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Sunday, 16 June, 2002, 02:11 GMT 03:11 UK
Nettle chomping champ keeps crown
Challenger Stanley Dinnup  in the nettle eating contest
A case of the biter bit, for challenger Stanley Dinnup
The reigning champion stinging nettle eater has retained his title by munching his way through a record amount of the fiery plants.

Simon Sleigh, from Forkchurch, Dorset, took on a field of a dozen tough-mouthed competitors at a country pub and ate his way through 76ft of the uncooked stingers.

After his win at the Bottle Inn in the tiny Dorset village of Marshwood, population 300, Sleigh, an organic vegetable grower in his early forties, said he felt no pain.

Simon Sleigh, champion nettle eater
Winner Simon Sleigh: "Beer helped me through"
"I made every effort to make sure it did not hurt, it comes with experience," he said, admitting that washing the leaves down with beer was a factor which "helped enormously".

"I hate the bloody things, honest," he added.

Sleigh came second in his debut year of competition before his first win last year, and today beat his nearest rival by about 20ft of nettles.

He and his competitors were faced with the challenge of stripping and eating the leaves of as many 2ft long specially nurtured stinging nettle stalks as they could in the allotted time.

Swollen lips

There is said to be a secret method of eating the leaves which prevents competitors sustaining injury.

But one false move and the plucky contestants risk swollen lips and gums.

At the end of the hour the judges measured the number of stalks each competitor had cleared and declared Sleigh the winner.

Shane Pym, 45, landlord at the pub since 1997, said the nettle eating contest evolved from an informal annual "longest nettle" bet which dated back to the mid eighties.

Challenger in the nettle eating contest
No points were awarded for style
Pub regular Alex Williams, one of today's competitors, said he would eat his 15ft 6in long plant if anyone could beat it - and did so when a 16-footer was produced.

"It became a tradition that if he did not win he would eat his nettle," said

Mr Pym, adding that he then suggested a free-for-all nettle eating competition.

"It attracts more and more interest each year, and this time we have competitors coming from London and Cornwall," he said.

He added that he hoped the competition would be recognised by the Guinness Book of Records.

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The BBC's Jane Warr
"It is a painful business that requires stamina and a few pints of beer"
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