Former EastEnders star Paul Nicholls talks about his role in the school drama, his own schooldays and working with ex-Girls Aloud singer Kimberley Walsh...

Paul Nicholls on going back to school for C4’s Ackley Bridge…

Can you tell us a little bit about Steve?

“Steve’s an old school PE teacher – he’s stuck in the 1990s. I based him a bit on my PE teacher who was a bit tough. I also think Steve comes from a bit of a rough background and is working class. When he was a kid he got into a few fights, got into a bit of trouble, and that’s why he gets on so well with the kids who have a few troubles in their lives.”

Paul Nicholls as Steve Bell

Paul’s character Steve can relate to what the teens are going through in Ackley Bridge

What attracted you to the part?

“That it always makes you laugh. It was a good script. Sometimes you can pick and choose what you do and sometimes you can’t, and at that point I was lucky because I hadn’t worked for two years and I’d stopped. When I read the script I found it strange at first because my school was very much an integrated school. I read the first episode I was like: ‘When did we start having separate education in schools?’ I didn’t realise that had happened. I did a bit of research and there are four or five schools around Oldham, Blackburn and Burnley that really are like that and it shocked me. So I really wanted to be a part of it for just that really.”

What do you think of Steve?

“I personally wouldn’t have him as a friend. He’s not kind of my cup of tea really. He’s a bit rough and ready, a bit of a lad’s lad. I’m certainly not a lad’s lad!”

When we left them at the end of series one Steve and Mandy weren’t in a good place. Have things improved?

“They’re still separated but there’s such a physical attraction and an emotional connection between them that they can’t keep away from each other. They’re just drawn to each other and literally can’t keep their hands off each other. We’ll have to see how long they can stay apart for and if they can make it work…”

Jo Joyner as Mandy Carter and Paul Nicholls as Steve Bell

Can Steve reunite with his wife, head teacher Mandy Carter (played by Jo Joyner)?

Does Steve feels emasculated by Mandy being his boss?

“Yes, obviously it crops up. I wouldn’t say it’s a constant thing in his in his mind, that he feels resentful. But in certain situations when she has to override him or give him a telling off then obviously he feels quite emasculated. He’s very old school in his ways. “

What’s it like working with Jo Joyner again?

“Jo is just so funny. She’s so lovely and she’s so modest. She’s one of the finest actresses I’ve ever worked with and makes everything very easy. If you’re working with someone that good all you have to do is watch them and respond to them.”

PAUL NICHOLLS as Steve Bell and JO JOYNER as Mandy Carter

Paul loves starring opposite actress Jo Joyner, whom he’d worked with on BBC drama Candy Cabs

How about working with the kids in the show?

“They are hilarious. It’s good fun. I forget I’m in my thirties now in many ways. I still feel like a 16-year-old kid!”

Can you tell us about Steve’s relationship with the Wilson brothers?

“Steve spent a lot of time with Jordan last series and this time he gets to work with Cory, his older brother. Cory has witnessed violence and his dad being drunk and Steve has got real empathy for both brothers. Steve just wants to steer them on a good path, to let them know that they don’t have to go down the road they’re heading down.”

Steve and Cory argue in Ackley Bridge

Steve desperately wants to steer Cory Wilson (Sam Retford) on to the right path in life

Former Girls Aloud star Kimberley Walsh also appears in this series as Claire, the mother of Steve’s child. Was it nice to work with her?

“She was lovely. She was so good as well. It’s difficult coming on to a series where people have been working with each other before. It’s daunting but she was absolutely brilliant. I didn’t know she had actually been acting since she was a kid, before she was in a band. She was a real sweetheart.”

What were you like at school?

“Me and my friends at school were hardly there! We did all right but I did get into some trouble. I wasn’t the best boy in the world at school.”

Ackley Bridge continues on Tuesdays at 8pm on Channel 4.