Writer David Walliams, who is one of the judges on the popular Britain’s Got Talent TV show and co-creator of the ground-breaking comedy series Little Britain, is now the best-selling author for children in the UK and Gangsta Granny is his most popular book.

David Walliams began his publishing career at Harper Collins in early 2008 with his debut novel The Boy in the Dress. Then, after writing two other popular stories, in 2011 he published Gangsta Granny, which was shortlisted for both The Red House Children’s Book Award and for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize. Gangsta Granny went straight to number 1 in the children’s book charts and David’s books have been translated into no fewer than 50 languages.

During the Easter Holidays, the award-winning West End production of David Walliams’ Gangsta Granny is set to visit Bath for the first time in the Theatre Royal.

When actor, writer and comedian David Walliams was a boy he used to sit captivated at the knees of his two grandmas as they spun him tales of their lives. The youngster was amazed at how dramatic and exciting their experiences of World War II had been.

Decades later, when the adult David was a successful author, he decided to return to those days of his childhood and recreate that special bond between children and their grandmothers. His best-selling novel Gangsta Granny was the result. Published in 2011, it went straight to number one in the children’s book charts and has gone on to be the most successful of all his novels so far.

The hugely acclaimed Birmingham Stage Company launched the first ever stage version of this book in 2015. It toured the UK until summer 2017 when it transferred to the Garrick Theatre in the West End. This March the stage production visits Bath for the first time as part of its 2018 national tour. The show has received great reviews from the national press, such as the Daily Telegraph who reported that “Kids adore David Walliams’ books and they loved this show” to the Mail on Sunday which hailed it “Totally grantastic".

Gangsta Granny opens with Ben having to visit his boring old grandma. Ben has to spend every Friday night with his gran while his parents go ballroom dancing – and it’s always an ordeal of cabbage soup and Scrabble. Then one day he finds a tin filled with diamonds and gems which leads to the amazing discovery that his granny was once an international jewel thief! Persuaded by Ben, they decide to take on the biggest heist ever to steal the Crown Jewels and the adventure of their lifetimes is about to begin.

While David’s grannies were no mobsters, he admits that he did take a touch of inspiration from them.

“When I was a child I would spend lots of time with my grandmas,” he says. “Sometimes I would selfishly think spending time with them could be boring but when I got them on a subject like living in London during World War II when bombs were raining down, they would become very animated and I would be enthralled. I realised everyone has a story to tell.”

David even added cheeky elements of their characters to his Gangsta Granny. “There was definitely a smell of cabbages in one of my grandmas' houses,” David admits. “The other did break wind like a duck quacking when she walked across the room.” But they were also greatly loved – just as there is a special bond between Ben and his gran.

“I think grandparents love being grandparents because they get to give the children back to the parents,” says David. “Children love spending time with their grandparents because they love hearing their stories and being allowed to stay up past their bedtime.”

Born in Surrey, David studied drama at Bristol University before joining with Matt Lucas to create the television show Little Britain. Initially a radio show, Little Britain became a television sensation gaining a host of awards including three BAFTAs and being screened in more than 100 countries.

The duo went on to tour with Little Britain Live which was seen by more than a million people in the UK, Ireland and Australia. Now a well-known actor, David decided to try his hand at fiction.

“Ten years ago I had an idea for a story,” he recalls. “What if a boy went to school dressed as a girl? I thought it would be a thought-provoking children's novel. That became The Boy in the Dress, my first of twelve children's books.”

Those novels, including Ratburger, Demon Dentist, Mr Stink and Billionaire Boy, have all been hugely successful, topping charts and winning a host of awards. David now has more than 18 million book sales to his name, with his stories translated into 50 languages. Awful Auntie was the best-selling children’s paperback of 2016 and won the National Book Awards for Children’s Book of the Year and Audiobook of the Year. His book World’s Worst Children 2 was published in June 2017 followed by Bad Dad last November.

Writing for children is a real passion for him. “The only limitation in a children's book is your imagination. You can take children on magical journeys in books that many adults would be reluctant to go on,” he says.

“Children love to be scared but it can't be too horrifying. Children love to laugh but it can't be too rude. You always have to be the right side of the line.”

David has frequently been compared to Roald Dahl, his own childhood writing hero. “I think Dahl's books always feel a little bit forbidden. He manages to balance the humour and scary elements in his stories perfectly. My favourite is The Twits which is utterly hilarious and I love that it is a children's book with no child characters.”

