“I felt like a bloody pop star to tell you the truth.”
That’s the view of Malcolm ‘the Fish Man’ Vials after he topped our poll over who should turn on Kettering’s Christmas lights with a whopping 56 per cent of the vote.
Malcolm, 77, is one of the most famous faces in Corby and Kettering.
Anyone who’s been for a pint at any of the towns’ pubs would be hard pressed not to have met him at some point.
He’s been selling seafood from his wicker basket, dressed in a white smock, since the early 1970s.
Speaking at his home in Barton Seagrave, where he’s lived for 36 years, it was easy to see why he is so popular.
He was named one of Corby’s ‘Living Legends’, had a poem written about him and is the subject of selfie requests in almost every pub he visits.
But he only started selling seafood as a joke - and remembers wishing the floor would swallow him whole the first time he did the rounds.
He said: “I remember when I started and I was outside the Midland Band Club. My chest was going ‘thump, thump, thump’.
“I remember thinking ‘here we go, I’ve got to go in now’.
“I got in there and there was a band in the dance room and they were doing a barn dance.
“Cagily I went round the outside with this white smock on and I thought ‘I’ve got to get in there and get the feel of it’. I knew some of the bands that went round the clubs and this band knew me when I walked in.
“He stopped the band and he said ‘there’s a gentleman that’s just walked in selling fish’ and I went crimson.
“They all started singing ‘alive alive, cockles and mussels’ and I wished there had been a hole in the floor.”
And from then on he believed he could make a go of it.
He gets his seafood from Lowestoft, cramming his basket with cockles, prawns, prawn cocktail, mussels, ocean sticks and the occasional Peperami.
Every Friday and Saturday, even in the rain, hail and snow, he visits between 15 and 18 pubs in the area.
Malcolm, who has been married to wife Valerie for 56 years, leaves home at 8pm and goes to Corby, back to Kettering, on to Broughton and then Barton Seagrave, finishing at about 11.45pm.
He loves meeting people, enjoys keeping active and says it’s never been a money-making exercise.
He said: “I love the people, I couldn’t have wished to meet lovelier people.
“I must admit I’ve welled up when I’ve gone into some of the pubs, they’ve been so nice.
“I don’t know why but everybody sort of took to me. I’m theirs, you know what I mean?”
“I don’t do it to make much out of it.
“As long as I’m broke even and enjoyed it I’m happy.”
The Manchester United fan says he’s never had any trouble and enjoys the banter.
He’s often asked if he has crabs and is occasionally asked if he has any eels by punters - to which he responds “only on my shoes mate”.
The keen gardener, who once won an Evening Telegraph gardening competition, said: “You’ve got to let them say whatever they want.
“I’ve had things said to me and the next thing they’re putting their arm around me.
“Then they kiss my bloody head, I can’t believe it.”
Malcolm was born and raised in Draughton before moving to Kettering at the age of 21.
He worked as a supervisor at T Groocock & Co for 48 years, often doing between 1,500 and 1,600 pairs of shoes a day on a toelaster.
He says he’s always been a workaholic and used to get up at 3am to fetch newspapers, taking them round the towns and villages before then going back out to work at 7.30am.
He retired at the age of 63 - but is still going strong selling seafood 14 years later.
Malcolm, who enjoys a latte at Costa Coffee in his spare time, says he’s noticed how pubs and shops closing has hit Kettering hard.
He said: “It’s very sad really, what’s happened to Kettering.
“It’s not what it used to be.”
Malcolm may have topped our fun poll but he won’t be turning on the town’s Christmas lights.
That honour goes to snooker sensation Kyren Wilson - who himself called Malcolm a ‘legend’ on Twitter.
He may not be turning on the lights but will play a role at the big switch-on on November 29, taking questions on stage.
And he says he’s been overwhelmed by the support he’s received from the public.
He said: “It’s been a dream, I’m living the dream.
“I went into the Stirrup Cup and they were all singing ‘Malcolm turn the lights on’, it was brilliant.
“I never expected anything like it [the poll result].
“You can’t put into words what it’s been like.”
Malcolm has four children: Debbie, Paul, who died 21 years ago aged 34, Karen and Mark.
He also has 12 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
He turns 78 on New Year’s Eve but insists he’ll be out selling seafood rather than celebrating.
But will there ever be a weekend that he isn’t doing the rounds? Not on Malcolm’s watch.
He said: “I’m not going to give up, never.
“As long as these two legs keep going and the heart keeps thumping, I’ll be out there selling.”