IT was a case of ‘big hello, Little Britain’ as comedy star David Walliams made his first trip to South Tyneside.
The comedian, charity champion and best-selling author thanked residents for his ‘warm welcome’ during a visit to the borough.
Mr Walliams, 41, was in the borough after being invited to give the annual South Shields Lecture by his friend David Miliband, the town’s MP, on Friday evening.
But he made the most of his day by cramming in a book reading to excited youngsters at The Customs House, on Mill Dam in South Shields, before signing copies of his best sellers for more than 400 little literature lovers at the venue.
Mr Walliams, who rose to fame in BBC hit show Little Britain alongside Matt Lucas, also dropped in on drama sessions at Mortimer Community College, much to the delight of shocked staff and students alike.
After proving a big hit with a packed audience at Harton Technology College for the annual South Shields Lecture, he ended his whistle-stop South Tyneside tour with fish and chips at Colmans in Ocean Road. In an exclusive Gazette interview, Mr Walliams shared his thoughts on his first-ever visit to South Tyneside.
He said: “I’ve been to Newcastle before, but this is my first time in South Shields.
“I’ve had a very warm welcome, everyone has been really friendly. I find the further away from London you get, the friendlier the people get.
“I love doing the book events with the children. I would do that every week, but it’s hard, as you have to balance it against all your other commitments.
“When I was younger I never thought I would become an author. It’s gone well, but I’m no JK Rowling.
“We also dropped in at Mortimer Community College. I was very impressed with them. We didn’t tell them beforehand, as you sometimes get an unnatural reaction when people are expecting someone to be coming to watch them.”
As well as his acting and writing, Mr Walliams is also famed for his charity work, having raised £1m for charity by swimming across the English Channel to France in 2006.
Mr Walliams says he was delighted to take up the opportunity to be the latest star to host the South Shields Lecture – following in the footsteps of a Prime Minister and a Starfleet commander – as long as Mr Miliband joined him on stage.
Star Trek actor Patrick Stewart, former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair, comic Jo Brand and acclaimed author Bill Bryson are among the illustrious names to have hosted the lecture since it was founded in 2001.
Mr Walliams added: “David asked me if I would do the lecture. I’ve known David for about two or three years and admire him greatly. I really wanted him to be Prime Minister.”
Mr Miliband said: “I really wanted David to swim his way here. It’s great to have him here. We’ve had Prime Ministers, celebrities and now we have an icon. He is a national treasure.”
The lecture began with Miliband taking on the role of chat show host, asking the actor and Britain’s Got Talent judge a series of questions on his upbringing, how he got his start in comedy and his political views.
The floor was then given over to the audience for a question and answer session, with Mr Walliams fielding queries on a wide range of subjects.
After more than an hour of entertainment, both Davids were given rousing applause from the audience.