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Danny Wallace: Becoming a world’s strongest man expert in 10 minutes


I have never made it a secret that in an ideal world, I would have been born as the commentator of the Eurovision Song Contest.

Sure, the first few years would have been awkward as I struggled even to speak, let alone speak knowledgeably and on-air, about what I think we can agree is planet Earth’s most important and celebrated cultural event.

But the stars never aligned. The offer never happened. And no one ever heard about the Eurovision Song Contest ever again.

And then I get a call.

A call that – like literally every other call I’ve ever had in my life – is not about commentating on the Eurovision Song Contest.

“The World’s Strongest Man competition?” I say. “They want me to commentate on the World’s Strongest Man competition?”

Oh, this is good. My feelings for the World’s Strongest Man competition are on the same broad spectrum as my feelings for the Eurovision Song Contest. I used to love it. It always seemed to be on around Christmas. It was just big men in pub car parks lifting sacks. Big men in pub car parks lifting sacks over and over again, until one of the big men in the pub car park lifted a sack slightly heavier and a bit quicker than all the other big men in the pub car park.

“What would I have to do?” I ask. “Just make jokes? There’d be a proper sports guy there, right?”

“Yes,” is the reply. “You’d be doing it with a proper sports guy. An expert.”

I think about it.

“Sign me up!” I say. “I will make jokes about the world’s strongest men!”

Oh, this will be an easy gig. The sports guy will do all the hard work, and every now and again I’ll pop up, try something pithy, and fade into the background again.

A few weeks later I arrive at a big industrial estate near Heathrow and am ushered into a small, dark room, where I meet a big man called Colin.

“I’m Colin!” he says, which I probably didn’t need to write. “I’m going to be working with you today.”

“Hello Colin,” I say, and I think about telling him I’ve actually got a friend called Colin, but I’m not sure if he’ll find that as interesting as you just did, and the thing about today is, everything I say has to be interesting.

“Get here OK?” he asks.

“Bit of traffic on the M4,” I say.

Nailed it.

“Let’s get started,” says Colin, handing me a proper commentator’s lip microphone, which I immediately press to my mouth, which is unnecessary because we haven’t started yet. “Let’s warm up first. Play Danny some footage, please.”

Through the glass, someone presses a button and on a screen, I immediately see a big swooping shot of a stadium. Huge men grimace and slap their hands together. Dust flies everywhere. There’s loud music. Glamour. Fire. Intrigue. Oh.

What happened to just some big men lifting sacks in a pub car park?

“OK, off you go,” says Colin, nodding at me.

What – just like that?

“Oh… um,” I say, lifting the mic to my lips.

Why am I going first? Shouldn’t Colin go first? He’s the expert! What am I supposed to say? I’ve never done this before!

“Welcome!” I try. “To the Caveman Olympics!”

Colin stares at me. Why isn’t he joining in? I better keep going.

“So… just look at these guys,” I say, over a shot of some men. “Really big and strong.”

“Stop!” says Colin, and the footage stops.

We look at each other.

“So I thought you were going to join in,” I say. “Or maybe you should start. Because you’re the expert. You know the sport. And then I can just chip in with some jokes or something.”

“Jokes?” says Colin.

“Yeah,” I say, starting to worry there may have been a misunderstanding. “I mean, I was sort of booked to chip in, and…“

“No,” says Colin, shaking his head and going pale. “No no no. No, we need to get this done right now, and you’re not here to just chip in…”

“Well what am I here for?” I ask, and now I’m going pale.

“Danny,” he says. “You are lead commentator.

Yes, there has definitely been a misunderstanding, yes.

Lead commentator?” I say.

“You are lead commentator,” he says.

“But I’m not lead commentator. You’re lead commentator.”

“You’re lead commentator. On the World’s Strongest Man competition.”

There is a moment where I think my eyes just dart about the room.

By which I mean I look everywhere, not that my eyes grow little legs and sprint around.

“But no one told me I was lead commentator!” I say, desperately, as through the glass I see people in the other room starting to stare at each other uncomfortably. “I’m not lead commentator material! What does the lead commentator do?”

