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Exhausted comedian and actor David Walliams completes an eight-day swim down the river Thames, raising more than one million pounds for charity Sport Relief Link to this video
Having conquered a gippy stomach, painful wetsuit rash and fear of swans, the comic actor David Walliams clambered exhausted but triumphant from the water in London on Monday after completing his epic charity swim along 140 miles of the river Thames.
The Little Britain star's Sport Relief Big Splash Challenge took eight days, during which his 110,738 strokes burned off an estimated 65,574 calories and raised 1,093,325 pounds Ц and counting Ц as he ended his journey early on Monday evening.
Crowds gathered along the river's banks, their cheers buoying him through the final strokes of his 15 miles from Teddington Lock to Westminster bridge. The tidal stretch was always destined to be toughest leg of the challenge, even without the remnants of hurricane Katia licking the water and whipping up strong gusts.
As he stepped from the river, with hundreds chanting "David, David" he told the crowd: "I've just swum the length of the Thames. I feel quite tired." Asked what his lowest point was, he replied: "Feeling like my arse was going to explode."
During a celebrity reception, including the comics Lenny Henry and Miranda Hart and the actor Barbara Windsor, Walliams was presented with a pint of Thames water as a memento. "Norovirus in a bottle," quipped Henry. Two Olympians, rower Sir Steve Redgrave and swimmer Mark Foster, draped him in a union flag as he was welcome by a guard of honour.
Not since a disorientated juvenile northern bottlenose whale took a wrong turn and ended up in the city in 2006 has an object afloat in the murky Thames attracted quite so much attention as the sight of Walliams's capped head and muscular forearms powering his way to the finish line. "Come on David," yelled supporters, their admiration in no small way enhanced by Walliams's determination to continue despite unappealing news on day two that torrential rain had forced Thames Water to dump 500,000 cubic metres of sewage into the very waters he would be swimming through. "We're not public health experts, but I wouldn't recommend swimming in it," said Thames Water's Richard Aylard, shortly after Walliams had been informed of this unexpected development.
Swallowing Thames water Ц with the attendant risks of contracting E coli, salmonella and hepatitis Ц is not desirable but proved unvoidable for a front-crawl swimmer who reached speeds of up to three miles an hour. Then there's the risk of Weil's disease, carried by rat urine and which last year claimed the life of the Olympic rower Andy Holmes.
Despite a battery of inoculations and precautionary antibiotics, Walliams was almost sunk after succumbing to Thames Tummy two days after pushing off from the Cotswold town of Lechlade, the start of his journey. "Perhaps best not to go into further details," he cautioned during one rest stop after divulging he was suffering diarrhoea, vomiting and low energy levels. Illness was a serious threat to the swim.
Instead of refuelling with carbohydrate-heavy foods such as pasta, fish and chips, pizza and porridge he was managing to keep down only toast, flat cola and some glucose tablets.
But supported throughout by his Dutch model wife Lara Stone, 27, he battled on with legions of wellwishers lining his route, armed with sugary treats and homemade cakes to build up his stamina. "I am very proud," said Lara, kissing him in front of the crowd.
The actor admitted that the challenge was a lot harder than he had envisaged and at times he feared he had "bitten off more than he could chew". "I used to like swimming" he joked.
As well as the intense physical strain, the swim was also psychologically demanding, he said, sending him "slightly loopy" at times. "You're alone with your thoughts for a very long time. Sometimes 11 or 12 hours. I sometimes had slightly delusional thoughts, paranoid thoughts. I kept thinking someone was going to drop a brick on me from a bridge. I don't know why".
The actor has been overwhelmed by the support he has received. "It's been amazing and the public have been fantastic because you know the weather hasn't been great but people have been out to cheer me on," he said, just before setting off from Kew Bridge on Monday afternoon.His rescue of the pet labrador Vinny, who was struggling to get out of the river near Cookham Lock in Berkshire, further augmented his hero status, prompting Walliams's mother Kathleen to pronounce him "a sort of nation's sweetheart". "I'm very very proud of him," she said. "Saving the dog. That was great," he said. "The British public love dogs." He was also grateful because the incident kept up the media coverage.
Having survived without being menaced by swans Ц "when they're coming towards you, fluffing their wings and hissing when you're in the water, it's quite scary" Ц Walliams is now likely to hang up his trunks.
He has already swum the Straits of Gibraltar and the Channel, as well as cycling from Land's End to John O'Groats, all for charity, leading his friend and stalwart swim supporter, the comedian Jimmy Carr, to comment he was "turning charitable endeavour into a personality disorder".
The actor confesses he is uncertain what compels him. "I must be a masochist," he has said.
But, at the lowest points, he focused on why he was doing it. He would conjure up the image of a 12-year-old orphan, called Philip, whom he met living in a centre in Kenya funded by Sport Relief, and who wants to be a pilot. "He's living in the most desperate circumstances, yet he still has great aspirations. I think about him and not wanting to let him down," he said.