ACTOR and comedian David Walliams is backing a Poole man who hopes to become the first blind man to swim the English Channel.

Voluntary worker Steve McCarthy, 42, of Parkstone, has been picking up training tips from the star, who himself did the 21-mile crossing for Sport Relief four years ago.

“I’ve always loved swimming, since I was a young kid. I saw news reports about Channel swimming and thought ‘I would love to do that one day’,” he explained.

One day, Steve was chatting to Jonathan Waddington-Jones of local charity DOTS Disability about his ambition. “He said: ‘If you want to do it, we’ll support you’. It seemed to happen so fast – it’s just rollercoastered.”

Although the Channel swim is not scheduled to happen until 2012, Steve is already training and took part in the recent inaugural Race for Equality in aid of new charity Access Dorset.

While other participants run, walk or wheel their way from Bournemouth to Boscombe, Steve will be swimming with the help of guides, who shout instructions to steer him in the right direction.

Before taking up the challenge, Steve – who was born with glaucoma and became blind after both retinas detached – had done most of his swimming in pools.

“The first time I swam in the sea after losing my sight was very frightening.

“When you can’t see the waves coming they can push you over, but my technique is improving and I’m getting fitter,” he said.

“I’m up to a couple of miles now, but as the sea becomes colder it’s getting harder. I don’t swim in a wetsuit – they’re deemed buoyancy aids and aren’t allowed for those attempting a Channel swim.

“When DOTS Disability contacted David Walliams about my plan, he rang and gave me lots of useful advice, including covering myself in goose fat to keep warm.

“We had a chat for a good half-hour.

“He was really nice – he said to keep in touch and nearer the time he will become more involved.”

The Channel swim will cost songwriter and aspiring actor Steve £10,000. Sponsors can help by visiting