“He leads,” says Colin. “You have to know what you’re talking about. You are the voice of authority. You are the man the viewer goes to to explain the stats, the standings, the results, the rules!”

I don’t know the rules! I thought it was just big men lifting sacks in pub car parks!

I know they’re not allowed to use cranes etc.

“You need to know the contenders, their history, how they train. You need to know the ins and outs, the legacy,” says Colin, rubbing the bridge of his nose, his eyes shut. “It’s not just chipping in!”

“And what will you be doing?” I ask.

“I’ll be chipping in.”

I look around the studio. At the screen, which is frozen on a picture of a huge bearded man roaring at the camera with an explosion behind him. I look at the lip mic. At the World’s Strongest Man’s proud and historic logo.

This is a pivotal moment.

Do I back away? Do I explain there’s been a mistake? Do I wimp out and let them get a proper person to do it?

Or do I man up?

Is this studio my pub car park? Is this challenge my big sack?

Am I man enough to lift it, and keep lifting it, remembering to bend from the knees, until that sack has been deposited on a plinth?

Am I strong enough?

“Give me 10 minutes!” I say. “Give me 10 minutes and I will give you the world!”

I grab a sheet of notes and begin studying furiously.

Savatinov! The burly Bulgarian! A former circus strongman with a penchant for Corgis!

Hafthór Björnsson! The great Icelandic hope! Nickname: Thor. Likes: people calling him Thor!

Eddie Hall! They call him “The Beast”! The UK’s strongest man with the UK’s strongest beard and out to prove he can take on the world!

I train. I study. I am in my own movie montage now.

I’m pacing backwards and forwards, looking at bits of paper and sipping at some tea.

Granted, it’s a terrible movie montage, but it’s my movie montage.

I’m going to show them. I’m going to show them all. I’m going to show the whole world that I can say things about quite strong men.

And somewhere, in Brussels, when I’ve finished presenting, Dr Frank-Dieter Freiling, the head of the Eurovision Song Contest Reference Group Committee, will stub out his cigar, stop stroking his cat and turn from his TV to pick up his red phone and angrily bark, “Why did no one get us WALLACE?”

“I’m ready,” I say, throwing my notes down on to the table. “Let’s DO this!”

Colin looks up at me with what I like to think is a newfound respect in his eyes.

He’s been next to me this whole time, and eaten an entire plate of biscuits. I’m serious. The whole plate. It was disgusting.

“Ready?” he sputters, wiping his mouth. “We’re going to be starting with the Loading Race.”

Bring it on! I know the Loading Race! It’s pretty much just lifting sacks in a pub car park! But with the added glamour of some barrels, too.

At this I know one thing: I will shine!

The event starts to beam through.

Slowly, cautiously, I raise the lip mic to my mouth.

Don’t rush this. Gently does it.

And as I begin to talk, it is like I am at one with the lip mic, and it is like the sound of angels singing, and Colin’s got no biscuits left, so begins to chip in, and now it is like there is grand operatic music playing as I casually fling in a stat here, or a fact there, and Colin’s eyes shine with childlike delight, and this is music to his ears as we move onto the Circus Barbells, the Kettlebell Throw, the Truck Pull and, of course, “what is very much considered the marquee event of this competition”, the famous Atlas Stones!

(The Atlas Stones is where you have to lift a big stone on to a plinth, so it’s very different from the others.)

And we finish.

Competition over, I am exhausted. Spent. But finished.

I suppose you must think that I am exactly like those brave men who trained nine hours a day, seven days a week, for 365 days of each year of their adult lives.
But, while I understand the comparison, you must not call me a hero. I just did what had to be done. I did what anybody would have done in that situation: I picked up a microphone and commentated on the World’s Strongest Man competition.

Colin and I shake hands. I have achieved a childhood dream. And now it is over and we can all get
on with our lives.

“Well, one down,” he says, bringing out a new plate of biscuits.

I smile. Then say, “Huh?”

“One down, 10 to go.”

“What?” I say.

“There are 11 shows,” says Colin, and I sink back down into my chair.

There’s definitely been a misunderstanding.

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