It all started with an extraordinary photograph, some say one of the best sports pictures ever taken. Captured by The Mail on Sunday’s Mark Pain, it showed Tiger Woods fluffing a chip at the Ryder Cup – his ball heading straight towards the camera lens. If that wasn’t remarkable enough, there was another arresting element to the image.
Standing behind Woods was a wide-eyed spectator smoking a fat cigar and wearing a Groucho Marx moustache and ginger wig. Nicknamed ‘Cigar Guy’ he became an overnight internet phenomenon after the picture appeared in The Mail on Sunday and MailOnline last week.
Suddenly millions were obsessed with the moustachioed mystery man. His smiling face was pasted into the backdrop of countless historic photographs which then buzzed around the net. He acquired his own fan club and received marriage proposals.A reward was offered to anyone who could unmask him.
With the story making headlines around the world – it was covered by titles as august as the Wall Street Journal and Time magazine – one question was being asked with growing frequency: just who is Cigar Guy?
Last night, The Mail on Sunday tracked down Cigar Guy to a detached house in South London where he is living with his parents, a retired mechanic and a housewife.
We can reveal that Cigar Guy is golf fan Rupesh Shingadia, a 30-year-old investment analyst in the City – and a very reluctant star.
‘I am embarrassed and overwhelmed,’ he said in an exclusive interview. ‘Never in a million years could I have expected anything like this. It is truly surreal.’
Rupesh said his costume was a ‘tribute’ to Spanish gol fer Miguel Angel Jimenez.
‘I wanted to do something to show my support for the European team and I thought of Miguel. These days sportsmen have become devoid of character. But Miguel does his own thing and I love the way he walks around the course with a cigar clamped between his teeth.’
One might imagine Rupesh to be, to put it politely, a bit of an eccentric who revels in the limelight. In fact while he is engaging company, he is also singularly unassuming, not normally given to practical jokes.
‘I’d say he would be the last person you’d think of to do something like this,’ said one of his friends.
Rupesh confirms: ‘I have never done anything like this before. I’m just an ordinary guy who loves golf and follows Arsenal. If I had known the incredible reaction it would produce, the way that Cigar Guy has snowballed, I would probably never have put on my costume. That said, I’m glad it has put a smile on people’s faces.’
Currently single, he was unaware of the marriage proposals delivered via Facebook. Perhaps he might wish to trade on that?
‘I’m not so sure,’ he says. ‘I’d want them to love me for who I am – not just Cigar Guy.’
Rupesh, a maths graduate, said the idea came to him at work at Threadneedle Asset Management in the City a week before the Ryder Cup began.
‘I was very excited about going. There is a strong fun element to it, and I wanted to enter into that spirit.’
He fleetingly considered donning a pair of garish Union Jack trousers, as worn by English golfer Ian Poulter, but rejected that idea in favour of the Miguel costume. He ordered the wig and moustache from a website for £15 and bought a £14 Montecristo cigar from a tobacconist.
‘I don’t normally smoke – well, maybe the odd cigar at weddings – so I asked for something mild. To last all day, though, it had to be a big one.’
The rest of his ensemble came from his own wardrobe: a Pringle jumper, North Face anorak and Reiss trousers.
‘At the course people were nudging each other and pointing at me. But, the costume was secondary to the golf. I wasn’t running around desperately trying to get on TV, far from it. My friends were keen to get me together with Miguel. I was quite close to him at the 13th. I like to think there was a flicker of a smile when he looked in my direction. His caddie was certainly laughing.’
The fateful photograph was taken on the 18th hole.
‘There was a huge crowd,’ he recalls. ‘I was somehow thrust forward in all the jostling. To suddenly find yourself so close to a legend was amazing.’
As Woods misfires his ball, Rupesh strikes an insouciant pose, but he insists he wasn’t hamming it up for the cameras.
‘If I look goggle-eyed it was because I was stunned at the way he messed up.’
The following day Rupesh was alerted to the picture by a friend who saw it in The Mail on Sunday.
‘I got up and looked at it online, thought it was a bit funny – and then went back to bed.’ Over the next few days the Cigar Guy phenomenon took off in earnest on the internet. ‘I was absolutely astonished,’ he said. ‘It was incredible. I found it funny but unsettling’
He had become an online icon, Photoshopped into pictures of dramatic moments from history.
‘My favourite is me with The Simpsons,’ said Rupesh. ‘It’s difficult to understand the situation because it has just been thrust upon me. Some people spend years craving this kind of attention but to me it happened by accident. It’s just bizarre.
‘But I’m still expecting to go to work next week. I’m not expecting it to change my life in the long term.’