Invasion of the unstoppable geeks

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He is a towering presence in film – even if few would recognise him in the flesh.

Actor Ian Whyte, who stands 7ft 1in tall, has played hulking baddies in a blockbuster movies such as Harry Potter and Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, and most recently the TV fantasy epic Game of Thrones.

The man who made his break in the Predator suit in Paul Anderson’s 2004 Alien vs Predator film brought some Hollywood glamour to a Movie Buffs Collectors Fair in Hull, which tapped into the massive popularity of sci-fi and fantasy films.

Whyte – a former professional basketball player – said: “I’ve gone through life taking opportunities where they have been offered.

“I didn’t know I wanted to be basketball player until I grew very tall and my schools sport teacher said I should be on the basketball team.

“Likewise, I didn’t know I wanted to be an actor until the casting director called me and asked me to audition for Alien vs Predator. It came completely out of the blue.”

He landed his next role – the double for Frances de la Tour’s Madame Maxime, the giant headmistress of the French girls’ school the Beauxbatons Academy of Magic in Harry Potter – simply by taking up a suggestion to call the film’s creative effects supervisor.

He said: “Of course she isn’t 8ft 6in so I was tottering around on 18-inch stilts, wearing the most marvellous couture.”

Cosplayers – people who play the part of characters in films, dressing, acting and moving like their favourite superhero or movie villain – also made their presence felt at the fair, which bought together lovers of cult TV and sci-fi with stallholders and movie memorabilia sellers.

Among them was Heidi Taylor, from Beverley, instantly recognisable as Lara Croft from Tomb Raider as she struck a pose riding the escalator at Hull’s Prospect Centre. She freely admits to being “a geek who never grew out of dressing up”.

But she’s not on her own at a time when fantasy and superhero movies are attracting record crowds – just over a week into its international release, Iron Man 3, the third instalment in the hugely popular franchise, has grossed an estimated $307m (£190m).

The 28-year-old, who is part of the UK Garrison Costume Group, said: “We raise money for charity, the NSPCC, MediCinema, Make-A-Wish, and we do charity events for free. At a big event there can be 250 to 300 people in costumes.

“I’ve been doing this for eight years, and we’ve grown in number. With everything going mainstream there’s more interest in Star Wars and everyone is interested in the Marvel films – Iron Man, The Avengers – and Man of Steel.

Heidi, who along with hundreds of others will be heading to a “Celebration Europe” Cosplay event in Essen, Germany, in July where she will be dressed in a metal bikini as Jabba The Hutt’s slave Leia, said: “All the geeks are coming out of the woodwork.

“It is quite cool to be a geek now – you walk down the street in costume and people know who you are.”

Organisers Nick Andrew and Lee Stephenson, both avid Star Wars fans, are taking the fair, which celebrated its fifth anniversary appropriately enough on May 4, to the Royal York Hotel in York on July 28 and have ambitions of growing it to be the biggest event of its kind in Yorkshire.

Hull-born and bred Lee said: “I think there’s always been a huge following for sci-fi and fantasy TV and movies, but over the last few years, the success of things like Harry Potter, Twilight and Lord of the Rings has bought it more into the public eye. There’s a wider following, more variety and more types of people who are interested.

“It has opened up something that was quite niche, and has now gone mainstream. There is an enormous nostalgia for shows like Doctor Who which has made a comeback after being off the TV and is now in its 50th year.

“There’s a lot of men of a certain age who are recollecting toys that they had as children and which they would like to own again.

“It’s like-minded people enjoying getting together, talking about the things they love – you couldn’t recreate online the atmosphere of the event.”

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