Written by Kirsten O'Brien

In The News

Diving into World Records – feet first

The first bound copy of the weird and wonderful Guinness Book of Records was finished 60 years ago today. But what possesses anyone to get involved? Kirsten O’Brien wipes the mustard off her toes and tells us more.

Where's Wally? record attempt

Where’s Wally? world record attempt. Photo by William Murphy from Dublin, Ireland, via Wikimedia Commons.

I was well into Guinness World Records as a kid. What was not to like about a smiling, tap-dancing Roy Castle bringing us people who were the fastest/strongest/hairiest, with some twins with photographic memories adjudicating over proceedings? (For those not in the know, the McWhirters were definitely not in the same category as those other TV twins on Fun House.)

My brother and I spent what seems like most of the 80s having contests and dreaming of getting one of Roy’s record certificates. Who can eat the most dry crackers? Who can do the longest burp? And the ill-judged, who can keep a stick insect on their tongue the longest?

Then, in 2003, I was working on a kids’ radio show and someone thought it would be a good idea for the presenters to have a crack at some world records. Only trouble was, the show was called The Big Toe Radio Show, so it was decided all the records had to be foot related.

My first attempt was for making a sandwich with your feet. Believe it or not, this record already exists and there are very strict criteria – buckle in. The sandwich is made from two slices of bread which you have to get out of the packet with your feet. You have to de-rind a slice of salami – with your feet obviously – and add slices of square processed cheese, removing the plastic wrapper, yes, yes, with your feet, then add lettuce, sliced tomatoes, mustard, mayonnaise and sliced pickles. The final thing you have to do is cut the sandwich in half – yes, you guessed it – with your ruddy feet and present it on the plate.

“My second attempt was for the number of socks on one foot. This time we’d decided to create our own record, therefore whatever I achieved automatically made me a winner.”

Now I’m quite a competitive person, so I put in a significant amount of hours learning how to slather mayonnaise onto Warburtons’ finest with my tootsies while watching Frasier on a loop at home. I do recall being single at the time.

Anyway, the day of my attempt came and I missed out on the 1 minute 57 seconds record time by about 30 seconds because I spent most of it chasing a greasy knife around a BBC canteen tray with mustard in my toe cracks. But now I had fire in my belly (and unnaturally moisturised toes, what with all the mayo) and I was desperate to get myself one of those World Record Certificates.

My second attempt was for the number of socks on one foot (remember they had to be foot-related records for the show). This time we’d decided to create our own record, therefore whatever I achieved automatically made me a winner. Someone went out and bought a heap of cheap white market socks and we did the attempt live on air.

With hindsight we probably should have had socks in increasingly large sizes but, as it was, I piled sock after sock on ’til my foot resembled a giant ski boot. Then there came a tipping point, not of sock stretch but of pain, as the pressure of the footwear – acting like the world’s tightest flight compression socks – began to cut my circulation off. I started to howl on air and the boss of the show ran into the studio screeching, “Get them off her!” while frantically yanking at my foot, which was pretty shocking from someone who was once quite high up on Woman’s Hour.

“I was practically taking on Roy Castle at his own game – the sheer audacity of it!”

Anyway my score of 42 stood (unlike me) and I was awarded my certificate. I’ve looked at the Guinness website and apparently the record for this is now 45 as held by an Italian bloke, but looking at the picture at least one of the ‘socks’ is a blimmin’ popsock, so I’m declaring my record as still standing. (The McWhirters would turn in their graves!)

My final record – to date, I’m potentially not done yet – was set in in November 2006. It was the same show, same foot-related rules, so it was for number of ‘taps’, as in tap dancing, in a minute. I was practically taking on Roy Castle at his own game – the sheer audacity of it! I would once more be setting the record.

Now I’m no dancer, let alone tap dancer, and it was basically just foot waggling at speed on some lino, sort of like trying to get some dog dirt off your shoe in a hurry. I managed a score of 512 – someone get Michael Flatley on the phone! Again, from looking online this has now been broken by a dance teacher in New York and at 1,163, I’ll let him have that.

For me, knowing that you are the best in the world at something, even for only a fortnight is what Guinness is all about. Why else would people 70 years on be drawn to attempting ludicrous feats with no personal financial gain?

Although writing this has fired me up again. I’ve had a look and the current world record for eating jelly with chopsticks is 1lb 6oz set by a Japanese lady last year. I reckon I could take her.


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Written by Kirsten O'Brien

Kirsten O'Brien is a broadcaster who started life in the tiniest of telly gigs - the CBBC broom cupboard, sharing the teeny space with a puppet aardvark. Since then she has jobbed her way round telly, radio and theatre doing everything from learning to be a lumberjack to the traffic and travel in The Flying Eye and pantomime with Brian Blessed. Her one woman stand up show "Confessions of a TV Presenter" sold out Edinburgh 2007 and Kirsten still gigs occasionally but can currently be heard on the Heart Wiltshire breakfast show. @tvskirsten