Sunday 22 April 2018

Walliams next venture is on drier ground

David Walliams
David Walliams

Hannah Stephenson

Despite suffering a stomach complaint after his epic exercise effort for charity, comic David Walliams is determined to keep on going.

Little Britain star David Walliams is still suffering after his enormous 140-mile swim of the Thames for Sport Relief in September.

The 40-year-old braved sewage-filled water, strong tides, river traffic and swans, tore a disc in his back, suffered painful wetsuit rash and a nasty stomach complaint during his gruelling swim. And the gippy tummy remains, he admits.

But he dismisses reports that he's been tested for Weil's Disease, a waterborne bug passed on through contact with infected animal urine, mainly from rats.

"I've got a parasite in my stomach which is making me feel sick all the time and I've a torn disc. I'm not crippled, but I'm not back to 100% fitness," he explains.

"The stomach bug has been a long process and I'm going to see another doctor about it. Normally it works itself out of your body, so that's what I'm hoping will happen."

For the past few weeks, he's been recovering at home with his wife, Dutch model Lara Stone, 27, who had tried to talk him out of doing the challenge, then gave up, admitting to one reporter: "Anyone who's ever met David knows it's not an option."

The star of Come Fly With Me hasn't swum since the Thames challenge because his back injury limits him to backstroke. He's having physiotherapy three times a week and has taken up Pilates to help him recover.

But he's started easing himself back into work, and today is publicising his latest children's novel. Gangsta Granny is an adventure yarn about Ben, an 11-year-old boy who discovers his granny is a jewel thief, after years of thinking she was just a boring old person.

"As a child you can get into the thinking that old people are boring, forgetting that they've probably lived amazing lives.

"My own grandparents had extraordinary stories. My grandad shot down a plane during the Second World War, but I was a bit too young to understand it. It's only when you get older you become more interested."

In the story, Ben is dumped every Friday night with his granny, while his mother pursues her love of Strictly Stars Dancing - an obvious take on Strictly Come Dancing.

The unlikely pair embark on a mission to steal the Crown Jewels, just for the fun of it.

The Strictly connection came as Walliams's own mother is a huge fan of the show, he explains, plus he's pals with contestant Holly Valance, so has been following the latest series and will be taking his mum to one of the live performances.

"I've never been asked to do Strictly but it comes to us all in the end," he laughs. "It's a really fun show and even people who aren't any good at it, like Ann Widdecombe, turn a complete lack of skill into a triumph, because the public respect people trying.

"I know I'd be terrible at it, but whether it would endear me to the public, I don't know."

He admits that when his first children's book, The Boy In The Dress, was published in 2008, parents who had seen him cross-dressing in Little Britain were suspicious that the content might be unsuitable for their kids.

"That book had a tougher ride than the other ones because it was about a potentially difficult subject, but the subsequent books were more straightforward. Each one has sold better than the last," he reflects.

Gangsta Granny, his fourth children's novel, is a fast-moving, fun read for eight-to-12-year-olds, but its light-hearted tone changes towards the end when Granny becomes ill with cancer.

"That was the bit that I drew from experience. My dad died of cancer a few years ago and me, my mum and my sister were all there. I couldn't help but think about the time we spent in the hospice."

Walliams, whose late father was a civil engineer for London Transport and mother was a lab technician, grew up in Surrey and joined the National Youth Theatre, where he met Matt Lucas. It was the beginning of a long professional partnership.

As a single man he was often seen out on the town and was romantically linked with some gorgeous women, including Denise Van Outen and Natalie Imbruglia, although rumours abounded about his sexuality, thanks to his camp performances and cross-dressing characters.

Then last year, after a whirlwind romance, he married Lara Stone in London. Celebrity guests at the glitzy reception included Sir Elton John, Noel Gallagher, Geri Halliwell, Stephen Fry, Russell Brand and, of course, Matt Lucas.

Despite the continuing aches and pains, Walliams is currently filming Great Expectations, a big screen adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel featuring a stellar cast including Helena Bonham Carter and Robbie Coltrane. Walliams stars as Mr Pumblechook, Joe Gargery's uncle.

But there are no plans for another series of airport sketch show Come Fly With Me, because both he and Lucas have been too busy with other projects.

While Walliams says it's too early to decide whether he'll take on any more gruelling sporting challenges for charity, the Thames experience has left him in no doubt as to the limitations on his body.

"There's a point where you think your body can't take any more. And then, you have to do more than you did the last time to keep it interesting, to do something harder. I'm not sure I'd be able to do that.

"But it's addictive because helping people and changing people's lives gives me a huge buzz. And the sense of achievement is great."

:: Gangsta Granny by David Walliams is published by HarperCollins, priced £12.99

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