After the Presidents Club scandal, several booksellers pulled his kids books from shelves. Is the bestselling author of Mr Stink and Ratburger a Dahl-esque maverick or an old-fashioned bully?
Among the scores of men caught up in the Presidents Club dinner scandal happened to be one of Britain’s best-loved children’s authors, David Walliams. He was, of course, gulled into the throwback event with no knowledge whatsoever of what kind of scene he was stepping into, despite having hosted it for three years in a row, and contributing to the auction list (the now well-known headline lot was plastic surgery to “add spice to your wife”). Walliams’s offering was that he would name a character after a philanthropist: “Micky the misogynist” suggested Jess Phillips MP after the story broke. As a result, a handful of independent bookshops ceased to stock Walliams’s books. But will it dent sales of the work of the top-selling author in the UK last year?
Walliams started in 2008 with The Boy in the Dress, and his output has been large, a book a year, sometimes two, followed by TV adaptations. His media presence is wide ranging, and it would be difficult to separate the children’s Walliams from the adults’. It is hard, therefore, to put his “least PC ever” activities aside when thinking of him as a writer. “Role model” is a bad-faith term, used more often to convey disapproval than any authentic anxiety. You wouldn’t stop a child reading Mr Stink for fear that they may grow up a running dog to a financial elite that kicks back its heels by recreating Game of Thrones without the dialogue. But if you could see the values that you reject in his writing, you might well steer your progeny towards some other author.