“When I could, I dressed as a woman; I was 'The boy in the suit', that's why I wrote it"

The phenomenon of David Walliams (London, 1971) is difficult to explain.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
20 April 2024 Saturday 17:11
6 Reads
“When I could, I dressed as a woman; I was 'The boy in the suit', that's why I wrote it"

The phenomenon of David Walliams (London, 1971) is difficult to explain. He has gone from being one of the great British comedians, author and protagonist of series such as Little Britain, with his acid humor and not at all politically correct..., to being one of the most important authors of children's literature, with 56 million books sold and translations into 55 languages. And all since he published The incredible story of the boy in the suit (Montena, in Catalan and Spanish), a story about difference, with a boy who is a soccer ace, but also dresses as a girl. A story that connects with his own childhood. Since then, he has moved the "explosive" humor of Little Britain to a more controlled one in the popular series of books The Incredible Story of... , from The Gangster Granny to The Super Tadpole Monster or An Exceptional Friend. On Monday he will be the herald of Sant Jordi a l Born and he takes his responsibility seriously. In addition, he will sign books on Tuesday at Abacus L'Illa (from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.) and Casa Seat (from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., with prior registration on the website).

He has written the incredible history of many characters. What is David Walliams's?

The surprise of this success. I never thought I'd be in Madrid talking about my books because I didn't really imagine they could be published outside the UK. In fact, nowhere. It's surreal. Sometimes I pinch myself to remind myself that nothing should be taken for granted.

How did television humor change for children's books?

In children's books you can't be so rowdy or rude, but I like to take the things I was creating with Matt Lucas and apply them. The kids were big fans of Little Britain, because the characters were very cartoony. And when I was little I liked to watch the comedies that were supposed not to be for me. You have to strike a balance between what's acceptable in children's books and what makes them feel like they're reading something a little off-limits. Roald Dahl's books, for example, make you feel like you're entering a world of danger, humor, a little beyond your years. Children have this aspiration. It is important not to be condescending to them.

Does this explain its success?

I think they want to be entertained and I try to do that. I try to encourage children to read, especially those who struggle the most, by creating funny stories. These aren't books teachers want kids to read, but I hope they're books they'll want to read for themselves without having a gun pointed at their heads. Reading for fun, for pleasure, is very important.

How did you start writing the book The Boy in the Dress?

I got a letter from a boy when we were doing Little Britain. He sent me a photo of him dressed as Emily Howard, one of the characters in the series. It was 16 or 17 years ago. It was dress-up day at school and I thought "look how brave", because sometimes boys resist the fact that they are considered effeminate. And I thought: "What happens if, outside of costume day, a boy wants to do this for his own reasons?". I thought there was an interesting story about being different and celebrating differences. The book was a modest success, but I enjoyed writing it. Then that kid came to a library at one of my readings in London and touched my heart. I realized that I could achieve an emotional journey with books that I couldn't with a sketch. And I started another career.

The story of the boy in the suit has to do with his childhood.

Yes. I also wore it as a child, dressed up in plays or because my sister dressed me as a girl, because she wanted a little sister and not me. I thought it was fun, it's always been a part of my life. Matt Lucas and I have played a lot of women in our sketches. I have always enjoyed this. Not with erotic pleasure, but with pleasure. It's fun to look in the mirror and see yourself different, and changing gender is a big change. Any chance I got, I dressed as a woman. I was The Boy in the Suit, that's why I wrote it.

Would his scripts for Little Britain be possible today?

It depends. It was made for the BBC, public television, responsible for pleasing everyone, but Netflix wouldn't care, there's Ricky Gervais, Dave Chappelle, and people like to be scandalized a little. I don't think it's bad. The Sex Pistols, Robert Mapplethorpe or works like Crist del piso, which are designed to scandalize, we remember them in a way that we may not remember others. We shouldn't forget the power of scandalizing, but comedy is more difficult today because when you're creative you want to be free to say anything and now you think: "someone won't like this". But in comedy nothing can be sacred and we all like different things. I wouldn't take my mother to a Mapplethorpe show; he likes Downton Abbey. We need to understand that we all like different things and be more tolerant of other people's tastes or we burden our creativity. People ask me on the street when the next Little Britain will arrive, many miss the explosive humor of 20 years ago.

What will he say at the Barcelona proclamation?

I never get asked these things in the UK. I have spent time working on it. I hope it's well received or I'll be the first and last Brit to do it. I want to convey the importance of finding ways for children to pick up books and read for pleasure, with the effect that this has for the rest of their lives: they become readers. But don't start with Shakespeare or Dickens. We don't have to be snobs and look down on entertainment.