IN NUMBING temperatures, dodging tankers and ploughing through sewage and seaweed, the television star David Walliams completed one of the world's great feats of endurance yesterday - swimming the Channel.
The Little Britain comedian exceeded all expectations, emerging dripping and exhausted from his swim for charity after only ten and a half hours - placing him among the 50 fastest.
There have been 665 successful Channel swimmers since records started in 1927.
Walliams's visit to France did not last long, however - moments after arriving, he boarded a boat and returned to greet his supporters in Britain.
Only 10 per cent of attempts to swim the Channel are successful, due to unpredictable tides, cold water temperature, and the requirement to swim miles further than necessary to avoid busy shipping lanes. More people have reached the summit of Mount Everest than completed the 21-mile stretch from the south-east shore of England to Cap Gris Nez.
On the boat back to Britain, Walliams said: "I've been told that my time puts me in with the top 50 Channel swimmers of all time - how did that happen?
"I've never done anything sporty before, I don't know what happened. I think it must be all the good vibes. Conditions were good today, but it was really, really tough - parts of it were misery. But I'm delighted that I managed to do it.
"I got about halfway and thought, 'I can do this'. Then I just tried not to think too much about what I was doing and got on with it."
He added: "I just had this amazing adrenaline surge. I have never run a marathon or done anything like that. I was always useless as sport at school."
Walliams said he entertained himself by thinking of pop songs. "I was thinking about lots of Pet Shop Boys songs, Morrissey songs and Abba songs. It helped to calm me down.
"I was also being told how many text messages had come in supporting me, and how much money had been raised so far, that helped to keep me going."
Early yesterday morning, Walliams set off wearing just Speedos and a swimming cap - plus a layer of grease to protect his skin and help to keep him warm.
The swim - which can be attempted only in a two-week period in summer when tides are weak - followed months of training under the guidance of Greg Whyte, a former Olympic pentathlete. His gruelling regime included swimming for up to eight hours in one go, and spending time in a special "cold tank".
Bananas, chocolate bars and carbohydrate gel were fed to Walliams every half-hour from a pole on his support boat. Channel Swimming Association (CSA) rules prohibit swimmers from touching their accompanying vessel.
The CSA's chairman, Michael Read, who acted as an official on the boat, said the star seemed unaffected by the temperature - about 15C, half the temperature of a normal swimming pool.
Walliams agreed to the challenge after visiting Ethiopia with his fellow Little Britain star, Matt Lucas, and seeing first-hand the problems people faced.
He undertook the swim in hope of raising 500,000 for Sport Relief. Late last night, a reported 400,000 had been raised.