From Little Britain to great Briton

David Walliams has seen off the initial cynical reaction to his children’s book writing career

�David Walliams is going to meet the fans of his books in about a week’s time. His instructions for those who might pop in to Waterstone’s at Finchley Road’ s O2 shopping centre for his signing are clear: “The kids often bring me sweets – I’d like to encourage that.”

The local Little Britain star has just released his fourth children’s book: Gangsta Granny. For all those niggling naysayers, the proof is in the sales – Walliams’ jewel thief grandmother shot straight to the top of the children’s books charts, selling more than 11,000.

Walliams is pleased that this success has killed off the initial cynical reaction to his writing career. “I used to get lumped in with people like Jordan in the ‘celebrities writing books’ category,” he says. “I’d think, ‘Hang on, me and Matt did write Little Britain together.’ If you create funny characters and sketches, it’s not like you have no qualifications to write a book.”

Walliams’ activities in the 10 years he has been on our screens have gone from the ridiculous to the sublime and back again. His private life has featured in the news regularly, with frequent speculation about who he wants to sleep with, who he has slept with and whether he actually sleeps. Simultaneously, he’s also made the headlines for his unpredictable commitment to the charity event Sport Relief, which most recently saw him swim like a fish up the Thames with a mouthful of toilet water, accompanied by a gaggle of spectators (including an eager pooch which jumped in, only to be rescued by the star – naturally). All this somehow adds up to a collective image of the comedian which lies somewhere between an eccentric cross-dressing womaniser and much coveted national treasure (although perhaps in Britain these qualities are not so mutually exclusive).

Walliams has his own take on the support he received during his mammoth swim. “I think we love the underdog in Britain, someone struggling to do something that’s really too hard for them. I was surprised because I’ve done other Sport Relief challenges and none of them have been so big. But I think because I was really struggling, people engaged with it.”

The books seem to be a great source of pride for Walliams. He’s been a literary underdog too. “You have to prove yourself and you have to prove you’re serious about it,” he says. Why did he sign himself up to write, even though he faced such scorn? “When you’re on television, you’re often thinking about other things you want to do with your life, because being on television gives you the opportunity to do different things – your fame opens doors. I really loved writing the books. TV is collaborative but when you write a book, you know you wrote every word of it. You have a certain kind of connection to it.”

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It must be difficult, I suggest, to write for a younger audience and pare down your comedy. “Little Britain was aimed at adults but kids really like it too. When I was a kid, I loved the shows that I wasn’t really meant to watch like Not The Nine O’Clock News. I suppose you just try to keep the spirit of the humour without going into the areas you might with an adult comedy show. I think the best things for kids are the things that do appeal to adults in some way. Me and my wife went to see Toy Story 3 with no children present. I imagine that, if I had kids, I would want to read them something that I enjoyed too. You don’t want rude adult humour but you do want something sophisticated.”

Not surprisingly, youngsters get star-struck when they meet Walliams. “Some of them go really quiet,” he says, “although some of them are too young to have seen me on TV so are just there because of my books, which is great.”

Walliams has it all, but he still identifies with all the bright-eyed little ones who will queue up (hopefully brandishing sweeties) to see him. Meeting his hero didn’t go so smoothly. “Rowan Atkinson was a hero of mine. I saw him live on stage and watched him in Not The Nine O’Clock News and Blackadder. I used to do the sketches at school too – I definitely wanted to be like Rowan Atkinson. I met him when I was a kid and I said, ‘What advice can you give an aspiring comedian’ and he said, ‘Don’t do it.’ I met him years later, when me and Matt were doing a Radio Times Comic Relief cover with him and I said, ‘You won’t remember me but 25 years ago you said to me, ‘Don’t do it.’ I said, ‘I’m really glad I didn’t take your advice.’

D -David Walliams will be at Waterstone’s in the O2 Centre on Finchley Road on December 3.