TV review: Extraordinary People: The World's Heaviest Man Gets Married

Gary Day is mesmerised by the bedridden life of a man mountain who courts global media attention

May 5, 2011

Credit: Miles Cole

Manuel Uribe is the world's heaviest man. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico with his mum. He is so huge that he cannot leave the reinforced bed to which he has been confined for the past eight years. And he is getting married (Channel 5, Extraordinary People: The World's Heaviest Man Gets Married, Monday 25 April, 10pm). There is something sublime about Manuel's size. He is a thing that knows no human shape. Instead of a body with arms and legs we have a heaving sea of flesh with a head bobbing on top.

How did Manuel achieve such proportions? He was a normal baby, said mum Otilia, herself no sylph. It was an appetite for junk food that made him balloon. Fast food arrived in Mexico when Manuel was in his teens. "Everyone was eating it," he said, "but I take responsibility for the way I am." The development of lymphoedema - a form of fluid retention and swelling of the tissues, particularly in the legs - meant that, by the age of 30, Manuel couldn't walk. Surgery removed 80 kilograms from his stomach, thighs and pelvis. A photograph showed a smiling surgeon holding up a three-foot chunk of flab. He looked like a proud fisherman displaying his catch.

Manuel was neither smiling nor proud. He was suicidal. "I cursed God. I wanted to put a bullet in my brain." It was then that he decided to appeal for help. Offers came flooding in from doctors and dietitians. Manuel was now a celebrity. A healthy eating plan meant that a quarter of him disappeared. Now all of him could fit on to his bed.

Enter Claudia. Manuel was a friend of her first husband. At 226 kilograms he was only half the man Manuel was. His sudden death may have been a factor in Manuel's decision to diet. As might Claudia's new status as a widow. She certainly appeared more often at Manuel's house, helping him to wash himself. She lifted a curtain of skin and momentarily disappeared under it. "Who doesn't like to be pampered?" said Manuel, in a voice bright and full of laughter. That's what love does.

"People think I'm crazy," said Claudia, her head emerging from some part of Manuel, "but you can't choose who you are attracted to." She rocked from foot to foot while Manuel held her arms, smiling. One of Manuel's friends declared that theirs was "an extraordinary love story; the world has seen nothing like it". Manuel ensured that would indeed be the case. He contacted news agencies around the globe with details of his and Claudia's forthcoming marriage. "Look, we even made the headlines in China," he chirped. A Japanese network brought a huge silk kimono from one of the best sumo stores as a gift, which Manuel could always use as a handkerchief. For the big day, he wanted a shirt in the style that Steven Seagal wore.

The happy couple needed to find a venue big enough to accommodate Manuel as well as more than 400 guests. Just one of many worries. A local politician, sensing votes in the matter, arranged for the Club de Leones to open its doors. But then, another problem. How was Manuel to get to the venue safely? He rarely goes out and when he does it's on the back of a truck, which makes him look like part of a carnival float. The last time he went on an outing, his bed struck a low bridge. Manuel was fine but the bridge needed treatment.

"Getting here has involved some bitter moments," said Manuel as the last preparations were made, "but I know I want to spend the rest of my life with her." A pause. "Don't you, darling?" he asked, with the faintest rise in his voice. Another pause. "Yes," said Claudia. Her devotion, you felt, had nothing to do with the media attention that made her feel "like a Hollywood actress". The caterer arrived. Claudia tried to persuade her beloved to sample all the things he was not supposed to eat. His resistance was heroic. Her sulk was epic. But it was all right on the day. The mariachi played, the tequila flowed and Manuel held Claudia's hands as she rocked from foot to foot.

In a different age, Manuel would have been regarded as a freak, but in our relatively more civilised times, he's hailed as a celebrity. He is our excess, the embodiment of our own gargantuan apartness and, in accepting him, we accept ourselves.

Not so the characters featured in The Lock Up (BBC One, Tuesday 26 April, 11.55pm), a sort of I, Camera view of the custody suite of Priory Road Police Station in Hull. Sgt Jane Biglin, who my unreconstructed friend said could arrest him any time, dealt patiently with society's malfunctioning creations. Monsters at whom we can only sit and stare.

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