David Walliams, actor, comedian, extreme swimmer and talent show judge, is also an accomplished author. His five books – The Boy in the Dress, Mr Stink, Billionaire Boy, Gangsta Granny, Ratburger – have achieved a rare feat: they’ve made small boys (including mine) mad for reading. “They’re funny and new, and there’s always a surprise when you turn the page,” opined my nine-year-old Sonny (pictured right in pink).
This Christmas, following a successful theatrical outing, BBC1 will show a 60-minute TV version of Mr Stink with Walliams himself taking a role in an adaptation of his story about a tramp adopted by a little girl called Chloe. RT despatched me with a deputation of small fans (Sonny and his friend Zac) to meet the 41-year-old funnyman. I also wanted to thank him personally for making my lad put down his Wii controller and pick up a book!
Who did you base Mr Stink on?
At the time I was writing the book, I was performing in a play in London with an actor called Sir Michael Gambon, who played Dumbledore in Harry Potter. And he’s very lovable and eccentric, so I heard his voice in my head when I was writing it. But it came out of a story a friend told me. When he was a kid, he used to see an old lady on the street every day when he was on his way to school. And one day his mum pulled over to pick up this old lady, and she absolutely stank. They never gave her a lift again. So it got me thinking: how much could you love someone that really smells?
Why did you decide to play the prime minister in the TV version?
It just seemed natural that I would be in it, as I’m also an actor. And I think that was the role I was least likely to ruin. You need an amazing actor to play Mr Stink, so we got Hugh Bonneville. Do you watch Downtown Abbey? No? Twenty Twelve? OK, well, he’s a very good actor, much better than me. Johnny Vegas is playing the dad. And the next part for a man, apart from playing the dog, would be the prime minister. And Duchess was played by Pudsey from Britain’s Got Talent. Did you see that? No? Well, I was on it and I was very good.
If you were PM for a day what would you do?
Probably ruin the country like the real ones do.
In the books, Chloe says bad words – did you keep those?
Well, a couple of things were changed for TV. Mr Stink became a bit more magical. And his smell became like a power. This is in 3D, so people who’ve got BBC1 HD and a 3D television – which is seven people in the UK – will be able to see the smell coming at them.
Did you like the Mr Stink play?
Yes. When you write a book it’s amazing if it has a life beyond – that’s the dream, isn’t it? With Harry Potter, JK Rowling sits down to write one day, then years later there are eight movies and billions of lunchboxes. You’d never foresee that.
Why did you decide to write children books instead of adult ones?
Because children’s books are shorter. And I had ideas for children’s books, and I love children’s books, and I still read them as an adult – they’re a real guilty pleasure. But maybe one day I’ll write for adults too.
What inspired you to write?
When I was your age, I really wanted to be a comedian, but to do that you really had to write your own material. So I had to become a writer. Then the more I did it, the more I learnt to love writing. I felt that was where most of the creative work was done – coming up with these characters that we did in Little Britain. Then I thought, maybe if I can write scripts, I can write books…
Is your house as big as Mr Spud’s in Billionaire Boy?
No, it isn’t, because he’s a billionaire. But I’ve been in people’s houses like that.
What kind of pyjamas do you have?
Stripy ones. I have a few pairs – white ones, blue ones… I like pyjamas.
What were you like as a boy?
Quite shy. But also I liked showing off. So I liked being other people playing characters and doing comedy sketches.
Which football team do you support?
I don’t, but my wife, Lara, supports Chelsea, so I have been to some Chelsea matches. What does she think of the sacking of Di Matteo? I don’t think she’s quite consumed by it at the moment; she’s got other things on her mind…
Do you have a name for your baby yet?
That’s a secret. And we don’t know yet either. I don’t think you’re ever going to know until the baby comes out.
Are you working on a new book now?
I’ve got an idea for a scary book, but I don’t know if they’ll let me write it for kids. It would involve people being killed. Sometimes publishers are worried kids won’t like stories with gruesome bits.
We love the gruesome bits – like where wicked stepmother Sheila got squashed into a burger in Ratburger.
I’m glad you liked that ’cause I had to fight for that. They were like, “ooh, you can’t kill Sheila, she hasn’t done anything really wrong…” But she killed a pet hamster so she deserved to die.
Why do you write for boys?
Well, I don’t know if you can tell by looking at me, but I used to be a boy. And I don’t think I’m going to write a book about princesses or fairies.
Will you visit our school?
I’d love to, but I get about a hundred requests a week to visit schools. And it’s hard because I feel like if I start visiting, all the other schools will feel unhappy. But it would be good fun. And I’m going to some schools next year in South Shields – David Miliband asked me to do this thing called the South Shields Lecture. And I suggested that while I was up there, I visit some schools. So if you can enrol in a school in South Shields, I’ll see you there.
You can watch Mr Stink on BBC1 on Sunday 23 December at 6:30pm