Door frames, shelves and public transport don’t worry most people, but when you are the world’s tallest family, they’re a danger.
Keisha and Wilco van Kleef-Bolton have a combined height of 13ft 5in. Seven foot of that is Wilco; his wife stretches the measuring tape to 6ft 5in.
Not surprisingly, the children are following in Mum and Dad’s (pretty huge) footsteps. Lucas is 4ft 5in at the age of six — average for a ten-year-old. Eva, four, is 3ft 7in, typical of a girl a year older. And at six weeks old, Baby Jonah is just two inches shy of 2ft long.
The children are destined to lives of stooping through doorways and retrieving things from high shelves for old ladies in supermarkets.
But what is it like to look down on everyone you meet? I decide to pay this extraordinary family a visit at their cosy two-bedroom home in Dagenham, Essex, to find out.
At 5ft 7in, I’m three inches taller than the average British woman, but I feel like an Oompa Loompa around Keisha and Wilco.
You wouldn’t want this pair sitting in front of you at the cinema — something they try to avoid.
‘We are mindful of that when we go out to see a show. We get tickets for the back row when we can,’ says Keisha, 33, ducking under the kitchen and living room doorways.
‘We bash our heads several times a year,’ she says. ‘Mostly we duck without thinking, but sometimes we misjudge.’
Wilco, 31, almost knocked himself out on the London Underground.
‘I didn’t realise the ceiling at the entrance of one set of stairs was lower than my head,’ he says. ‘I bashed it quite hard and it really hurt. I arrived at work with blood dripping down the side of my face.’
Quite a feet: The family are thought to be the biggest in the world with Keisha and Wilco measuring in at a combined 13ft 7in
Finding a car was equally taxing: they settled for a people carrier with specially adjusted head rests. ‘Most head rests sit at the bottom of our necks,’ says Wilco.
Their bicycles had to be imported from the Netherlands, home to the world’s tallest people — the saddles come up to my chest.
But everything else the couple owns is standard size, including their bed — they can’t fit larger items into their house.
Wilco sleeps with his feet sticking out of the end of the bed, while Keisha nods off in the foetal position. The list of hurdles this couple encounter is mind-boggling.
‘The biggest disadvantage is clothes,’ says Keisha. ‘We have to get them from specialist shops and websites, but even they don’t always cater for our height.’
Trousers are particularly difficult. Wilco has a 40in inside leg. Keisha has a 38in inside leg, so jeans always end up half-mast, but at least she can wear dresses as shirts.
Keisha’s parents are 6ft and her four older siblings are all statuesque (though not as tall as her). Growing up in Jamaica, she passed the 6ft mark by her early teens.
‘I was constantly teased,’ she says. ‘At school I was head and shoulders above everyone. As for boys, they didn’t want to know. I thought I’d never get a boyfriend.’
Only when, at 18, she was headhunted by an American university for a basketball scholarship did Keisha start to see the advantages.
‘The University of Rhode Island were willing to take me on the basis of my height and train me, even though I’d never played basketball.
‘So I moved to the U.S. and though it was nerve-racking, it was the making of me. My height was celebrated and I became less self-conscious.’
Thousands of miles away in Holland, another outsize adolescent was getting to grips with his height.
Already 6ft by the age of 12, Wilco was put on hormone medication to restrict his growth.
‘The doctor told me that without the medication I could have reached 8½ ft,’ he says. ‘I was perfectly healthy and in proportion, so they put it down to genetics — though my parents weren’t hugely tall, my grandparents and uncles were well above average height.’
Unlike Keisha, Wilco insists his height never bothered him.
‘Mum and Dad always encouraged me to feel comfortable in my own skin,’ he says. ‘I realised there was nothing I could do about it, so I just got on with it. I soon learned to stand up for myself if I got teased.’
What he and his future wife had in common, however, was that neither had been lucky in love — something that changed when, by chance, they arrived in London in 2001.
Frustrated by the lack of men her height, Keisha posted an advert on the online bulletin board of the Tall Persons Club asking for a dance partner.
‘I love dancing, but it got depressing always being partnered by short men,’ she says.
‘I didn’t expect to be able to look up to anyone, but not looking at the top of someone’s head would be a start. And I struggled to meet men, generally, as they were intimidated by my height. They would come over to talk to me about how tall I was and then walk away.’
And so in April 2001 Keisha posted her advert, and Wilco, who had arrived in London just two months earlier, read it.
‘It made me smile, so I posted back saying: “I’m 7ft — is that tall enough?” ’ he says.
It certainly was, and they agreed to seek each other out at the next Tall Persons Club get-together.
Alas, for Keisha, first impressions weren’t entirely favourable.
‘He wasn’t really my type at first glance,’ she says. ‘He was skinny, had a shaved head and was wearing a trench coat.’
When they did finally get chatting, however, they clicked immediately. ‘We fell head over heels,’ says Keisha. ‘Our personalities complement each other but, because of our height, we understood where we were coming from.’
They married before the year was out, settling in Dagenham, where Keisha is an administrative assistant and Wilco a security guard.
That year, they were named the tallest living couple by the Guinness Book of Records — a title now held by Californians Wayne and Laurie Hallquist. But Keisha believes the people at Guinness did not measure Wilco accurately, as they judged him to be ‘just’ 6ft 9in.
The Hallquists measure a joint 13ft 4in, a whole inch shorter than the van Kleef-Boltons.
‘The Guinness people need to come back,’ says Keisha. Certainly she and her husband are the world’s tallest parents.
‘When Lucas was born, the nurses said how long he was,’ says Wilco. ‘We weren’t surprised. To be honest, I’d have worried if he came out short.’
Last year, Lucas grew an inch in one month and is growing out of clothes for ten-year-olds.
‘He’s a lot taller than anyone else in his class,’ says Keisha. ‘Luckily, he takes it all in his stride — in fact, he’s quite proud of it.
‘I do worry more about Eva being tall because I think it can be harder for girls. Then again, she has lots of confidence so that might see her through.’
The same can’t always be said for everyone else. While no one bats an eyelid in their own neighbourhood, it’s a different story further afield.
‘People point and stare and even take pictures without trying to talk to us, which I find pretty rude,’ says Keisha.
‘Most of the time people just point out our height to us, as if we didn’t know about it already. They walk up and say “Goodness, you’re tall!” I used to say “Goodness, you’re short!”, but now I just smile.’
In fact, it turns out neither of them would change a thing. Keisha no longer sticks to flat shoes. When we meet, she is striding about in open-toed heels.
‘I focus on the benefits of my height,’ she says. ‘I can always see above the crowd like a periscope, so there’s no danger of me losing sight of the children.’
Wilco, too, has learned to make the most of it.
‘I can walk more quickly than most people and I can see farther, too,’ he says. ‘So I would say my height offers a couple of distinct advantages.’
Even if it does mean adopting the crash position in his own home.