Leicester’s own Iron Man, Manjit Singh, has set over 60 world records by pulling and lifting heavy things with his hands, ears, hair and even eyelids. Here, we find out what it took to become a world record holder.
After landing on the tarmac at Heathrow airport in 1977, Manjit Singh saw two things for the first time: snow and his future wife. Within two weeks of touching down, he was married and ready to begin his new life in England.
Growing up in India, he’d lived a life of hardship, discrimination and oppression. His parents had migrated from Pakistan in 1947 and he was born three years later. Being born into a refugee family, it seems that Manjit’s place in society was pre-ordained at birth. “Everybody used to call us refugees and not talk to us properly because we were poor,” he explains.
Manjit’s mother passed away shortly after his birth and when his father later died while serving in the army, he was raised as an only child by his grandparents. The family barely had any money and he would walk to school barefoot, in the scorching sun. As a child, he’d also help his grandmother or ‘mother’ as he called her with household chores. “I used to knead flour to make chapattis and wash my own clothes in the river,” he explains.
At home, with the family still struggling with poverty, Manjit began working at eight years old to try to help his grandparents. “I used to work in the fields for somebody else and not get money. Instead, I’d get some flour to eat or wheat or sugarcane”. Life, in Manjit’s own words was “full of struggle” but he also explains that it shaped who he went on to become: “It gave me courage when I grew up.”
After facing taunts from local children, he began lifting small stones at around the age of eight to show them that he was strong. He desperately wanted to be accepted but to gain their admiration was even better. “I wanted their attention, I wanted them to look at me and say ‘Oh, who is he?’”
By the time he was 13, Manjit was the strongest child in the village. During his school days he was also ranked first across India in his weight category for weightlifting. After graduating school, he went on to further education and completed degrees in English and Education and for a while, felt he had gained, at least superficially, the respect of those around him. Despite this, he knew that whatever he did, he’d never be able to escape the stigma that surrounded his identity: “From the inside they didn’t really like us because my grandfather was poor and we had no land.”
Manjit went on to become a police inspector in 1974 but after being told that he would be unable to continue pursuing weightlifting, he grew frustrated and upset. It was for this reason that he pounced on the opportunity to move to England. His grandfather had been formally approached by the father of his future wife and after being asked to consider the proposition, he’d accepted without hesitation.
So it was these circumstances that brought Manjit to England on that snowy day of 15 January 1977. After settling into his new life, he ventured into a gym, keen to return to his fitness journey. Continuing the regime he’d had in India, he lifted a 100kg weight over his head in a perfectly executed clean and jerk and then let it fall to the ground, shattering the wooden floor in the process. He remembers the chaos that ensued: “They all rushed to me and said what the hell are you doing here? This is not a weightlifting club, it’s a bodybuilding club! If you want to do bodybuilding, fitness, this is for you, if you’re doing weightlifting then join another club.”
Manjit decided to pursue fitness and in 1984, was given a copy of the Guinness World Book of Records. He saw that there was a record for the number of bench presses completed in an hour and knew he could beat it. And after 18 months of training, he did just that. Following this, he was unstoppable. He would find different strength world records, train and beat them. Some of his most impressive records include pulling a double decker bus with his ponytail and lifting the heaviest weight with his eye sockets.
It wasn’t long before his amazing feats began to get him global attention. He was invited to fly to Los Angeles to go on The Jay Leno Show, where he lifted the then Miss USA into the air. On the experience he says: “The crowd began chanting: ‘Come on, Manjit! Manjit! Manjit!’ It really was a wonderful moment for me.” He also appeared on Britain’s Got Talent after being hunted by producers and blew up a hot water bottle for an impressed audience.
Today, although Manjit admits that he’s been sensible and has slowed down, he is still dedicated to staying fit and starts his day with a sprint in the park followed by a session at the gym. He also tells people of the same age that it’s never too late to take up exercise: “If somebody is older and they’ve never exercised before, but now they want to start, I want to tell them that they can. It doesn’t matter if you’re 60 or 70, start with lifting light things in your home like water bottles and build it up from there.” It’s no wonder that Manjit is intent on spreading the word as it’s apparent that for him, the rewards of a lifetime of fitness and exercise have paid off. After all, in his own words: “You can look at me… I’m 71 but still feeling 17!”