Unknown actor's Perrier triumph proves a week is a long time in comedy

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A 30-year-old actor, unknown to the world of stand-up until three weeks ago, scooped the most prestigious prize in British comedy yesterday.

A 30-year-old actor, unknown to the world of stand-up until three weeks ago, scooped the most prestigious prize in British comedy yesterday.

Will Adamsdale's American motivational speaker beat three popular Edinburgh Festival names ­ Chris Addison, Reginald D Hunter and Sarah Kendall ­ as well as a comedy duo from America who have just been signed to NBC television to take the Perrier Prize, which has been the gateway to success for comedians from Stephen Fry to the League of Gentlemen.

Nica Burns, the prize's director, said: "It's the classic Edinburgh story. He wasn't even on anybody's radar when he came up here. But he won because the judging panel said every time they thought of him, they started chuckling."

In his show, Jackson's Way, Adamsdale starred as Chris John Jackson, a motivational speaker and life coach who urges his audience to embrace everything that is pointless. He delivers his pep talk ­ punctuated with cries of "achieve" ­ through a microphone, which is in fact a straw stuck to his face with a sticking plaster.

In stark contrast to the bravado of his comic creation, Adamsdale looked completely nonplussed by his win.

"It's insane," he said, before slipping into the lingo of Chris John Jackson to express quite how fantastic it was. He also urged Nestlé, producer of Perrier water and the subject of controversy for sales of baby milk formula to the Third World, to "do the right thing".

His show was developed at the Battersea Arts Centre in London and was brought to Edinburgh at the suggestion of Charlie Wood, with whom Adamsdale acted at Edinburgh and who now runs the Smirnoff Underbelly venue.

But it was extended beyond its original run of a week after rave word-of-mouth reviews by other comedians, led by Stewart Lee, made it the unexpected hit of the festival.

So convincing was his spoof motivational patter and American accent that many at the prize party were surprised to discover he was English ­ although he did spend three years in New York when younger.

Adamsdale won a cheque for £7,500, supplemented by a £1 coin from last year's winner, Demetri Martin, and the Hollywood actor Christian Slater, who has been performing in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in Edinburgh and who presented the prizes.

But more significantly, he will now win the attention of every comedy executive in the country. Adamsdale is something of a comedy ingenue, having spent most of his dcareer since Eton, Manchester University and a drama school outside Oxford working in theatre. He has done some television, including playing Nigel Havers' son in the drama Manchild.

Asked what the prize might mean to him, he seemed overwhelmed. "I don't know. I'm not thinking too hard about it right now." The best newcomer prize was won by Wil Hodgson, 26, a pink-haired punk from Chippenham, Wiltshire, for his show, The Passion of the Hodgson, performed with Iszi Lawrence on guitar in the Holyrood Tavern, where he secured fewer than 30 paying customers all festival.

Much attention had been focused on the Australian comic Sarah Kendall, the first woman in nine years to be even nominated for the award. But Nica Burns said she could not be disappointed. "In a sense, it's the shortlist that is the benchmark for the year. After that it's a matter of taste. They're all good."

Will Adamsdale will top the bill at Her Majesty's Theatre, London, on 3, 10 and 17 October, when all the Perrier nominees will appear. The complete list of other shortlisted shows was: Chris Addison for Civilization, Reginald D Hunter for A Mystery Wrapped up in a Nigga and Epitaph for She's Dead: Move On. Sarah Kendall appeared simply as herself.