EastEnders star Paul Nicholas is among the eight pensioner celebrities sampling retired life in India in a second series of The Real Marigold Hotel, which has now transferred to BBC1...

Paul Nicholas may play Kathy’s wily hubby Gavin in EastEnders, but he was left floundering when he arrived in southern India to film the second series of The Real Marigold Hotel. That’s because he realised he’d left something vital behind – he couldn’t find any underpants in his suitcase!

As the Just Good Friends actor and seven other pensioner celebrities – including dancer Lionel Blair, Corrie actress Amanda Barrie, TV chef Rustie Lee, snooker legend Dennis Taylor and Dr Miriam Stoppard – would be staying in the port of Kochi for over month, the ‘pants situation’ had to be sorted and led Paul into all sorts of adventures on his first day. Viewers will see Paul, with some difficulty, trying to buy pants locally, taking along Goodies star Bill Oddie on what becomes a mammoth quest.

“It was quite a task to find some pants I can tell you!” laughs Just Good Friends star Paul. “But it did get myself and Bill out into Kochi to have a bit of a look about and get our bearings. I do enjoy exploring…and thankfully I eventually find some pants to buy!”

Sweltering humidity, stinging mosquitoes and cattle wandering through the streets are just part of everyday life in Kochi, although during the four-part series, the Marigold group stayed in a rather luxurious converted 16th century house, with a pool and wonderful garden. But there’s a bit of room envy on the first day…

Three Degrees singer Sheila Ferguson decides the first bedroom she’d chosen isn’t big enough for her vast clothes collection, so she sweet-talks Bill Oddie into swapping rooms with her before he’d had a chance to assess things, leaving Bill slightly miffed.

The merry Marigolders: (from left) Amanda, Paul, Bill, Lionel, Dr Miriam, Lionel, Dennis, Rustie and Sheila

There’s plenty of time for bonding however, especially when Paul and Sheila go for a local massage, which helps them chill. There, they share secrets about their relationships, with widowed Shelia, 69, revealing how tough she finds being single for the past eight years.

Others get to explore, too, taking a river trip, shopping in markets and visiting local fishermen to buy their catch for supper. It does seem to bring everyone closer, even Lionel, who has the most troubles adjusting to his new surroundings.

“No one was lording it too much,’ insists Paul, now 72. ‘Everyone was gracious to each other, which helps. What surprised me the most is that I managed to live with seven other celebrity egos over a four-week period without it becoming tense.”

None in the group are sure they could retire in India, even though it’s very cheap to live in Kochi – £30 per week for an average three-bedroom family house, and £20 a week to pay for house staff. All gradually immerse themselves in local life, however, and seem to enjoy the experience.

“The main thing that we can do at our time of life is to keep ourselves interested in what’s around us for me that’s mainly through work, family and taking great opportunities when they arise, and this show is definitely that,’ insists Paul. ‘I’ve gone into this with my eyes wide open.”

The Real Marigold Hotel begins on BBC1, on Wednesday February 15 at 9pm