Actress and model, Gemma Atkinson is making her pantomime debut as Peter Pan this Christmas.
As rehearsals began, she spoke to us about having two left feet when it comes to dancing, how she has become an adrenalin junkie... and her ambition to be one of Hollywood’s A-listers.
Hello Jemma, it’s Gemma,” giggled Gemma Atkinson when she called me.
“That always makes me laugh.” she said. “How are you?”
It was hard to believe that the voice on the other end of the phone was a WAG, actress and glamour model who mixes in celebrity circles — our interview was more like two friends having a chat.
The 24-year-old former Hollyoaks actress might have become a household name with a successful acting and modelling career but she has not let her quick rise to fame go to her head.
She has her feet firmly on the ground and maintains the same priorities in life as she always has, she tells me — and that means putting family first.
This Christmas Gemma, who recently got engaged to her footballer boyfriend, Birmingham City striker Marcus Bent, is starring in her very first panto, Peter Pan, at Manchester Opera House.
Although it is her debut on the live stage, it is not for a lack of offers.
Quite the opposite, in fact. Gemma has been asked to star in panto on countless occasions but she has refused because the productions have been too far away from home.
She said: “They have all been down south and I don’t want to be away from home at Christmas.
"I’ll never spend the festive season away from my family.
"But this time it's right on my doorstep. I can literally be home 10 minutes after curtain down.”
So how is Gemma finding her first experience of live acting, where the word “cut” is banned.
“It’s very different to Hollyoaks, where you can stop and go back if you go wrong," she said.
“And the fact it’s totally live and you only get one shot does make me a bit nervous.
"On opening night when all my family will be in the audience I think I’ll be pretty scared but right now I’m really looking forward to it.
"I’m really enjoying the rehearsals. The cast are great and it’s so much fun.”
“Its different to TV in other ways, too, like I have to make all of my actions bigger and to the point, where it seems so unnatural.
"It is the exact opposite of what I’m used to. I have to sing too, which is fine, and do some swordfighting. which is great fun and it keeps me fit,” says the self confessed gym addict.
“But the main problem for me is the dancing. I’m really not a very good dancer.
"It doesn’t come naturally and its hard to learn the routines, but some of the lads are worse than me so I’ll get there if they can.”
Gemma rose to fame in 2001 playing Lisa Hunter on the Channel 4 teenage soap opera Hollyoaks.
So after her departure three years ago, does she miss those days?
“I keep in touch with all the old girls,” she said. “I don’t really know the new cast but me, Sarah Dunn and Jodi Albert always meet up once a year to go on a girls' holiday.
"We went to Miami last time. It was really good. And at my birthday party recently all of the Hunter family came.”
Since Hollyoaks, Gemma, who lives in Manchester, has barely been out of the limelight.
Last year she went into the jungle for I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, which led to her becoming the face of Ultimo's D-G lingerie range alongside Girls Aloud band member Sarah Harding, and she
has released several of her own calendars.
Gemma has spent recent months in America planting the seeds to launch a career across the Atlantic next year.
Revealing she herself is a computer gamer, Gemma has just finished filming the role of Lt.
Eva McKenna for the forthcoming game Command & Conquer Red Alert 3 for EA Games.
She has big plans for her career, having landed her first big screen role earlier this year, and revealed she has ambitions to join the Hollywood A-list and the likes of her idol Angelina Jolie.
Already on the road to success, Gemma is set to feature alongside Austin Powers star Heather Graham in a forthcoming low-budget film.
“It might not even get into cinemas but it's something else to put on my showreel and to work with great actors is amazing,” she said.
“I have done a lot of bits and pieces recently and I am going back to America in January to work on some other things and hopefully I can make an impression over there.
"I love it. I love the life and everything. They don’t even want me to lose my Northern accent,” said the proud Bury-born beauty.
“I have been training to do American and RP accents but I have been advised to maintain my mother tongue.”
You might think Gemma has little time for much else with her busy schedule but her most recent reality TV appearance on Jack Osborne’s Adrenaline Junkies has fuelled her daredevil side. On the ITV2
show, screened last week, Gemma went nose-to-nose with great white sharks, jumped out of a helicopter and bungee jumped from a terrifyingly high bridge, which she described as “like committing
“I loved doing the challenges. I’m quite a laddish girl anyway,” she said.
“I’ve always been a bit of a tomboy so I was up for it. It was really scary but excellent as the same time.
"I’m organising an aeroplane parachute jump for next year with all my family. I can’t wait. I’m an adrenaline junkie now.”
l See Gemma Atkinson in Peter Pan at The Opera House, Manchester from December 6 to January 4.