SOUTH Essex club chairman Roy Short paid tribute to Max Whitlock during a welcome back party on Tuesday night, telling a crowd of family, friends, teammates and VIPs he was proud of the club’s new superstar.

He outlined Whitlock’s role in helping British Gymnastics to turn-around years of under-achievement, and pointed out that Max was one of only 12 Team GB members to come home with more than one medal.

Short told those invited to the surprise bash at the Holiday Inn on the Festival Leisure Park that their club now continuously has to field calls for the “Max Whitlock fan club”.

He added: “We just can’t believe what Max has achieved, he is a hero really, and I’m so proud he has achieved this on my watch.”

Basildon Mayor Mo Larkin said she wanted to compare her official gold chains to his Olympic medals, and called him a “hero”.

Whitlock’s coach Scott Hann, who’s played such a key role in the success, told the audience he now expects his young charge to upgrade that bronze at the Rio Olympic Games in 2016.

Whitlock, a shy and unassuming young man, reluctantly took the microphone himself after the speeches and, after thanking everyone for their support, he said he would love to see his teammates playing their own starring roles at future Olympic Games.

And as the club already boasts Reiss Beckford, a 20-year-old Commonwealth silver medallist, Team GB squad member Anthony Wise, and European junior squad member Brinn Bevan, 14 – Whitlock may well get his wish.