It was read by millions in the papers, heard on the radio and watched on the news, becoming a national phenomenon and a moment in British history. In September 2011, comedian David Walliams spent an epic eight days swimming 140.54 miles of the River Thames for Sport Relief. Now, for the first time, the inside story of what he went through will be told.

“David Walliams’ Big Swim” is an hour long one-off program following the toughest, most dangerous and physically grueling test of David Walliams’ life. Each painful stroke is documented as he swam the equivalent length of the English Channel every day for eight days and for the first time since, viewers can to get to know the man behind the swim.

The program, made by BBC Bristol, looks at the highs and lows of the outstanding challenge that saw him pass through seven counties, make 111,352 strokes, burn 68,000 calories, battle a serious bacterial infection and even save a dog from drowning.

Starting his arduous journey in Lechlade, Gloucestershire, in water colder than the English Channel at 15°C, the challenge is soon in jeopardy as the threat of hypothermia sets in early. After just three days David contracts a nasty stomach bug meaning he struggles to keep even the smallest amount of food down, making the marathon challenge, which normally demands over 8000 calories a day, even tougher.

As he struggles to lift his arms for each stroke, the British public come out in force to cheer him along the route. The documentary also features appearances from friends and loved ones who come out to support him along the way, including his wife Lara Stone and fellow comedians Jimmy Carr, Rob Brydon and Miranda Hart, who do their best to lift his spirits.

Also on David’s mind throughout his ordeal is Philip, an orphan that he met on a trip to Kenya, who struggles to survive by collecting scrap metal and plastic to sell before sleeping rough at night. All of the money raised from David’s efforts will go towards helping children like Philip across the world’s poorest countries, as well as vulnerable people here in the UK.

David battled through pain, sickness, flea bites and bitingly cold water to triumphantly cross the Westminster finish line to huge, roaring crowds of supporters cheering him on from the banks of the river. As he addressed the masses from the South Bank, the challenge was complete and the sun set over Westminster.

David said: “Thank you for your waves, thank you for your cheers but most of all thank you for your donations. Thank you from the bottom of my heart because you really will make a difference to people’s lives.”

The program was made by BBC Bristol and will air on BBC One and BBC One HD at 9pm, Thursday 8th March.

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