‘Meeting gentle giant Richard Kiel was a moment that I’ll never forget...’

Reporter Kimberley Barber with Richard Kiel
Reporter Kimberley Barber with Richard Kiel
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It was quite by chance that I got to meet actor Richard Kiel.

Twenty minutes before a phone call was expected from the big man himself, who was at home in California, the reporter who was due to speak to him was stuck in traffic in Portsmouth.

Richard Kiel with Sam Renke at the Mountbatten Centre in April 2013

Richard Kiel with Sam Renke at the Mountbatten Centre in April 2013

That’s when it was decided that I, the only reporter at their desk, would be taking the call.

A crash course in James Bond film history for me followed and true to his word Richard called, exactly 20 minutes later. It was early morning in California and Richard had just got up.

After a few minutes, Richard was in full swing, laughing and joking.

I could imagine the early morning sun streaming in as he spoke so cheerily and relaxed to a reporter in grey Portsmouth, in April last year.

Richard was calling to promote his upcoming UK tour that would see him appear at film memorabilia events and at the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu.

These kind of celeb phone interviews are sometimes strictly time-limited, to a pressured 10 or 20 minutes, but with Richard the conversation flowed and we spoke for more than an hour.

The big man, who measured 7ft 2in, was funny, warm and friendly.

There were no awkward moments as Richard joked his way through the interview, even boldly claiming he could take current James Bond Daniel Craig in a fight.

Talking about his wife Diane, who was 18 years his junior, and his then six grandchildren, it was clear to see that family was a big part of his life. He even said they were the secret to his long and happy life.

As we spoke, he recounted moments from his hit films, The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, and of the fun he had filming Happy Gilmore.

He also spoke of his fear of heights, which given his towering stature seemed a little ironic.

Richard was due to visit the Mountbatten Centre in Portsmouth, along with his on-screen wife Blanche Ravalec, who played Dolly, for a film memorabilia event that weekend.

He was so lovely on the phone that I decided to head down there with the biggest film buff I know, my brother Max Barber, a TV and film director himself, and our friend actress Sam Renke (pictured with Richard).

Sam, 28, has a rare bone disorder called osteogenis imperfecta, also known as brittle bones, so she is 3ft 9in and in a wheelchair.

But that didn’t matter as gentle giant Richard crouched down to scoop her up for a picture.

It was the ultimate little meets large moment and within minutes the two were swapping filming notes and chatting like old friends.

Richard, then aged 73, had a vast wealth of knowledge and experience, which Sam, who was at the beginning of her screen career, lapped up.

All three of us posed for pictures and Richard made sure we all left with signed pictures of himself and Dolly.

Our experience with Richard was one that we’ll never forget and he was one of the nicest celebs I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.

I’m so glad he took the time to visit Portsmouth.

Truly a gentle giant, Richard’s legend will live on, immortalised in the direct opposite of his true nature – as the metal-mouthed Bond baddy Jaws.

n Richard Kiel: Born September 13, 1939, died September 10, 2014