HE has created some of our best-loved TV characters, done eight seasons as a judge on Britain’s Got Talent and sold more than 32million children’s books.
He also counts the likes of Elton John, John Bishop, Sheridan Smith and James Corden as friends. But for David Walliams, nothing beats fatherhood.
David, 47, said: “I love being a dad. It is the best thing of all and totally life-changing. You feel there is finally some meaning to your life. Everything you do after they come along is for them or relates to them.”
The Little Britain star reads to six-year-old son Alfred — the result of his five-year marriage to model Lara Stone, which ended in 2015 — as often as possible but prefers not to read his own stories.
David said: “I don’t push my books on to him. I don’t want him to grow up and feel like ‘We never read any books other than my dad’s’. But reading with my son is one of the best parts of being a father. It is a pleasure to share the stories I loved as a child, like the Dahl and Dr Seuss books, and discover new ones.
“I’d urge all parents to make time to read with their children, as it is a joy for both of you. What could be better than firing their imagination just before they drift off to sleep?”
It is hard to overstate the phenomenal success of David’s children’s books. He published his first story, The Boy In The Dress, in October 2008. That was followed by Mr Stink, then Billionaire Boy and Gangsta Granny, which were all turned into BBC films.
Demon Dentist and Grandpa’s Great Escape were huge hits. His 12th novel, Fing, came out earlier this year. David, who has also been behind four short story collections and seven picture books, was the biggest-selling author in the UK in 2018.
There has been no sign of another relationship since he divorced Lara but David, who has admitted having depression in the past, is very content.
He said: “I’m in a really good place at the moment. I am getting a lot done. I am very grateful to be doing the things I love and to be successful.”
While you won’t see any pictures of his son on social media, David regularly posts pictures of his beloved border terriers, Bert and Ernie, and mum Kathleen, who is becoming something of a celebrity in her own right.
David, whose dad Peter died in 2007, said: “My mum has been a judge on BGT and to the Baftas but the only person she wanted to meet was Alan Titchmarsh.”
Recently, David posted a selfie with Little Britain co-creator Matt Lucas at a friend’s 40th birthday party. It was the first time they had been seen together for years after both admitted their friendship had fallen apart. But not only have they rekindled their relationship, they want to work together again, too.
He said: “It has been great seeing much more of Matt. He is spending more time in the UK, so it has been a lot easier to see each other. We hope to do something together in the near future, but there is no immediate plan.”
David admits that writing suits him, as he gets to work alone and wherever he likes. He says he “always collaborated before” but writing books requires him to be more self-reliant, resilient and confident.
He adds: “You don’t necessarily feel lonely, because you are living with the characters. Also, you can do it any time. I write on film sets when I am waiting around. I write in the evening when my son’s gone to bed. You are not getting loads of emails or texts and you get into a slightly dreamy place.”
Next Thursday, David — who grew up in Banstead, Surrey, with his sister Julie — is publishing his new book, The World’s Worst Teachers. It is a successor to his three volumes of World’s Worst Children, and is a collection of ten hilarious stories about imaginary gruesome teachers.
Tomorrow there will be an exclusive extract from one of the stories — which are illustrated by long-term collaborator Tony Ross — in The Sun. The characters include headmaster Mr Phobe, who is terrified of kids, and Miss Spick, an elderly librarian who rampages around on a mobility scooter.
David added: “These stories are like twisted morality tales. They are quite extreme. Something big and surreal happens in each one.”
While he manages to drop in highbrow references to Beethoven, Chekhov and Sophocles in his books, David is not afraid of some good, honest toilet humour. In the new book, he has a story called Doctor Dread And The Chair Of A Thousand Farts, about a science teacher from the Grunge Hill School.
The teacher is a half-man, half-monster who has a white lab coat stained with egg, snot, drool and lard. He blows off all the time in his chair and as a punishment makes kids sit in it. David said: “I admit I have done more jokes about farts than most people. But it’s part of life. Even Shakespeare has jokes about that.
“It reduces everybody to the same level and it’s part of what makes us human. Everyone loves the word ‘fart’ — kids and adults. Kids of a certain age love talking about anything to do with going to the toilet. I know my son does. I always like to make my books a little bit naughty, forbidden.
“There are a lot of very twee books for kids. But I always wanted to read and watch the thing I am not allowed to. I wanted to watch Mad Max, Scarface and Porkies. Not Black Beauty or The Wombles.” Another of the new stories is called The Lovey Doveys, about two teachers who are in love.
David based the characters on two of his own teachers from Reigate Grammar School in Surrey. He revealed: “I once saw two of my teachers necking in Allders, a department store in Sutton. It was my physics teacher and my geography teacher. I was horrified.
“You don’t realise your teachers are real people with emotions or desires. I was thinking of my shock and horror when I wrote the story.”
David has dedicated the new stories to three of his English teachers from Reigate. He said: “I was lucky. I had great teachers. Jim Grant directed me in plays. George Paxton was as funny as Eric Morecambe. Patrick Carpmael got us hooked on Shakespeare.”
The funnyman tries to visit a school at least once a week to do a surprise reading. He recently returned to meet staff and children from Flakefleet Primary School, who received his Golden Buzzer in the most recent series of BGT for their performance of Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now.
David’s work rate is ridiculous. He has four books out this year. Following Fing and World’s Worst Teachers, there will be an eighth picture book then another novel. He reveals that the novel is set “hundreds of years in the future in Buckingham Palace”.
David is currently helping to put the finishing touches to the musical of The Boy In The Dress, which opens in November. It is being produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company with songs by Robbie Williams and Guy Chambers.
David said: “I am really excited. The cast is not announced yet but they are well-known people. Robbie has never done a musical before and this is all totally original songs. They are all really catchy.” In December, an arena version of Grandpa’s Great Escape — with a full-sized Spitfire — will tour the UK.
Nigel Planer, who played Neil in Eighties BBC comedy The Young Ones, has been cast as the grandpa. This week David is filming After Ever After with Sir Tom Courtney, a sequel to Cinderella which will be on Sky this Christmas.
Although he is busy, the one thing David will not be doing is another of his major fitness challenges. In 2006 he swam the English Channel, in 2008 he swam the Strait of Gibraltar and in 2011 he swam the 140-mile length of the River Thames, raising £8.5million for Comic Relief.
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He said: “When I did the Thames swim, one of the discs in my back ruptured and I was pretty ill for a couple of years. I was on painkillers for a really long time. In the end I had an operation and I had the disc removed. I am walking around and I am fine. But I don’t much feel like hiking up Everest or something.
“I swim and go to the gym. I do the boring stuff. I try not to eat too much mashed potato. Those things were for charity so I would love to be raising money. But you also need to top what you did the last time. I can’t take a step backwards.”
- The World’s Worst Teachers, by David Walliams, illustrations by Tony Ross, is published by HarperCollins Children’s Books.
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