Abi Titmuss leaps into her new role

Emma LeeAbi Titmuss stars alongside Lisa Riley and Trudie Goodwin in the ensemble comedy The Naked Truth, at the Marina Theatre, Lowestoft, this week. She tells EMMA LEE about her reinvention, from tabloid glamour girl to actress.Emma Lee

"I know, me playing a pole dancer. But it's really not like that," laughs Abi Titmuss.

If there's one thing the former glamour girl is sure of, it's how the public perceive her. But she's out to prove their preconceptions are wide of the mark.

Abi's rise to fame - or notoriety if you prefer - is one of the most bizarre in recent years.

A nurse and aspiring actress, she came into the public eye in 2003 when her then-boyfriend, TV presenter John Leslie, was involved in a court case. There by his side to support him, she caught the eye of the tabloids. Throw in an expos� about a saucy home video and a star was born.

In the space of a year Abi became one of the country's most in-demand models. She appeared on 38 magazine covers in just 12 months and is the only girl in the history of FHM magazine to grace the cover twice in the same year. Her calendars have out-sold David Beckham's, Jordan's and Kylie's.

She also appeared on reality TV shows like Love Island and Hell's Kitchen.

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But while the sexy photo-shoots paid the bills, it wasn't how Abi, 33, had envisaged making a name for herself.

In her autobiography, the Secret Diaries of Abi Titmuss, she candidly admits that the showbiz whirl took its toll on her.

Some time out was needed to take stock of her life. Once a regular on the party circuit, she now doesn't drink alcohol and has taken up running. And now she's getting back to doing her true love - acting.

Abi's currently starring alongside Lisa Riley (famous for playing Mandy Dingle in Emmerdale), Trudie Goodwin (the Bill's June Ackland) and Julie Buckfield (Hollyoaks), plus rising stars Emily Aston and Lorraine Hodgson in The Naked Truth, which begins a three-night run at the Marina Theatre, Lowestoft, tonight.

Billed as a cross between Calendar Girls and Stepping Out, the show is set in a pole dancing exercise class. Abi plays the class teacher, Gabby, who is tasked with getting five women ready for a charity event to raise awareness and money for breast cancer.

Chatty and likeable, Abi describes being in the show as "a dream come true".

"We've been on tour for two months and we finish on July 4. It's full on - six nights a week, plus matinees. It's been fantastic," she says, bubbling with enthusiasm.

"I play the teacher, Gabby, who's in her 30s, a single parent who's got a secret which transpires as the show goes along. I had to train for three months for the role - I'm playing the teacher, so I had to be really good," she says.

"I've got five women in my class of all different ages, shapes and sizes and reasons for being there which we discover during the show. It's uplifting, poignant, but you'll go home with a spring in your step. We'll make you cry - but we'll make you laugh straight after. It's full of great music, great female anthems, like Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves and It's Raining Men - and we dance at the end," she says.

While you might think that Abi's fame would enable her to walk straight into the role, that's far from the truth.

"I auditioned like everybody else," she says.

"I was so nervous when I auditioned. All these famous people were going in and I thought 'I've got no chance'. I did my best and I got the job."

Over the last few years Abi's steadily been building up her acting CV - "earning my stripes like any other actor" as she puts it. Acting is certainly not something she's decided to do on a whim - she held down her first nursing job on an accident and emergency ward while putting herself through a course at the Central School of Speech and Drama at the same time.

"I knew I was in the wrong job," she says. "But when I came into the public eye, about six years ago, the time wasn't right. I was worried I wouldn't be taken seriously.

"I had a great time [modelling], but I had to take a step back and get back to what I wanted to do."

In 2006, Abi made her stage debut in the Arthur Miller play Two Way Mirror, opposite Jay Benedict and won an award for best West End debut by the Fringe Report. She also has roles in the forthcoming films the Rapture (opposite Martin Kemp, Danny Dyer and Jaime Murray) and Just for the Record (with Billy Murray and Adele Silva).

"I've been doing fringe theatre, working for free, starting from the bottom," she says.

For Abi, it's been a chance to connect with a new audience.

"I'm performing to mostly women, which is great because up until now it's been mostly men. And people have said to me that they've heard women saying 'I can't believe how differently I feel about her'," she says, with a hint of pride in her voice.

As for future roles, she has plenty of ideas.

"There's lots of things - I'd love to do more Arthur Miller. Pinter. Roxie Hart in Chicago is a great role. I'd love to do something where I don't look anything like myself. If you can change your appearance that helps people to believe in you.

"I did a part in the new series of Hotel Babylon playing a nun - they'd offered me a cameo as Abi Titmuss, and I said no to that, but if they'd got a part, however small, I'd do it. And they came back with a nun - genius, me as a nun," she laughs.

The Naked Truth is at the Marina Theatre, Lowestoft, from Thursday to Saturday, May 7-9. Performances start at 8pm, with an additional 5pm show on the Saturday. Tickets cost �18.50 and �16.50 (concessions available). Box office: 01502 533200.