People staring, asking endless questions, making comments and selfie requests. At 223 centimetres, Kewal Shiels – Australia’s tallest man – good-naturedly rises and rises and rises above it all.
As the tallest man in Australia moves through the indoor shopping centre, a funny thing happens. It’s not so much that everyone there (and I do mean every single person) freezes a moment to gawp, or glance askance, or nudge a friend with a sneaky elbow. No, it’s the uniform facial expression they all wear. It’s the smiles. Smiles as far the eye can see. Or rather, smiles as far as his eyes can see.
The oversized existence of Kewal Shiels slices through the shoppers this busy weekday morning like the prow of a container ship, sending a sparkling ripple of toothy happiness across the bustling current of everyday commerce. People can’t help themselves. As he lumbers among them they stand utterly dumbstruck, beaming, caught in a moment of dopey, reflexive awe. Shiels is an utterly likeable, softly spoken, kind and trustworthy 30-year-old former car salesman, motor-sport watcher and Kanye West fan, who lives alone in Pascoe Vale South in Melbourne’s inner-suburban north-west, which is to say that he is mostly unremarkable.
Except, of course, for the fact he is seven foot three (223 centimetres) tall. Put another way, Shiels is roughly the same height as a female Asian elephant, and so people tend to grin whenever he is near them, lighting up with a kind of sweet, surprised delight, flickering en masse, like fireflies in a darkened field. “I do notice that,” he says, as the spellbound crowd continues sneaking peeks. “When the stares get frustrating – and they do, sometimes – I try to remind myself of that. I try to take the attention with the spirit in which it’s intended.”
Shiels has been doing so with good grace all his life, because he knows no other life…
Photography by Kristoffer Paulsen