Liar, Liar, Santon’s Triers

As The Bridge Inn at Holmrook prepares itself for the annual “World’s Biggest Liar” competition, Paul McGuirk gets to grips with what it takes to become the funniest fabricator on the planet.

What do a sub-aquatic bubble car, aerodynamic snails and human-badger hybrids have in common? Each is the subject of a tall-tale which has been deemed ridiculous enough to have earned their expounders the coveted title of “World’s Biggest Liar”.

The bigger the lie, the greater the plaudits

Growing up as a Catholic lad, telling a lie would often result in the penance of a few Hail Mary’s doled out in the confessional – so imagine my intrigue upon learning that each November, an event is held at The Bridge Inn where lies aren’t just encouraged, but actively rewarded – with the most salubrious subterfuge earning its yarn-spinner a sum of £25 and a place in the history books.

The long-running competition is held in memory of Will Ritson – a 19th century landlord who by all accounts loved a cock-and-bull story. As innkeeper of the Wasdale Head Inn near Scafell Pike, Ritson had a penchant for both entertaining and puzzling visitors to his establishment in equal measure with his far-fetched accounts of life in the Lakes – one of which involved oversized turnips unique to the area, which could be hollowed out and used as sheds.

Each year, a dozen-or-so hopefuls duke it out with the ambition of being crowned Liar of the Year, however, the contest is strictly open to amateurs. Estate agents, double-glazing salespersons, journalists, solicitors and politicians are barred from entering the competition on account of being “professional liars”.

The international language of fibbing

The event attracts local and international interest every year, often courting controversy. In 2003, South African Abrie Krueger became the first international contestant to be bestowed with the title of World’s Biggest Liar with an emotive, rags-to-riches tale of ascension to the throne as King of Wasdale Valley.

Soon after, allegations that Krueger had cheated began to surface, as opponents levelled accusations that Krueger’s South African heritage was dubious – with some insinuating that Krueger was in fact a born-and-bred Cumbrian. Evidence for-and-against been presented by both parties, but when you’re dealing with liars, it’s quite hard to know who to believe.

Celebrities are no strangers to the competition either. In 2006, Comedian and former Great British Bake-Off presenter Sue Perkins became the first woman to win the prize with a cautionary tale based on climate change, with blame for the depletion of the ozone layer being squarely placed on the flatulence of Lake District sheep.

Tough competition

John “Johnny Liar” Graham currently holds the record for the most titles, having bagged – and blagged – a whopping seven wins throughout his career.

Hot on his heels is Maryport publican George Kemp, who in 2016 was crowned as the World’s Biggest Liar for the fourth time.

Last year, his absurd anecdote involved a trip to the Isle of Man in an old bubble car, where he bumped into US President Donald Trump en-route in an underwater hotel.

Before long, Kemp and his presidential buddy had made the acquaintance of Nicola Sturgeon, who was travelling in a submarine constructed from shortbread tins. Never a man to miss out on a good deal, Donald Trump ended up purchasing a fleet of submersibles manufactured entirely from the Scottish delicacy receptacles.

Pants on fire

In an eager attempt to find out what makes a good lie, I spoke to George Kemp, who said: “I usually take topical stuff and just go from there, it’s never completely made-up.”

While his claim may be dubious, in an age where the truth is often stranger than fiction it’s perhaps not a bad tactic. George tells me he’s intent on defending his title this year and I can’t wait to see what sort of daft deceptions he and the rest of this year’s hopefuls have to impart on what promises to be a night filled with lies, damned lies and – above all – laughter.

The World’s Biggest Liar takes place at The Bridge Inn, Santon Bridge, Holkrook, CA19 1UX on Thursday November 16th 2017. Tickets are available from Jennings Brewery Shop, Cockermouth, and cost £9. Price includes a tattie pot supper.

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