was young but it became horrendous the older I got.’ Gary once cooked for the Queen, just after she had launched the Royal Research Ship, James Clark Ross in the Tyne (she had a chicken breast cooked in lime sauce).
He also worked at luxury hotels including Gleneagles. It was here he discovered the curious art of lard sculpting. ‘I met this artist who used to visit hotels all over the world to create these sculptures. He’d work for a week in the kitchen with us and create about ten different sculptures then move on.’ So what’s a lard sculpture? ‘If for example Living North Magazine were hosting an event, the hotel could hire this guy to make a sculpture of the business’ logo and display it as an eye-catching piece of branding.’ Gary began to make them himself.
It was around this time that Gary’s friends and colleagues began to notice how much he resembled the steel-toothed baddie Jaws from James Bond, played by American actor Richard Kiel. ‘I hated it at first,’ Gary admits, but he began to realise just how lucrative lookalike work could be.
This was his route out of the cramped confines of the kitchen. ‘People think I’m the real Jaws. I’ve convinced quite a few famous people - Daniel Craig for one. Until I start speaking they think I’m Richard Kiel, some people think Jaws is a Geordie. I’ve done this for 20 years now.’
It’s an occupation that has taken him all over the world. He estimates that he’s been flown to Monaco around 40 times, travelling in First Class because of his size. He has entertained the Russian mafia in Moscow, driven vintage Aston Martins, sailed on yachts, been hired by Roman Abramovich and Lord Sugar, visited the houses of Mel Gibson, Sting and Madonna. ‘I could go on,’ he admits.
Gary is a celebrity in his own right in France after he was once cast in a leading role of a blockbuster movie called Le Boulet. It was a French film that came out in 2002 and still holds the record for the country’s most expensive movie at £15 million.
Shot in North Africa and Paris, Gary played a body guard called Requin The Giant. ‘I had scenes on motorbikes, fight scenes, cars scenes - there were thousands of people at the premiere shouting my name. My poster was all over France, I had a director’s chair with my name on it, and we went to Cannes. It was a once in a lifetime experience.’ After the first night of filming the entire crew and cast were in the hotel having a meal and the director stood up to address the room. ‘He said, “Ladies and gentlemen, see Monsieur Gary, he is a better actor than the real Richard Kiel.”’ As if that wasn’t enough, Gary turned to his right and realised he was sitting next to Gérard Depardieu who’d been watching that day’s filming.
Perhaps Gary’s funniest brush with celebrity came when he appeared as Jaws at Hamleys Toy Shop on London’s Regent Street. Gary regularly works with an Odd Job lookalike and the pair had been invited to a Corgi Toys promotion.
‘The store was closed to the public for this event,’ explains Gary. ‘There were other lookalikes there such as Barbie, Action Man and a guy walking around who looked like Michael Jackson. Usually when you work with other lookalikes you chat with them. “Are you getting much work? Have you been anywhere nice?” Michael Jackson was ignoring us, so in the end I went up to him, lifted him up and said, “Are you not speaking?” He just squirmed. He was acting really strange. Some lookalikes begin to think they’re the real people and can be a bit snobby.
Half an hour later I was talking to the manager and he said, “Did you see Michael Jackson?” and I said “That lookalike?” and he said, “No, that was the real Michael Jackson.” They’d let him in to do some shopping before the crowds came in.’
Gary recently returned from a job in London for a client so high profile he had to sign a disclaimer preventing him from revealing their identity. ‘Their house was worth £90 million. I was filmed for some James Bond footage they wanted to screen at a special party. They own seven Aston Martins. I was picked up by bodyguards at Kings Cross and chauffeured to the house a bulletproof car.’
Other glamourous gigs include a party at The Savoy in London where Gary was asked to draw the raffle. The Prize? A brand new Aston Martin. Another time he worked at a party where champagne was served in flutes with fake diamonds in the bottom.
Guests had to take them to be checked by a jeweller in the corner of the room who was dressed as Q, the fictional head of research and development at the British Secret Service in Ian Fleming’s Bond novels. ‘One of the diamonds was real and the person who found it got to keep it.’
Bond-themed parties are popular, and when the rich and famous want to throw one, Gary usually gets a call because of his uncanny likeness to Richard Kiel.
Their paths have nearly crossed a few times but they’ve never met in person. ‘I’m friends with him on Facebook and we have chatted on there before. His mobility is very bad now, he’s in a wheelchair but still appears at Bond conventions.
They wanted me to go to one he was appearing at but I didn’t want to steal any of his thunder.’ The famous steel teeth Gary wears are an exact replica of the one’s Kiel wore during the filming of The Spy Who Loved Me. They cost Gary £3,000. ‘They’re titanium and were made at Pinewood Studios, who own the original drawings for the teeth Richard Kiel actually wore, but he could only wear them for three minutes at a time on set because they made him gag. I wear mine for hours!’
It was whilst working an event as Jaws at the Lowry Hotel in Manchester that Gary noticed some big wire busts on the ceiling. They were the same shape and form as the wire bases he used to create for the lard sculptures he made as a chef. ‘I just started having a go myself.’ He found he had a talent for creating animals, dogs in particular, with his giant hands making the work easier. ‘I was good in art classes at school but got bullied a lot so didn’t really excel. I just taught myself, I like being creative.’
He began to take commissions and the work has since become regular. He’s just shipped 10 pieces to Australia. You’ll find his work at places like Jesmond Dene House where a dozen sculptures are dotted around the hotel to create a unique talking point for guests.
The Duchess of Northumberland is a big fan too. ‘I made a wire spinone dog sculpture for her, it was the size of a miniature horse, you could’ve put a saddle on it! I’ve got a lot of work on display at the Alnwick Garden including a Percy Lion and six monkeys hanging from trees – the kids love them.’ Gary has donated 30 sculptures to the Cancer Care Garden at The Freeman Hospital where you’ll see wire squirrels, monkeys, wolves, dogs and snakes amongst other sculptures.
A 7ft Bedlington Terrier he sculpted for a pub in Bedlington has attracted visitors from as far as America and he currently has 12 pieces on display in tourist information centres across the region.
Gary is planning to put what has been an extremely full life into words and write a book on his experiences. From his growth disorder, bulling and sculpturing to brushes with the celebrity and movie stardom, these tall tales are pretty amazing.