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The Venerable Tim FitzHigham!

Posted Tuesday, June 12, 2007

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The Venerable FitzHigham – Immortalised!

Eccentric Wirksworth comedian Tim FitzHigham is feeling flushed with success after single-handedly rowing a bathtub across the English Channel to raise money for Comic Relief - for Thomas Crapper & Company, the world-famous makers of sanitary ware have named a limited edition lavatory in his honour!

`The Venerable FitzHigham'

Called `The Venerable FitzHigham’, it is only the second limited edition commemorative lavatory in the history of sanitary ware – the previous one was issued to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee over a century ago.

`Derbyshire's Second Greatest Mariner!'

When I finally caught up with him, on the run between a BBC2 interview and the recording studio, human whirlwind Tim, who has been called `Derbyshire’s second greatest mariner’ quipped, “Yes, at last, I’ve finally got my own family seat – which must be the apotheosis of toilet humour….”

Tim’s meteoric rise to fame, especially during 2005, has seen him receive rave reviews for his award-winning comedy show and grab news headlines around the world with his amazing exploits and astonishing world-record breaking achievements.

He has just taken the Edinburgh Fringe Festival by storm for the fifth year in a row, after being nominated for the Perrier Award for Best Newcomer in 1999, and winning the Spirit of the Fringe award in 2000, and is currently on a sell-out national tour with his own theatre group, Infinite Number of Monkeys.

This year has been a remarkable one for the 28-year old Derbyshire comedian, a year in which he has not only captured world headlines with his epic adventure on the high seas by becoming the first man in history to successfully cross the English Channel in a bathtub, but he has also had an invitation to Buckingham Palace and an audience with the Queen who made him a Freeman of the City of London. Then in a civic ceremony in Yorkshire he was appointed the official Pittancer of Selby Town – and in October he was inaugerated as The Commodore of Sudbury Quay in the County of Suffolk!

So just who is Tim FitzHigham?

His family-tree is populated by some illustrious ancestors, sportsmen, poets, painters, politicians - and soldiers. Tim’s great grandfather, to whom he bears an uncanny resemblance, was John Henry Higham who won the Military Medal in WW1. Also a family ancestor was the celebrated Capt. Albert Ball VC, DFC; DSO, the Sherwood Foresters most decorated soldier, killed in action in May 1917, aged 20 and honoured by a bronze statue which still stands in the grounds of Nottingham Castle. There are remarkable parallels in their lives – but I digress. Back to Tim, who explains:

“I come from a long line of Derbyshire people but I was the first member of my family to be born outside the county”. Tim claims to have been born prematurely – in a lunatic asylum!

“I came very early while my parents were fighting hard to save a sinking family house in Norfolk, and so by an odd quirk was born in the lunatic asylum in Kings Lynn whilst my poor mother was being wheeled through to the maternity ward”. He continued, “ The Norfolk house sank into the fen shortly afterwards, and as Dad said at the time, `you can’t sell a sinking house’, so we abandoned it, and as my dad’s family have always been from Derbyshire, we moved back up here to live with my grandparents. My father is Derbyshire born & bred and was at school with actor Tim Dalton and Simon Groom (Blue Peter). He’s a straight-talking man of great integrity, who for many years was part of the Wirksworth team ministry, and has preached at many Derbyshire churches, whilst mother is from a very old Saxon family from Berkshire”.

Tim attended Wirksworth Junior School, then St. Benedict School at Darley Abbey: “I did my A levels out of the county and went to St. Chad’s College at Durham University, before farming in the West Indies for a couple of years – then after a short spell with a tutor or two at RADA, I went into acting and ended up in comedy by mistake”.

Tim tried his hand at writing and acting, had a couple of early film roles, (Randall’s Flat, 2002 and Circles, 2001) and wrote columns in a variety of newspapers and magazines including The Scotsman, Metro, and The Telegraph; he wrote for radio, including six series of The Arthur Smith Lectures on BBC Radio Two, and has toured and acted with the National Theatre in productions, Henry V, Romeo & Juliet, and Noel Coward’s Words & Music. Then came comedy success at the Edinburgh Fringe – and Comic Relief……..!

