Can you still have local heroes, folk heroes, in the modern era? There was a time when kids looked up to people on the block, or from around town. A striker from the local football team who grew up within miles of the ground. Or a journeyman boxer who trains in the gym in town, a hometown hero despite his win / loss record. It's something that seems lost in the age of globalisation and mass media. All I see are kids in London wearing Messi shirts, or pretending to be Captain America. What about a local superhero?
Well, Tottenham has its own superhero and his name is Tiny Iron.
I first came across the man born Andrew Harrison, but better known to the world as Tiny Iron, at a small indie pro-wrestling show in North East London. The sort of show you see advertised in the window of a newsagent. A far cry from the glamour of WWE, where burly weekend warriors entertain a small group of kids, who are confused as to why John Cena isn't there. It took place in a community theatre in Edmonton, and the ring was actually on the stage, meaning that there were only fans on one side of it, making it feel more like a Christmas pantomime than Summerslam. They hyped the return of Tiny Iron, some sort of local dude who I'd never heard of. I thought nothing of it. In the main event, the good guy wrestler was getting beat down by a group of dastardly villains. And then a garish techno remix of the A-Team theme hit, and he appeared. The biggest human being I'd ever seen, a beguiling black British man the size of a transit van. His biceps were bigger than my head, and when he flexed his muscles his face contorted like a Ren & Stimpy cartoon. He pumped his guns and snorted like something out of Jurassic Park. He didn’t really wrestle much, just clotheslined a couple of bad guys, but he didn’t need to do anything else. I'd read superhero comics my whole life, but this was the first time I'd seen one in the flesh.
Looking him up online later only made him seems more fascinating. He started out as bodyguard to the likes of Akon and Timberland before finding his way into commercials and music videos, and British crime movies like Dead Man Running (alongside 50 Cent and Danny Dyer) and Adam Deacon’s Anuvahood. Best of all though, he was offically certified as the owner Britain's biggest biceps by Ripley's Believe It Or Not, clocking in at an incredible 24 inches (though sadly it appears to have lost his crown this year, to a dad-of-three from Yorkshire with 25 inch guns). His latest screen appearance is in a crime caper called Gangsters Gamblers Geezers, alongside Big Narstie, Eastender’s Richard Blackwood, glamour-model-turned-bodybuilder Jodie Marsh and real life ex-gangster Dave Courtney, as part of one of weirdest ensemble casts ever assembled. When a PR email for the film offering cast interviews dropped in my inbox, I realised this was my chance to meet this legendary figure.
I met Tiny at his gym in Seven Sisters, in North East London. It is not the prettiest part of the city — I saw a guy getting arrested for shoplifting outside Tesco as I walked from the station. But there’s something inspiring about it. Unlike say, Hackney or Brixton, this area hasn’t been sucked up by the march of gentrification. It feels like the place where people actually grew up, as opposed to moved to when they got a job in the city. There are Perfect Fried Chickens instead of independent coffee shops. I’m sure the area will be gobbled up soon enough, but it’s nice to know it’s still there, relatively untouched, at least for the time being.
"I decided I wanted to be a superhero when I grow up. And they don’t have a qualification for that, I had to find my own qualificatioN."
Tiny’s gym is pretty much what I imagined it might be. It’s at the back of a trading estate, with little to draw attention to it apart from white painted corrugated iron, and the group of hench guys congregating outside. Music blares from car windows. Dudes loudly chirpse wifeys on their iPhones. It’s not the sort of place you go to do spin classes, or try out some new fad you read about on the Huff Post. Inside, it’s larger than you think. The size of several basketball courts, with rows and rows of weights and workout equipment. It’s rough and ready. None of the machines are computerised, and there’s nowhere to plug your Spotify in. No one is catching up on The Great British Bake Off as they work out. The walls are decorated with wonky murals of Muhammad Ali and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and one panel has an impressive collection of faded signed bodybuilder photos. Commercial hip-hop is booming over the speakers. Everyone here (bar the blonde girl on the desk) looks like they could a) have their own straight-to-video action movie franchise; and b) crush me in an instant.
After I give him a call, Tiny comes down to meet me. He’s not hard to miss. He’s possibly not quite as tall as I expected — I’m six foot and he’s not got that much on me. I also have somehow brought along a photographer that is actually six foot five, pipping even Tiny by an inch. But what he didn’t quite have in height, he certainly makes up in width. He’s genuinely about three times wider than my weedy frame. When I saw him all pumped in the ring, his arms had muscles on top of muscles on top of other muscles. Now his biceps all seem like two solid, highly impressive individual pieces. Like the highest quality slabs of beef hanging in the window of an expensive butchers. His legs are the circumference of lamp posts and he has the silhouette of an upside down isosceles triangle. And I haven’t even got to what he’s wearing. He’s gone with the basic combo of jackboots, combat pants, tanktop and do-rag, all in black, topped off with two main accessories: a gold chain big enough to safely secure a moped; and some very unique glasses. It’s kinda difficult to accurately describe the glasses. They have a rectangular, wrap-around gold frame, with a single opaque lens across the middle. They are sort of a mash up of Graduation-era Kanye’s shutter shades, Cyclops from the X-Men and Geordi La Forge from Star Trek: The Next Generation. I’ll later ask him where he gets them from, and he’ll refuse to tell me (only saying that he bought multiple pairs in bulk, so no one else could have them).
