As Director of Human Resources for Guinness World Records, Kelly Garrett has met her fair share of amazing people. Here she talks about her unique relationship with the World's Tallest Man, Sultan Kösen. (More about World's Tallest Man: Looking for Love)
Working for Guinness World Records doesn't just entail doing your day job. It also requires you to become a brand ambassador, meeting extraordinary people and adjudicating exciting records around the world. During my time as Global HR Director, two moments stand out most for me. One was meeting Michael Jackson, who came to our offices to pick up seven records. The other was meeting Sultan Kösen, the current Guinness World Record holder for the Tallest Man.
After he applied for the title in 2008, I first met Sultan in February 2009 when I travelled to Turkey with our Editor-in-Chief, Craig Glenday, to officially measure him. Initially, I went along to act as a translator, but was very excited at the prospect of meeting someone who could possibly be one of only eleven people who measured more than eight feet in recent history.
A new world record
On the morning of our first meeting, I was struck by how quiet Sultan was and felt a sense of sadness as I looked into his eyes. We stayed in Turkey for two days and measured Sultan three times a day according to the guidelines, which resulted in a measurement of 8ft 1in (246.5cm) - a brand new record. A decision was made to introduce Sultan to the world during the launch of the 2010 Guinness Book of World Records.
Over the next seven months, I visited Turkey several times, to help Sultan with his visa applications, clothes and shoe measurements, and each time we became closer and he eventually began to trust me. (He had previously been promised a great deal by others and had subsequently experienced a lot of disappointment.)
In September 2009, against the backdrop of London's Tower Bridge, Sultan was catapulted into international stardom with news agencies and TV programmes from around the world lining up to interview him. As part of the launch, we travelled to 14 countries over a three month period and it was during this time I got to know Sultan a lot more. Not to sound too esoteric, but I believe that life often offers us synchronicities that come into play when two people meet - I believe this was one of them.
As we travelled across the world, I noticed that Sultan sometimes had extreme mood swings and it quickly became clear that translating for him was minor in comparison to his other needs. I was often brought face to face with the emotional, social and practical implications of what it meant for him to be so tall and different, and my background as a psychotherapist became more relevant in offering him support. I came to learn that beyond his imposing stature was a very vulnerable man who had experienced a lot of sadness, loneliness, rejection and pain and whose only dream in life was to get married. Despite the many countries we visited and the gracious gifts he received along the way, as well as his first ever opportunity to earn a living, the prospect of meeting a wife always remained at the forefront of his mind.
In early 2010, as part of the filming of this documentary, we visited Sultan's village in Turkey. Initially, our aim was to get a sense of what the environment he grew up in was like and for me to get the opportunity to meet his family. I had no idea of what to expect and was quite surprised at the reception we received on arrival. His mother immediately began to hug me as tight as she could and I realised in that moment the huge impact Sultan's life had also had on her. There were challenging moments during our interview as I struggled to compose myself during a heartfelt exchange between us. I was once again faced with the same sadness I initially saw in Sultan's eyes.
The last two years have yielded many positive changes for Sultan. Thanks to the free medical treatment he received from the University of Virginia and support from Guinness World Records, Sultan's medical problems have improved 100%. A wife would truly be the icing on the cake to this story and I long for that invitation. Through my job at Guinness World Records, I was honoured to have had the opportunity to make a difference in Sultan's life - an experience I will never forget.