David Walliams may have shot to fame as one half of a comedy duo with Matt Lucas but he is now best known for his role as talent show judge and thorn in Simon Cowell’s side on Britain’s Got Talent.

After early forays into TV acting with bit parts in ‘90s and early ‘00s comedy shows such as Spaced and Black Books, Little Britain, Walliams and Lucas’ iconic sketch show ran from 2003 to 2007 on the BBC. It coined indelible catchphrases such as “I’m a lady!”, “Computer says no” and “I’m the only gay in the village”.

When Lucas and Walliams took a break from working with each other, Walliams starred in various other TV projects, both comedic and dramatic – such as starring as Tommy Beresford in a BBC adaptation for Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime, or as comedy icon Frankie Howerd in BBC TV film Rather You Than Me.

However, in 2012 he joined Amanda Holden, Alesha Dixon and Simon Cowell on the Britain’s Got Talent judging panel.

Here are nine surprising facts about David Walliams:

  1. His name’s not really Walliams

Walliams’ real surname in Williams. However, when he joined actors’ union Equity, there was already a member called David Williams. He changed the ‘i’ to an ‘a’ and David Walliams was born. 

David Walliams

  1. He was a member of the National Youth Theatre

Walliams cut his acting teeth in the prestigious National Youth Theatre. It was here that he met future comedic partner Matt Lucas. According to Walliams’ autobiography Camp David, at their first meeting Lucas did an impression of Jimmy Savile and Walliams did one of Frankie Howerd – who he would later go on to portray on screen on the BBC.

Other famous names who got their start in the National Youth theatre include future James Bond Daniel Craig, Endeavour star Shaun Evans, and Oscar-winners Colin Firth and Helen Mirren.

  1. Little Britain started out on the radio

Although it’s hard to imagine the iconic characters of Little Britain without their costumes and hair and make-up, in the beginning you had to do just that.

Little Britain started out as a radio comedy on BBC Radio 4 where it ran for two years before transferring to the TV.

Another early 00s TV comedy that got its start on radio was The Mighty Boosh, co-created by future Bake Off judge Noel Fielding.

  1. He’s not just a BGT judge, he’s the “best judge”

In 2015 Walliams was awarded the ‘TV Judge’ prize at the National Television Awards for his work on BGT.

It wasn’t the first National Television Award that he won. In 2012 he took home the ‘Landmark Achievement Award’ for not only his TV work but also his efforts in raising money for Sport Relief – like the time he swam across the English Channel.

  1. He’s the proud owner of a dog called Bert

 

Noble Bert.

A post shared by David Walliams (@dwalliams) on

Bert is a five-year-old Border Terrier that Walliams shares with his ex-wife Dutch supermodel Lara Stone.

Bert may also be the inspiration behind the name of the production company Walliams is director of alongside Call the Midwife and Miranda star Miranda Hart – King Bert Productions.

Look out for Bert on the BGT red carpet this year as the judges – and hosts Ant and Dec – brought their dogs to an audition show at the London Palladium.

Alongside Bert were Simon Cowell’s Yorkshire Terriers Squiddly and Diddly, Amanda Holden’s pet Buddy, Ant’s Labrador and Dec’s dachshund.

  1. He once swam the length of the Thames

It’s quite well known that Walliams swam across the English Channel in 2006 to raise money for Sport Relief. The 22-mile crossing took him 10 and a half hours.

In 2011 Walliams undertook to swim the length of the River Thames – again for Sport Relief. The 140-mile swim took him a week and along the way he not only rescued a drowning dog, but contracted giardiasis – a parasitic disease caused by a water-borne protozoan. He did, however, raise £2 million for Sport Relief in the process.

Walliams has also swum the Strait of Gibraltar and joined a cross-UK cycle in aid of Sport Relief.

  1. His first job in showbiz was writing for Ant and Dec

Walliams may now work alongside Ant and Dec on BGT, but one of his first jobs after graduating from the University of Bristol was working as a writer for the Ant and Dec show.

The Ant and Dec show ran between 1995 and 1997.

  1. He was a Navy cadet at school

In his autobiography, Camp David, Walliams explained how he was a member of the Navy Cadets when he was at Reigate Grammar School, reportedly because he liked the uniform.

  1. Walliams is an accomplished children’s author

Walliams has so far written 10 children’s books, and his style has been compared to the great Roald Dahl.

His first was The Boy in the Dress in 2008. Many of Walliams’ books have been adapted for TV. He is currently filming Ratburger for Sky One.

Walliams regularly visits primary schools to give readings from his books and to encourage children to be interested in literature.

[Read more: Britain's Got Talent 2017 - All you need to know]