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Bronze statue of panto legend Dave Lee unveiled outside the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury, watched by Richard Digance, Brenda Blethyn and Joe Pasquale

By Lowri Stafford

Hundreds turned out despite the downpour for the grand unveiling of a statue of panto legend Dave Lee.

The bronze figure, complete with the comedian's trademark bench, was created as a tribute to the "country's most famous and respected panto dame", who died in 2012 aged 64.

It has been installed outside the Marlowe Theatre, providing a permanent reminder of the dedicated entertainer who performed more than 1,000 pantos there over 16 years.

Dave Lee's children revealed the statue of their dad

A devoted philanthropist, he also raised more than £2 million for his charity, Dave Lee's Happy Holidays, which sent ill and disabled children and their families on trips.

Theatre-lovers and showbiz friends, including the likes of Richard Digance, Joe Pasquale and Brenda Blethyn, turned out in force yesterday to honour the larger-than-life comic.

Marlowe Theatre director Mark Everett said the statue provided a tangible memento of someone who was "a big fella in every sense of the word".

Dave Lee's friends and family gather around the bench

He said: "It's a wonderful moment and a great tribute to a great man who we still miss - particularly during pantomime season.

"Dave was such a fixture here, and never, ever missed a performance. People remember him with great affection.

"He wasn't much of an actor but had a great presence on stage. Audiences miss him, but his legacy is first-class pantomime here in Canterbury."

Dave Lee's friends Joe Pasquale and Richard Digance were at the unveiling

A fundraising campaign to pay for the £45,000 statue was organised by Dave's children Darren, Justin and Debbie.

It led to donations from people all over Kent, as well as various shows and events including a celebrity show and dinner organised by comedian Miki Travers at the Winter Gardens in Margate.

The bench includes an inscription of the line, "Well, we'll have to do it again then, won't we? Whoops!" from the comedian's famous ghost gag - a regular feature of his pantos.

Family and friends pose with the statue

Speaking at the unveiling ceremony, his son Darren Legge said: "It's a very emotional day for everyone. The turn-out is amazing and shows how well he was loved by Canterbury.

"He's a Canterbury man through and through, and spent so many years at the Marlowe. He would be so proud of the sculpture.

"It couldn't be better, and it's in a place where everyone can enjoy it."

Dave was one of the country's most famous pantomime dames

Dave's daughter Debbie said the family was "overwhelmed" by people's generosity in giving to the Dave Lee Bench Fund, adding: "We're grateful to everyone who has enabled our dad to sit in his rightful place for many years to come."

Celebrity guests included members of a "brotherhood" of actors and comics, often called upon to perform at Dave Lee's many fundraising events.

Members included comedian and singer Richard Digance, who said: "We used to call ourselves the brotherhood, and Dave was our leader.

Dave Lee

"He was probably the most famous and respected panto dame in the country – and the only dame in the history of theatre who had to lose weight to play the part!

"The statue represents £2 million of little smiling faces and the proud smiles of his children and grandchildren.

"For the brotherhood, it serves as a testament to our leader who wouldn’t take no for an answer when it came to fundraising.

More than 100 people gathered to watch the bench being unveiled

"Such is the power of the man that even when he is not here, he can still get me up at 5am in the rain when we've all got better things to do!

"This is an amazing statue and tribute. Inside this bronze figure, there's a heart of gold."

Another member of "the brotherhood", comedian Joe Pasquale, described Dave as one of his best mates for the past 30 years.

Panto directors Paul Hendy and Emily Wood with actor John Altman

He joked: "It's a fantastic statue. But it's not to scale – that would’ve been much more expensive."

Also there was former EastEnders star John Altman, who met Dave many years ago while starring in panto in Surrey.

Paying tribute to his "very dear old friend", the actor from Herne Bay - famous for playing "Nasty Nick" Cotton - described Dave as "unique and warm".

Video: The statue of Dave Lee is unveiled

The sculpture was created by Dave's friend Dominic Grant, who had it cast at a foundry in Holland.

He said: "I used to joke about how much bronze it would take to make a statue of him, and that it would cost too much!

"I'm honoured to have been asked to make a statue of my special friend, and a very lovely man."

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