We head outside to the carpark, because the music booming throughout gym makes it too loud to record the conversation. It’s not ideal — there’s a hint of September chill in the air, and there’s a whiff of weed around. It does however let me see him out with his local public. Born and bred in Tottenham, it really does seems like everyone here knows him. People coming and going constantly say hello or shout out to him. Tiny is nothing but incredibly friendly. I ask him if people normally recognise him like this. “I can’t walk down the road like that, man. It’s too much, bruv! I have to be mentally prepared to do it, know what I’m saying bro! I just hide out in here, and when I’m done put my big jacket on, and move like Clark Kent!”
Imagine being a kid growing up around here, and seeing this dude walking along the road. Does this pressure extend to being a role model to younger members of the community? “Yeah of course, of course. I got responsibility, man. Kids always look up to me, so I gotta be careful what I do. I can’t attack anybody in the street, I can’t get myself locked up in jail, or be on the front of the newspaper doing something bad, you know. Little kids know me, their mums know me!”
It’s important up front to explain exactly what talking to Tiny Iron is like. He’s manic. He’s energetic. He’s constantly on. He talks like a cross between The Rock and a kid that works in the Stratford branch of Carphone Warehouse. It’s all part of an act, obviously — it’s like he’s doing one long ‘promo’ (wrestling speak for an in-character interview). But it doesn’t feel forced or fake. It is fun and infectious, even if I don’t feel like I’m getting to his deepest insecurities. He also finished every other sentence with either “bro”, “bruv’, or “you know what I mean!”. Sometime it’s even “you know what I mean, bro!”. I’ve edited some of them out for length and clarity, but if the quote doesn’t feature any of those, just presume he did say it.
Unsurprisingly, Tiny says he was obsessed with superheroes as a kid, and musclebound ones Superman, the Hulk and Panthro from Thundercats were his favourite. He also excitedly lists a few mostly forgotten 80s cartoons like Bravestarr and Visionaries. But his real hero was Mr. T, the human cartoon that played B.A. Baracus in The A-Team. Tiny says that when the 80s show was remade for the big screen in 2010 with Liam Neeson and Bradley Cooper, he was in the running to play B.A. “Yeah called me all the way from Hollywood for that. I was shocked. I was doing a lot of PRing. I was all over Leicester Square, doing all the premieres. So my picture went around around everywhere, and they thought ‘Yo, that dude looks, cool man. Let’s get him to send a video.’” The part ended up going to UFC fighter Quinton "Rampage" Jackson. “He was one there guys, so you know, but the fact that I’m not in Hollywood, and they found me, it was like, rah, I must be doing something well. Now they know my name.”
As a kid, he says he was skinny but tall. “But then one day, I decided I wanted to be a superhero when I grow up. I didn’t want to be at school, I wanted to be a superhero. And they don’t have a qualification for that, I had to find my own qualification.” Around the time he was leaving school, he bought a set of weights from Argos, locked himself in his room all summer, and got to work (hate to think what his family thought when as a teenage boy he shut himself in his bedroom grunting, and then came out all sweaty). “Then I looked at my body and thought ‘Wow!’. I just carried it on straight through from there, and it’s been my path in life, bro. Pow. From their I found a local gym. In them days the gym wasn’t fancy. It was cold, it was dark, there was no TV screens. Not like nowadays. People go there for leisure, know what I’m saying? It was grimy, it was dark, it was damp, and that’s where I put myself. That was my tuition, bro.”
His size made a being a bodyguard an obvious career path, and he ended up looking after American artists like Akon, 50 Cent, Timbaland and Joe when they performed in London. He says he never really had to handy with anyone, “Only screaming girls, you know! That was the only trouble I ever got! When then do the shows, in O2, or Wembley, and they would go to the after party, and the hotel, I would make sure the girls don’t bombard the place. Simple things like that, my man.” However, his natural showmanship seemed to get in the way of his work. “They’d start to get jealous. I started to take their shine, you know! I had my guns out, I was starting to make a reputation around here, so I could leave that career alone, and lead my own path.”
