Johnson and Andre in reading drive

Boris Johnson and Peter Andre formed an unlikely double act today as they got together to promote a reading and literacy project for young children.

The Mayor of London and the Mysterious Girl singer took turns to read passages from Julia Donaldson's The Gruffalo to a group of schoolchildren at the launch of the scheme, run by the National Literacy Trust.

The project is aimed at helping to improve the literacy of London children aged three to five, preparing them for school. The initiative is part of Team London, the mayor's strategy to recruit volunteers to deliver key projects which enhance opportunities for residents of the capital.

The mayor is hoping to sign up 500 volunteers from across London to work with more than 2,000 families in the city, encouraging parents to read to their children regularly, and participating in reading workshops.

Speaking this morning at Botwell Green Library in Hayes, west London, he said: "This is incredibly important because we are trying to encourage volunteers to come and help parents to get the confidence they need to read to their kids. The difference needs to be made at a very early stage in their lives.

Once you've cracked reading at an early age then you'll never look back, but if you don't get it then it's very hard to recover. That's why it's very important to crack it early on."

He added: "This is not just economics, it is not just about people getting jobs. If you can read, you will open for yourself the door to a most unimaginable treasure house of riches. It is very, very important that people do acquire this skill."

Andre, who has two children with ex-wife Katie Price - Junior, five, and Princess Tiaamii, three - and remains close to Price's nine-year-old son Harvey, said he enjoys reading bedtime stories and remembered his mother reading to him when he was young. He said: "Reading doesn't need to be a chore, and the earlier we get our kids to embrace it, the better.

"Reading to your children is very important. One-on-one with your children, it's all about bonding, and these are the things you remember. Even if you create your own imagination and start reading the book and go off on a tangent, which I do all the time, it is so important, they won't forget. It stays with them. And better that they go to sleep with something nice to think about rather than watching a DVD or playing a computer game. I'm not saying that DVDs are wrong or computer games, but I think that reading before they go to sleep is very important."

Speaking about his children, he added: "I do read to them. Occasionally I let them watch their In The Night Garden and things like that but I think it's more important that you read, create your own stories, use your imagination. Put the characters' voices on, which I do all the time, and then they start telling you the story. "It reverses, you let them read you stories at night, it's brilliant."

National Literacy Trust director Jonathan Douglas said: "The National Literacy Trust's work has demonstrated that friends, neighbours and other community members can help parents support the literacy of their children.

"This is particularly important for parents with low literacy who may be less confident using services such as libraries and children's centres.

"With an estimated one in five parents in London struggling with basic literacy, we hope the scheme will make a huge difference to families in the capital."