Tim hit the national headlines in March 2003 when he broke a 383-year-old world-record by rowing a boat made entirely out of newspaper a distance of 160 miles down the entire length of the River Thames from Cricklade in Wiltshire, to Tower Bridge!

His world-record journey made headline news and the adventure was followed daily by the Metro Newspaper; the paper boat was a kayak built entirely of paper and glue, and despite some pinholes in the resin which led to the craft developing some rather soggy patches which had to be hurriedly repaired with gaffer tape, Tim completed the risky voyage, and raised £10,000 for Comic Relief.

In recognition of his achievement he was made a member of the Worshipful Company of Watermen & Lightermen of the River Thames – and the paper boat was put on display at the National Maritime Museum in Cornwall.

Said Tim, “It was such a fun trip that I wanted to do something else to try and raise more money”.

Surpassing the wonderful success of his madcap scheme to paddle down the Thames in a boat made entirely of newspaper proved difficult – yet in 2004 Tim came up with the whacky and daring plan to make an attempt to cross the channel in a bathtub, and managed to get Thomas Crapper & Company to sponsor him and to provide him with a copper bath.

News of the attempt captured the imagination of the nation; Tim was invited to train with Britain’s Olympic Rowing team, was coached by Matthew Pinsent and James Cracknell - then came the invitation to meet the Queen.

“I couldn’t quite believe it when the invitation to the palace arrived. The Queen was tremendously supportive…..very generous with her time and made everyone feel welcome; the Queen has a very good sense of humour” said Tim, who with Her Majesty’s permission named his ocean-going bathtub `Lilibet 2nd’! Three times Olympic gold medallist Matthew Pinsent admitted that he struggled to find the right advice for Tim and thought he needed a straight-jacket - rather than a life-jacket:

“He is brave, and I hope he’s got the number of the RNLI when he meets a cross-channel ferry. Other than that my main advice would be to make a will and make sure all his affairs are in order before he goes. But he seems very upbeat – as well as suicidal, so good luck to him”, said Matthew.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes, the world’s greatest living explorer, said:

“It is a brave man who takes to the wild seas in a copper bath with only a rubber duck for support. I gave Tim my socks to show my support for this event, and joking apart all I can say is that this is a very difficult challenge, so well done for not only setting a record but for keeping the art of British eccentricity well and truly alive. I will be cheering Tim on every step of the way to victory”.

Unfortunately the attempt ended in failure just four miles short of the French coast when Tim was injured, battered by a force seven gale and lost his support boat.

Then in July and early August this year Tim tried again, and paddled his ocean-going bathtub to glory, twenty two miles across the Channel from Folkstone to Cap Gris Nez in France, thus breaking two world records by becoming the first man to successfully cross the Channel in a bathtub, and for the longest ever solo crossing – nine and a half hours!

The support boat brought him back to Folkstone – and then for good measure he rowed Lillibet 2nd another 200 miles around the Kent coast to Erith and up the River Thames to Tower Bridge, the last forty miles with a broken shoulder, arriving to a heroes reception on August 2nd.

Tim’s marathon rowing effort raised over £20,000 for Comic Relief and the Make Poverty History Campaign, but he didn’t have time to rest on his laurels and three days after completing his history-making journey he was performing at the 2005 Edinburgh Festival to rave reviews.

He hasn’t stopped since.

“The only downside to living in Derbyshire – is having to leave it”, says Tim, yet his is a nomadic existence, and after seven sell-out UK tours Tim shows no sign of slowing down.

“I love it, it’s wonderful and I enjoy making people laugh” he says.

His Infinite Number of Monkeys is currently on yet another national tour with the `Paper Boat’ show and his crazy brand of eccentric comedy is in great demand.

Perhaps one day the Venerable FitzHigham will slow down long enough to rest awhile on the throne of his recently acquired family seat - at home in his beloved Derbyshire!

 
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