It was this that lead to a chance encounter with none other than ex-fooball-hardman-turned-B-movie-actor Vinnie Jones. “I was doing bodyguarding at a club up Mayfair, and Vinnie Jones was there.” Things aparrently got “kinda hairy” (Tiny’s words) that night, but Jones took a shine to Tiny. “Vinnie was like ‘Why don’t you try to do some kind of filming or something?’. Cause he was doing a film at that time, and they needed a big black bloke! So he told me to get down there. I took the contact, went down there, got the part, and then from there it all started. From there I thought ‘Rah, let’s do thing film thing, man’.” (That film by the way, was the straight-to-DVD The Number One Girl, which stars Jones as a gang boss who forces a martial arts champion to be a judge on TV beauty pageant, and also features Mr Miyagi from The Karate Kid and a cameo from So Solid Crew. No, I haven’t seen it, but it sounds amazing).
"I get propositionS FROM GIRLS every day. Even when they’re with their boyfriends! I CAN TELL YOU STORIES!"
his then lead to roles in various other low-budget movies. His most high profile part was still alongside Danny Dyer and 50 Cent in Dead Man Running. But he says he wants bigger parts. “I still want to be the main dude, the superhero, the one who saves the lady in distress, comes with the roses on the motorbike, that’s the kinda shit I want to do. So I’m still just tying to get that role. Get what I’m saying, bro.” But apparently that won’t happen any time soon. “You know what it is, man? When you get these films, the leading actor has usually got something to do with the guy who’s making the movie. So he wants to have his shine. If I come along, I take over the show, he doesn’t get his shine. Or he puts me in to get beat up. You know what I’m saying bro? So I will never get that kinda leading man role. Unless it’s me putting that money in, saying ‘Here’s a hundred-thou, make the movie of me’. Then I can have that. In the industry, that’s how it works.” Honestly, I’d definitely watch a Tiny Iron starring vehicle. It can’t imagine it would be a cinematic masterpiece, but I’m certain it would be entertaining.
And since he brought getting the girl in the movies, I see the perfect chance to bring up one awkward subject that I really want to ask him about: do the ladies like the muscles? “Let me just say, like it or not, they can’t miss me! Like it or not, they have to look! Like it or not, they wanna take a picture! I can tell you stories! I get propositions every day. Even when they’re with their boyfriends!” Somehow, when Tiny is saying this, it doesn’t sound sleazy. There’s something innocent about it, like when an eight year old boy who boasts about having lots of girlfriends in his class, rather than coming across some obnoxious douche. Is there a Miss Iron in his life? “I’m trying to make something happen, bro, I’m always trying to make something happen. I’m trying to be a family man out here, bro. But it’s always difficult with my regime to maintain that level of family man.”
I want to know how Tiny Iron retains the Tiny Iron physic. But he doesn’t seem to have any fixed regime. He spends all his time at the gym. “I’m here all night bruv. Morning, noon and night, bro. This is like my school, my college, my uni. This is my church, pray to the steel every day, bruv.” But beyond that, he’s more vague. “I have no specific routine, I just get in there, get dirty, and get away. That’s what I do! I started this thing before YouTube, before all that fancy technology. There was no Google. There was no internet. This is all hard graft. This is what I do. Born to do this thing.”
The one thing I do know though is that he eats three chickens a day. He gets them from a local butcher, and apparently as soon as he leaves here, he’s got his last one at home all cooked, ready to go. He won’t touch steak or lamb, but chicken is apparently “nice and soft and goes down well”. He finds it boring, but like the work in the gym, it’s got to be done, so it’s just chicken and ketchup, every day. Apart from Christmas Day, but that’s ok but turkey is a bird as well.
I bring up that wrestling show in Tottenham I first saw him at, and Tiny’s eye’s light up. It turns out that’s his main focus at the moment. “I’m doing wrestling right now. That’s what I do. I don’t wrestle here no more, I’m always abroad, man. I’m all over the world, man. I came back from Pakistan two weeks ago, I got a big show there coming soon, so I’ve been doing my promotions there. Usually I’m all over Europe - France, Germany, Italy, Malta, Sweden, Austria, I’ve been all over.” Why over so much overseas? “Because wrestling is still seen as big over there. Over here it’s small, until WWE or TNA gets here then everybody goes to Wembley.” Actually, the independent British wrestling scene is actually booming right now. But they guys the fans care about over here tend to be the smaller, more technical guys. Much like his hero Mr. T (who appeared at the very first Wrestlemania in 1985), Tiny Iron is a big, over-the-top character who feels much more in-tune with the real-life cartoon characters like Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior that were popular in the 80s — so it’s not really a surprise he has to look abroad for work.
