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Why did David Walliams send hippos to the moon?

Comedian and best-selling author David Walliams talks about his latest stage production.

David Walliams on stage with the cast of The First Hippo on the Moon, an adaptation of his book by Les Petits Theatre Company

his hero is Roald Dahl and his advice to young writers is to “write a story you would like to read”.

David Walliams, former Little Britain star, Britain’s Got Talent judge and top-selling children’s author, knows what he’s talking about.

Since 2008 he’s sold 11m books; works that have been translated into more than 45 languages.

Some of his stories have found their way onto the stage, including The First Hippo on the Moon, which opens at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds on Wednesday, April 5.

It’s a tale for young children that he says was inspired by a fascination with the 1960s space race. In an interview on the eve of the show David explained why he chose to feature hippos in his space age spoof: “I like the idea of hippos going to the moon, as they are the animals least likely to. It’s a very visual book, with amazing illustrations by Tony Ross, so it should be a very colourful stage production.”

The show is an adaptation by Les Petits Theatre Company and uses puppetry and live music to bring the story to life. David says: “The book is full of humour and I know they are the perfect choice to bring that out, as their shows are so irreverent and funny. The best shows for children work for the grown-ups too.”

David also feels that the message behind First Hippo, which features a competition between two hippos to reach the moon, is one that families can take home with them. He explained: “Whoever you are you should dream big, just like Sheila the hippo. Plus, if you work together as a team, you can achieve so much more.”

David Walliams at the Royal Hippodrome in Eastbourne for The First Hippo on the Moon, an adaptation of his book by Les Petits Theatre Company

The popularity of Walliams’ books appears to be rooted in the fact that he’s not afraid to tackle issues in a light-hearted way. His first book, The Boy in the Dress (illustrated by the famous Quentin Blake) was about a 12-year-old who enjoys cross dressing. The book was hailed as a work that promoted freedom and tolerance.

He also creates quirky characters of the kind that filled Roald Dahl’s books and understands what makes children laugh.

As a child he read books by Dr Seuss and Richard Scarry and says he has been inspired by JK Rowling, Julia Donaldson, Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Morpurgo, as well as his ‘hero’ Roald Dahl.

When asked what advice he had for young writers he said: “Write a story you would like to read. If you like funny stories write a funny one. If you like scary ones, write a scary one. Write something for yourself – if other people like it that’s a bonus.”

The First Hippo on the Moon is on until Saturday, April 8. Details from wyp.org.uk

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