AS NICE-but-dim Robbie Jackson, EastEnders actor Dean Gaffney won the hearts of soap fans. Now Gaffney is treading the boards in Dirty Dusting in Manchester until June 24. We spoke to him.

TELL ANYONE you're interviewing Dean Gaffney and they'll usually titter and make some remark about those kiss 'n' tell exposes in the tabloids.

So let's get this over with did that whole business annoy him, or was he proud of his ability to pull women who were, frankly, way out of his league?

"It did annoy me," Gaffney admitted. "But there's no smoke without fire and you have to hold your hands up and say If I wasn't doing it they wouldn't write about it.' "What I will say is that in my 28 years I've never sniffed a line of cocaine, never taken a Class A drug I've never taken any drug. I've never fallen out of a nightclub off my head. I don't really drink very much.

"I don't think I deserved the level of it," he continued.

"I wasn't doing anything other teenagers weren't doing and as far as the kiss n' tells are concerned, I defy any red-blooded man not to be going out and doing what I was doing if they got the chance."

So are the days of boozing it up in London's hottest spots such as China Whites and Stringfellows behind him?

"The going out isn't behind me," said Gaffney. "I love going out to nice restaurants, I love socialising.

"The days of meeting females are certainly behind me because I have a family at home."

The family he talks of are his partner Sarah and their 10-year-old twin daughters Charlotte and Chloe, of whom he's obviously very proud.

"The twins are at that age when they're very comical. But they're a credit to Sarah and me in that they're very well-behaved and astute."

Gaffney will be coming to Manchester later this month to perform in saucy comedy Dirty Dusting a tale of three 70-something cleaners facing the axe who set up their own phone sex service.

It's his stage debut and he's just a little bit nervous.

"I've not done theatre before, apart from panto but that's not really the sort of thing you put on your CV is it?" he laughed.

"I'm nervous and excited. I feel like I've had to hit the ground running, but it's good. Last night was a sell-out and I'm telling you, hearing 2,000 people laugh and knowing it's at you, it's amazing."

Gaffney seems to have adapted his acting style to the stage easily, but says he had to work hard on his accent.

"Because I come from London my diction means I don't always pronounced my Ts. In theatre you have to speak properly or your voice won't travel. I've certainly learnt that."

So he's got a posh voice now? "Yeah, if I want back on telly nobody would recognise me!"

Speaking of which, does he have any plans to return to the Square? After all if there was every a time that Sonia needed her big brother, it's surely now when her life appears to be falling apart.

"EastEnders has taught me never say never," said Gaffney. "That's always been my philosophy about leaving the soap.

"It's a very different show at the minute than when Robbie was in it though. It's moved on and now it seems to be more about gangsters.

"But the scriptwriters have always been very complimentary about the character and Robbie could make a return next week, next year, or maybe never."

Even if he doesn't return to the soap, Gaffney admits he'll never be free from Robbie Jackson.

"I think I'll be getting called Robbie until I'm drawing my pension," he said. "I'm not complaining though, it's kept the wolf from the door for 10 years.

"Whenever I go out I always hear "Where's Wellard?" That's always the first question people ask."

Unlike Robbie, the character he plays in Dirty Dusting is an out-and-out baddie. Is he enjoying being nasty?

"Yeah I am actually. My character isn't sinister or sneaky, he's blatantly nasty to everyone so when he gets his comeuppance at the end the audience love it.

"Mind you, it's a bit strange. I come from a family who taught me to respect my elders and I have to be really horrible to my co-stars, who are three women all over 50.

"It's great being the only guy though, I'm learning about corns on feet and varicose veins and everything."

So finally, why should we come to see the show? "Every one promoting their own show will say it's brilliant but hand on heart there's a laugh every 10 seconds.

"Tell people if they don't like it they can come and wait outside the stage door for me and I'll explain why they didn't have a great time."

You can't say fairer than that.

See Dean Gaffney in Dirty Dusting, Manchester Palace Theatre, from Monday, June 19 to Saturday, June 24. Call 0870 401 3000.