Eye on the prize

Eddie Hall’s diet on the day before he became the first man in the world to lift 500kg included 20 litres of Lucozade. But now the strongest man in the world is counting down the days until he retires

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Eddie “The Beast” Hall “never wanted to be normal.” Instead he “always wanted to be a real-life superhero,” he declares. “Why would you walk around all day as Clark Kent when you can be Superman?”

In May last year, he achieved this herculean goal by becoming the first Briton in 24 years to win the World’s Strongest Man competition, beating competition from Icelandic Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, better known as the Mountain in Game of Thrones.

He blacked out and woke up with blood seeping out of his mouth, nose and eyes.

As his nickname suggests, he’s imposingly big. Towering at 6ft 3ins and weighing nearly 30 stone, he looks like the Rock of Gibraltar cosplaying a human being. “Since I was 10 and weighed 10 stone, my weight matched my age,” says the 30 year old at his home in Stoke-on-Trent. “I first noticed when I was 22 – and 22 stone – I went to Alton Towers and couldn’t get on a single ride. The world isn’t made for men my size.”

When you watch the leviathans on World’s Strongest Man – a TV staple since 1977 – engaging in brute strength training challenges like flipping tractor tyres or dragging jetliners, you rarely consider the day-to-day impracticalities they face. Before Hall boards a long-haul flight, he flushes his system out with laxatives because he can’t fit inside a plane’s toilet.

“Even walking through a normal doorway, I have to turn sideways,” he says. Yesterday, somebody parked too close to him. “I had to get into my car through the passenger side, let the handbrake off, then pull my car back with my hands so I could get in the driver’s side.” This may sound drastic, but then Eddie is a man so hard he named his son “Maximus” after Russell Crowe’s titular Gladiator.

To bulk up to the juggernaut he is today, Hall spends £250 a week on food alone. Just to sit static in a chair for 24 hours, he requires 4,000 calories to maintain his weight. While he’s in the midst of his punishing four-hour gym sessions in the run-up to a competition, that figure rises to 12,000. The day before he broke the dead-lift record in 2016 by lifting 500kg – the equivalent of a polar bear – he imbibed 20 litres of Lucozade and ordered “just fat” at a restaurant.

“Everything has to be done to extremes,” he says. “People are understanding. In 90 per cent of restaurants, I’ll order steak and chips and they’ll thrown in an extra steak or portion of chips.”

Etched on Hall’s Popeye-sized forearm is a tattoo of childhood hero the Terminator. “One of my earliest memories is watching Arnold Schwarzenegger walking into that motorcycle bar with his top off. I was mesmerised. I wanted that body.”

Fittingly, Schwarzenegger was cheering Hall on when he obliterated the dead-lift record – and the two are set to work together on a secret project.

No human had ever lifted 500kg before, so even medics weren’t sure of the potential impact on the body. Hall blacked out, and woke up with blood seeping out of his mouth, nose and eyes.

“The health consequences were extreme,” he remembers. “My blood pressure went through the roof during that lift. I had the symptoms of concussion. For three weeks, I wouldn’t remember things. I couldn’t talk. I was stuttering. I lost my sight for a few days after. I had bruising on my back and had to be put on oxygen. I’m very lucky to be alive and still walking.”

Hall is no stranger to injuries. Once, he put so much pressure on himself in training that his left eyeball burst out of his socket – he popped it back in and blithely carried on. He competed in World Strongman 2016 with two broken fingers, and still placed third. He has to sleep in a special breathing mask.

Why do it? When he was five, Hall watched the World’s Strongest Man and told his parents: “I’m going to be there one day”. His words are the only thing he hasn’t eaten. “It’s the most male natural instinct to want to be the alpha – and better than the next man.” He credits a “rough upbringing” in working class Stoke, where it was “fight or flight”, for his determination. An athletic career began as a National Championship swimmer, before he turned his attention to the gym at 15.

“I had a massive hole in my life. My nan was diagnosed with cancer when I was 11. That sparked off my depression and when I quit my swimming career when I was 13, I had to fill that void. It was sport that kept me from being depressed – lifting weights kept me mentally sane. If I hadn’t found weightlifting, I’d be in jail or dead.”

On his grandmother’s deathbed, he pledged to her that he’d win World’s Strongest Man. “If I hadn’t achieved this, I’d have felt like I’d let her down.”

It’s not only his bulk that makes Hall stand out – it’s his personality, which he describes as “a white BA Baracus on acid”. A self-confessed “narcissist”, he’s prone to messianic pronouncements so mentally he feels he has to live up to them. It’s given him a profile – he has a relentless motivational speaking schedule, his own range of supplements, a Netflix documentary and autobiography – that extends far beyond the competition.

“I can’t go out in public anymore. I have to do my shopping online. Along with being a household name, I stick out like a sore thumb. I hadn’t had a holiday in seven years, and went on a belated honeymoon with my wife and was even hassled non-stop in Mauritius.”

Despite triumphing in his fifth consecutive Britain’s Strongest Man competition last month, over the next 18 months he intends to retire from the sport. He’s taking weekly acting lessons in a bid to find a hinterland, and has various TV projects in the pipeline, and tentative offers from the WWE. Will the lure of lycra be hard to resist?

“Of course. I seriously think I could go back and win again. But it’s putting my body through that stress and it’s a risk. Walking around at 32 stone – at my biggest – is a very dark place and you’ve got to push your body to the absolute limit.

“It’s not something I’m willing to do. Why would I chase more titles and put myself in the graveyard?”

“This is the time I could put myself in danger. You’ve got to learn to walk away. It’s like Muhammad Ali when he was the greatest boxer – the day eventually arrived when he was knocked out. I don’t want that day to come. I’d rather go out as the greatest.”

Eddie “The Beast” Hall’s autobiography, Strongman: My Story is published by Virgin Books 

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