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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Meet the man in charge at Guinness World Records

We speak to Craig Glenday - the editor-in-chief of the world’s best-selling copyrighted book, and review ten of the UAE’s most weird and wonderful world records

We meet the man in charge of the Guinness World Records (below) and review ten of the UAE's most weird and wonderful world record gongs (in the gallery above).

Craig Glenday has, undeniably, one of the world’s coolest jobs, the type of role that comes along with depressing infrequency. In the name of “work”, he’s hung out with Beyoncé and Michael Jackson, played drums for Queen Elizabeth II, been a guest on The Daily Show, opened a session of parliament in Turkmenistan, and generally had what’s known as a thoroughly good time. And when he eventually vacates his seat as the editor-in-chief of the world’s bestselling copyrighted book, it’s certain to be one of the most sought-after positions in publishing.

Craig Glenday addressing the audience at the recent Emirates Airline Festival of Literature
Craig Glenday addressing the audience at the recent Emirates Airline Festival of Literature

Glenday is the man in charge at Guinness World Records, and he was recently in Dubai to address throngs of intrigued attendees at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, explaining a bit about what’s involved in running the annually published and weighty tome that countless numbers of people dream of being ­featured within.

Glenday has published 13 books since taking over as editor, and says he started in the organisation nearly 16 years ago, assuming the role of website editor, which eventually merged with the top job. “I studied publishing in Edinburgh,” he says in a soft Scottish lilt, “and ended up working in the magazine sector, dealing with all manner of different subjects – DIY, cookery, animals, history and the paranormal. I also wrote a couple of books [The UFO ­Investigator’s Handbook and The Vampire Watcher’s Notebook], and when I learnt that a position had come up at Guinness World Records, I went all out to get it.”

His predecessor quit to pursue a career as a stand-up comedian and Glenday says his extremely broad journalistic background was definitely a factor in him getting the job. As with practically all publishing concerns, Guinness World Records, which was first ­printed in 1951, has had to adapt to the digital age, and there are now 150 staff members working across multiple platforms in various regional offices. When Glenday joined in 2002, there were just 40 ­people in the organisation.

“We still sell between two and three million books a year,” he adds, “and although there are other organisations people could turn to, to verify achievements, we’re still the most trusted authority. We’re a filter and the book is obviously ideal gift material.”

The annual book produced by Guinness World Records continues to be a global best seller
The annual book produced by Guinness World Records continues to be a global best seller

Is there anything left to do when it comes to setting brand-new records, I wonder? “We get about a thousand ­applications a week,” he laughs, “so, yes, there obviously is. The digital world is constantly evolving and throwing up new opportunities for people, and then something like the fidget spinner comes along, and we’ve had many hundreds of submissions relating to just that.”

Not everything is considered for inclusion, though, and countless suggestions are rejected on the grounds of taste and decency, although Glenday insists that every single one is replied to. “We also drop records that aren’t relevant anymore,” he says. “Things like bullfighting and fox hunting we no longer touch; we have to stay in tune with modern sensibilities. We do make room for unpleasant subjects that are in the public interest, such as serial killers, although we certainly wouldn’t be encouraging anyone to break that kind of record.”

If you fancy setting a new world record yourself, you have to give six weeks’ notice before your attempt, to allow time for teams of experts to do the necessary research and arrange verification. Only corporations need to pay – something that’s proved extremely popular – and this, along with the proceeds from sales of the book, helps fund the activities surrounding normal civilian record-setters and -breakers.

The UAE, he says, holds 147 world records right now, with roughly 70 per cent coming from Dubai. Is it possible, though, for a country to overdo it when it comes to this tradition? He doesn’t think so. “It’s been part of building the image of the UAE,” he admits. “The tallest this, the biggest that – it’s a celebration. Some outsiders don’t get it, that’s true, and international news coverage does tend to be unbalanced. I like to think we counteract that by providing a snapshot of the positive stuff.”

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