The Preston-born creator of Wallace and Gromit unveiled a giant bronze of the Plasticine pair in his home city and confessed: “This means everything to me. I couldn’t be more over the moon.
“The Oscars and BAFTA's are great and have been wonderful career-wise, but to be recognised like this by your home crowd is something really special.”
Nick, who still spends a lot of time in Preston, was in cracking form, arriving for a grand day out with his wife Mags and family in a retro camper van.
He hadn’t seen the finished statue before the cover was pulled off and his first reaction was: “Wow, I’m gobsmacked.”
The 7ft tall bronze bench, with Wallace and Gromit in a scene from the film The Wrong Trousers, was first conceived more than a decade ago.
It has been erected in front of the Market Hall as a “family-friendly” statue which Nick hopes passers-by will stop to have their photographs taken on - “or maybe sit down and have a bit of cheese.”
“Bronze statues tend to be very serious, unfriendly things,” he told the Post. “But I wanted this to be welcoming and something people would use.”
Nick was helped in the unveiling ceremony by Preston Mayor Coun Javed Iqbal who said later: “Preston is very proud of Nick and the statue is absolutely wonderful.
“We have given it pride of place in front of the Market Hall and, when the new cinema complex is competed in a couple of years, this will be be a real focal point in the city centre.
“I’ve been a fan of the Wallace and Gromit films since they first came out and it’s great to hear a Lancashire accent in them.”
The city council’s chief executive, Adrian Phillips, introduced Nick to a sizeable crowd as “Freeman of the city of Preston, proud Prestonian, creator of Wallace and Gromit and a very big cheese at Aardman Animations.”
He described the statue as “superb” and added: “It’s a sculpture, a bench, a piece of modern art that will bring a smile and joy to all who gaze at it or sit upon it.
“I want to thank Nick Park and all at Aardman who have worked with us for many years to bring this sculpture to life in bronze.”
Erecting a statue to Nick’s achievements was first suggested back in 2010. But it only came to fruition through funding from the a £1m pot of cash the council received from the Government’s Towns Fund.
Brought up in Walmer Bridge, the animator has won a raft of awards over the past two decades, including four Oscars and five BAFTAs. He was also nominated for an Emmy.
But despite his success worldwide, especially in Hollywood, he has always come home to Lancashire.
“Even though I have lived in Bristol for quite some years I am here quite a bit because my wife and I have a lot of family here and we are in Preston a lot.
“When I was sat in my parents home in Walmer Bridge all those years ago doing animation as a hobby and designing characters, I never ever imagined this day - and the same when I began making Wallace and Gromit films at Aardman.
“Yes the Oscars and everything else are great, but this is another kind of of recognition. To be recognised like this in your home city is something extra.
“I very much wanted the statue to be family-friendly, something people can interact with and it can feel part of the city for people and create a bit of excitement.
“My wife and I went to the factory to see them pouring bronze into the moulds, but we haven’t seen the finished thing until today.
“When we unveiled it my reaction was: ‘It’s just amazing.’ I’m absolutely gobsmacked. It’s weird me growing up in Preston and now seeing this in my home city. It represents something really special.”
* YOU CAN TAKE THE BOY OUT OF PRESTON
Nick Park has admitted there is “an awful lot” of Preston in his Wallace and Gromit films.
And he has finally revealed the ‘Evening Post’ newspaper that features so much in the Oscar-winning animations was based on the LEP he grew up with.
“Yes it was based on the Post,” he said. “You tend to use reference points and the ones I used in the films are personal and things I remember growing up with here.”
He insists the humour in Wallace and Gromit was very much based on the kind of humour found in his native city.
“You never leave Preston,” he said. “As they say, you can take the boy out out of Preston .... But I think I've carried the humour into the films that I was brought up with.
“There's a kind of dry humour here, it’s under-stated and self-effacing, which I think has travelled with me and appeals to people.”
Nick’s biggest regret is that his mother Celia did not see the statue finally erected - she died exactly a year ago this weekend.
“When she passed away the statue wasn’t being planned at that time,” he explained.
“She was well-proud of Wallace and Gromit and she will be smiling down on it. She was always proud of it all and in a way she was most proud of the fact that she said ‘It hasn’t gone to your head.’
“I think that’s because I am from Preston, so I have Preston to thank for that.”