ON hearing Abi Titmuss will be gyrating around a pole for her latest job, you could be forgiven for thinking that nothing much had changed.

But now the one-time lads mag favourite is performing as part of an acting role in a new career direction.

She will be appearing at the Charter Theatre, Preston, in a production of Dave Simpson’s The Naked Truth.

“I trained as an actress 10 years ago,” said Abi from her dressing room.

“I knew before I’d even graduated from university as a nurse that I’d gone into the wrong job so I decided to do something about it. I worked part-time as a nurse for three years and put myself through drama school. But just as I’d finished, the whole thing (we assume she means the scandal surrounding former beau John Leslie) kicked off.

“I didn’t mention that I wanted to be an actress then because I knew I wouldn’t get taken seriously.”

In a few short weeks Abi was thrust into the spotlight. She posed for saucy pictures for the tabloids and undertook a series of interviews promoting her image as a real sex star. She quickly became Britain’s number one pin-up.

Abi went on to become a presenter on pornographic channel Television X, release a fitness video, write an erotic novel and make countless personal appearances in nightclubs all over the country. At the height of her fame in 2004/5, she could command up to £30,000 a day for a photoshoot.

“After the furore, I started getting job offers and I thought ‘let’s just go with it for a while’,” said Abi, 33, the daughter of teachers, originally from Lincolnshire.

“It started with one photo shoot for FHM. They didn’t even pay me. They said it would just be one page quite far back in the magazine because I wasn’t that well-known. They said they’d make me look lovely and that I could keep the pictures forever as a keepsake, and so I thought ‘Why not?’.

“But they liked the photos so much they used me on the cover, as well as more inside the magazine. At the time it was the biggest-selling magazine in the country and their last cover girl had been Halle Berry. Suddenly I fell into this whole world. I still don’t quite know how it happened but I’m really grateful for it.”

But in 2006 Abi decided to pursue her original career choice of acting.

“I don’t want to be famous for being famous. I struggled with it actually,” she said.

“And while glamour modelling was wonderful financially and a lot of fun, I never wanted to be a glamour model. That was never my intention and it was never going to be a long-term career move. I treated it like a sabbatical from my real life.

“I wanted to do something worthwhile and productive that I could be proud of. I slogged it out to train as an actress for three years and I wasn't going to let that work go to waste, so I kept myself out of the tabloids and stopped doing celebrity work.

“I've started from the bottom and worked as an unpaid actor on independent films and fringe plays. I've been back to acting classes, even though at first I felt very self-conscious. I'm proud to say that this year will be my first full year as a paid actress and it's incredibly satisfying.”

The play, which also stars Lisa Riley, Julie Buckfield and Trudie Goodwin, is a riotous comedy set in a pole dancing class.

As five very different women struggle to conquer pole dancing for a charity event, their lives unfold and unravel and they bond sharing laughter and tears.

One of the most satisfying elements for Abi, who plays pole dancing teacher Gabby, is that the empowering show has changed women's attitudes to her.

“The play is so good. It's all about sisterhood,” she said. “Even if you feel a bit tired one night the audience totally lifts you, they're so responsive.

“One of the loveliest things is that I’m finally getting to be a girly girl. My friend came to watch the play the other night and she said to me afterwards: ‘Abi, if you've have heard the women chatting at the bar during the interval you'd have been so happy.' A lot of them apparently were saying how they had completely changed their view on Abi Titmuss. It's a wonderful feeling."

But although Abi is intent on treading the boards and building up her acting career from now on, she's not ready to give up her membership to the celebrity circle quite yet.

"I had a few days off recently, which is a rare thing, and I did a glamour shoot, a shoot for Hello magazine and one for Now magazine, so the whole range.

"I do enjoy glamour modelling, but it's just a tiny aspect of me. There are lots of other things I'm capable of and want to do with my life as well. Like most women, I enjoy looking nice and sexy but that's just one side of me.

"My fans don't need to worry. I'll still do sexy shoots but, put it this way, it won't be my main job anymore. It's not what pays the bills."

l See Abi Titmuss in The Naked Truth at Preston Charter Theatre from May 18 to 23. For tickets call 01772 258858