She sang for JFK and flirted with Elvis – David Walliams hails his friend Shirley Bassey

Celebrating the iconic singer's 80th birthday in a new show

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Only Santa’s elves have been working harder than David Walliams this Christmas. He will be appearing in an astonishing four Christmas specials in the next two weeks: starring opposite Hugh Bonneville in a festive edition of Walliams & Friend; hosting a special Blankety Blank; providing voices for Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes; and presenting a tribute to his friend Shirley Bassey. All of which he has taken in his stride while also promoting his latest children’s novel, The Midnight Gang; overseeing a touring stage adaptation of a previous book, The First Hippo on the Moon; and finally, early next year, he’ll be the first host of ITV’s new weeknight entertainment programme, The Nightly Show. Phew.

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In David Walliams Celebrates Dame Shirley Bassey he marks the dame’s 80th birthday. “Shirley and I first met on The Graham Norton Show,” says Walliams. “Graham set it up that I was a great singer, but in reality I’m the world’s worst. Then I sang Moonraker to Shirley – she didn’t like it much! But we got on really well. She’s very down- to-earth. My family came to see that show. I imaginged that afterwards Shirley would be whisked straight off to the Ritz, but she spent ages in the green room chatting to my mum, sister and brother-in-law and taking selfies with them. I was surprised – does Shirley Bassey really do selfies?” In fact, Walliams declares, “She’s a real laugh. She doesn’t take herself too seriously. She’s not someone who expects everyone to bow down before her. We go out to dinner and spend the whole time laughing. She’s a hoot!”

The duo’s chemistry is evident from the mutual twinkling on the show. They have a ball together performing sketches and a very entertaining duet of Anything You Can Do. Bassey’s recording career began in 1956 when she was 19 – a full 15 years before Walliams was born. He says the reason Bassey has remained so popular for so long is that, “She’s unforgettable. When you see her perform and hear her voice, it stays with you. Goldfinger is 50 years old, but it sounds contemporary. She’s had a 60-year career because she doesn’t belong to any era. She’s always stayed true to herself. She hasn’t had an embarrassing period where she went grunge or indie. “She has gone from singing for JFK and performing in Las Vegas with Elvis – who flirted with her – to duetting with Frank Sinatra, Neil Diamond, the Pet Shop Boys and Gary Barlow, and headlining Glastonbury in sparkly wellies! There’s never been a time when she hasn’t been around.”

Walliams thinks it’s vital to pay homage to our great cultural figures. “You have to celebrate icons like Shirley,” he says, “It would be mad to let a landmark like this go unnoticed.” If he keeps working at this rate, Walliams will be a landmark himself. He is, however, taking a break to do some Christmas shopping. “I love buying people presents. I’m lucky to be a father and uncle, so I’m most looking forward to seeing the children’s joy at it all.” And will he be watching himself on the telly come Christmas Eve? “No! I’m looking forward to watching anything I’m not on!”

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David Walliams Celebrates Dame Shirley airs on Christmas Eve on BBC1 at 9pm