Tiny has actually got pretty far with wrestling. In 2007 he had a trial with the WWE when they were in the UK. Current Irish WWE superstar Sheamus and former TNA world champion Drew Galloway were both at the same trial, but unlike them, he didn’t get signed. Tiny says he’d just started wrestling and wasn’t ready then. He has however made it wrestling’s other big territory: Japan. “Japan is my main aim, bro. I’ve been there once, and I’ve trying to get there again. I made it to Japan off my own back, you get me! I’m justing trying to establish myself there, and make things happen bro.” He wrestled at the famous Kōrakuen Hall, which is kind of the Madison Square Garden Japanese wrestling. (He says he wrestled 90s WWE star Tajiri, though online I could only find record of him appearing in WNC, the promotion owned by Tajiri, where he competed in a multi-man match alongside the legendary Japanese cruiserweight Ultimo Dragon in 2012. Either way, it’s impressive).
"my plan is to open a chicken shop. A chicken shop under my name, you know, called Tiny Bites. I’ve got it all lined up, bro!"
I ask him where he got his wrestling training. Despite being choreographed and predetermined, pro-wrestling can be extremely dangerous if the athletes don’t know what they’re doing, so solid training is vital (remember those ‘Don’t try this at home’ ads?), and going to a famous wrestling school is a mark of respect. But Tiny doesn’t seem to have much formal education though. “Aw, I been watching wrestling since I was a kid man! Everybody learns moves on TV — that’s what I do, learn moves on TV, take it to the ring, practice a bit, that’s it! I don’t need to do too much man. I’m the big guy, know what I’m saying? I use my charisma, and my show style to captivate the audience. If you’re small, you’ve gotta do all the high flying, all the tricks. I don’t need to do that. I just come to the ring, bam, bam, bam, boom, high five the crowd, get back in the ring, boom! That’s me, man!”. This is probably the reason he’s not a well known name amongst the wrestling purist.
Tiny Iron may have successfully made himself into the superhero he always wanted to be, but there’s one thing that Superman or the Hulk will always have over him: he can’t be around forever. He’s already 36 — hardly old, but he can’t keep up the physical stuff forever (And even if he can, there’s always something really creepy about really hench old dudes). Tiny knows this. “I try and make investments, try and build. Because, look, after this, what’s next? You know, I get money and try and put it in places, invest it, make things happen while I’m doing this thing. 20 years time I can always kick back and relax, because I’ll have made the right investments.” But he’s also keen to push Tiny Iron The Brand. There was a limited edition Tiny Iron action figure produced (“There’s a couple still hanging in my house. Collectors Items! Only 1,000 made!”), and on YouTube you can find a low-budget test reel for a Tiny Iron cartoon show that he was trying to shop around a few years back. Mr. T had his own dolls and a cartoon show, and you can see how Tiny is trying to emulate his hero.
The one way Tiny might end up finding immortality though is not as superhero, but as a corporate mascot. When he talks about his investments, I ask if his own gym mind be on the cards. “No, my plan is a chicken shop. A chicken shop under my name, you know, called Tiny Bites. I’ve got it all lined up, bro!” With a cartoon Tiny on the logo, right? “Of course! I have to be, bro! I’m going to get it running big time, bro. That’s my main plan!”. I’m not gonna to lie, I would be so excited about a chain of Tiny Iron chicken shops. Forget KFC or Morley’s, Tiny Bites would be off the chain.
Talking to Tiny has been incredibly entertaining — how could it not be — but like I said earlier, you can tell he’s putting it on. It’s not an act per se, but he’s giving me what I want: the big, larger-than-life cartoon character. I don’t think it’s cynical or anything, but this what the world expects from Tiny Iron. It makes for great copy, but I think there must be a real person underneath this, right? Who gets bored, or frustrated, or sad sometimes, like we all do. What’s he like when he’s waiting for the bus, or in the queue in Sainsbury’s, or when his WiFi goes down? We go back inside to take some more photos in the gym. He poses, he flexes, he does all the standard things we want him to do. Then we ask him to get on one of the weight machines, to get a few photos of him doing that for variety. It goes without saying that we’re not actually asking him to do any reps, it’s just for show — this is stills photography, and it actually helps if he, y’know, stays still. But instead, he pumps away with full force. It’s only a tiny thing (no pun intended), but I think it’s my glimpse at the real Tiny Iron. I’m worried I’m making him sound a bit stupid, or lacking in common sense, but that’s really not what I’m trying to say. He was like a big kid. If you tell a really enthusiastic sporty kid to go and do some exercise, he’s going to go and damn well do it. And Tiny Iron is like this. He’s a kid in a superhero costume. He’s genuine. This is what he’s actually like. It’s easy to mock that, but that’s maybe why you’re wasting all the money on a gym membership you never use. That’s maybe why you don’t have Britain’s Biggest Biceps right now.