David was also a fan of American writer Dr Seuss. “I loved Dr Seuss books as a child, especially Green Eggs and Ham. His books are like nightmares come to life. They are rich and strange and utterly unlike anybody else's work.”

Keen to ensure his own novels prove to be just as memorable for children, 46-year-old David believes his popularity is down to the fact his books are laced with humour and never patronise youngsters. “I deal with quite big topics - cross-dressing, homelessness, grief etc,” he says. “I know children are a lot smarter than most grown-ups think.”

Two years after it was published, the BBC made a film version of Gangsta Granny which was shown as part of its Christmas schedule. With Reece Buttery as Ben and Julia McKenzie as Granny, its star-studded cast also included Joanna Lumley, Rob Brydon, the singer Robbie Williams, Miranda Hart as Ben’s mum and David Walliams as his dad.

After the success of the television film, it seemed only natural that Gangsta Granny should become a stage show. David was approached by the Birmingham Stage Company, whose string of Roald Dahl adaptations including James and the Giant Peach and George’s Marvellous Medicine made it an obvious contender and when David saw their West End production of Horrible Histories – Barmy Britain, the deal was sealed.

“Their Horrible Histories show was superb. I loved the humour and the interaction with the audience. Productions for children need to be fun and fast-paced. I think from pantomimes, children like audience interaction too. They like to be involved.

“It's a huge thrill seeing Gangsta Granny have this whole new life on the stage. There is lots of action in Gangsta Granny, especially when they try to steal the Crown Jewels. The challenge was bringing those scenes to life. But having seen the production on tour, I think it’s a fantastic show and so much better than the book!”

David loved watching some of his characters take shape. “I especially like the characters of Ben's mum and dad. They have an obsession with ballroom dancing which is very funny live on stage. The great thing about seeing Gangsta Granny in the theatre is the audience gets to share the fun together. It was wonderful at The New Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham on opening night laughing and crying along with everyone else. That's what makes theatre so special. You feel like a magician when as an author you see your book come to life. It’s a real thrill to hear audiences laughing, one that never leaves you even though I have been making comedy shows of my own for many years.”

David is so delighted with the success of the stage show that he is now working with the producers on a live version of Awful Auntie. “I think I share a sense of humour with Neal Foster who runs the Birmingham Stage Company and has written both adaptations, so it has been very harmonious”.

So is David happy that Gangsta Granny is back on tour again in 2018? “I feel it should now be on stage somewhere in the world until the end of time. Then I can retire! I am proud of the book, it seems to have really struck a chord with readers, so I am glad that more and more people can enjoy the story by seeing it on stage. I couldn’t be happier with it”.

Birmingham Stage Company - which is currently celebrating its 25th anniversary - has built a world-wide reputation for quality children’s theatre since being started in 1992 by actor-manager, Neal Foster. It regularly tours Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai with acclaimed productions including the live stage shows of Horrible Histories, which celebrated their twelfth anniversary this year.

David has taken roles as diverse as Foster in Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land and Bottom in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. So he needed to ensure his Gangsta Granny was in safe hands.

David’s varied career has seen him in films such as The Look of Love with Steve Coogan, Stephen Fry and Anna Friel and Run Fatboy Run with Simon Pegg and Thandie Newton. He played Frankie Howerd in the biopic Rather You Than Me and has written and acted in the sitcom Big School with Catherine Tate.

A trustee of BBC’s Comic Relief, he has undertaken a number of challenges for the charity including swimming the English Channel in 2006 and the River Thames in 2011.

In 2012 he became a judge on ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent. So, bearing in mind the obsession Ben’s parents have for ballroom, has David ever considered donning his rhinestones to enter the television competition Strictly Come Dancing? “I can't dance at all (as you might have seen in the TV adaptation of Gangsta Granny when I tried to dance with Miranda Hart). So I would say my chances are less than zero,” he laughs.

David is hoping BSC’s Gangsta Granny will be the perfect outing for families – and that a granny or two are in the audience. And, casting his mind back to his own childhood, he says that in all the craziness of Gangsta Granny, at its heart is a very special relationship.

“The moral of the story is ‘don't assume old people are boring just because they are old’,” he says. “In fact they are likely to have had a much more interesting life than yours. Talk to old folk, listen to their stories. They are bound to be full of magic and wonder.”

  • David Walliams’s Gangsta Granny appears at the Theatre Royal Bath from Tuesday 27th March to Sunday 1st April. Tickets from 01225 448844 or visit www.theatreroyal.org.uk