IT’S not the easiest thing to get hold of Santa over Christmas.

“You’ve just caught me, I’m just heading for my sleigh,” laughs Louis Emerick.

In reality he’s in his car on the M62 making his way to the Lowry - his ‘home’ over the festive season where he is starring in Elf: the Musical.

Former Brookside and Benidorm star Louis plays Santa in the show which is based on the hit movie starring Will Ferrell.

And he admits that he had to think hard about playing ‘the guy in the red suit’.

“In a way playing Santa over Christmas is the ultimate part but it gave me a few sleepless nights,” he said.

“Everybody’s idea of Santa is pretty much universal so when I was offered it, I was thinking ‘what could I do with it?’.

“Santa’s not the kind of character you can mess around with and yet you want to give something that’s a little bit different. Ultimately though, you want to be accepted by the children who, let’s face it, are the experts on Santa.”

Packed houses and standing ovations every night have left Louis in no doubts as to the show’s popularity.

“I had a lovely moment the other night,” he said. “There is a part in the show when Santa is worried that no-one believes in him any more and I say that I’m thinking about getting a new job.

“From about three rows back a little girl shouted ‘I believe’. That was just such a magical moment.

“You just think when something like that happens, ‘maybe I am doing something right’.”

When he was offered a role in Elf, Louis got in touch with fellow Liverpudlian Joe McGann.

“I knew Joe had been in the show in the West End and I wanted to get his opinion,” he said.

“He just said it was a magical show and that he was going to be in it at the Lowry - the third time he’d been in the show.”

“He’s right. It is a magical show. It’s something I’ve never been involved in in 30 years of being in this business.

“I think it feels special to all of us. I’d spend a lot of time in rehearsals just watching and marvelling.”

Elf is the story of Buddy, played by Ben Forster, who as a baby crawls into Santa’s sack and then grows up at the North Pole believing he’s an Elf. As he grows up he finds out the truth and heads to New York to find his real dad - the part played by Joe McGann.

“Ben is amazing,” said Louis. “In less skilled hands it could be a bit cringey, a grown man playing Buddy, but he’s part of the reason I found it easier to play Santa than I thought I would because I totally believe in him. He plays the part with a truth and innocence every night.”

The show also stars Atomic Kitten singer Liz McClarnon as Jovie who Buddy falls in love with.

“Liz and I did Celebrity Masterchef together in 2008 so I got to know here a bit them.” said Louis.

“But I’d never seen her in a theatre show before. But working with her on this show has only added to the respect which I already had for her - even though she did beat me on Masterchef!”

As well as playing Santa, Louis has a second role on the show, Grinch-like publishing boss Mr Greenway.

“I’m unashamedly borrowing from Samuel L Jackson or Eddie Murphy for the accent but hey, why not?” he said. “It’s a nice contrast to Santa. I get to play two lovely parts.

“I have heard that some people have asked why Greenway doesn’t take a bow at the end of the show so they clearly didn’t realise that I was playing two roles,” said Louis.

“I got booed off as Greenway the other night. As an actor you don’t normally want to b e booed but this was great as it showed how much the youngsters believed me.”

Being at the Lowry over Christmas means that Louis can spend time at home with his family over Christmas - he has two children - Rio, nine, and Sienna, six.

“I was touring for three years on and off with the Full Monty and it can be hard being away from the family, particularly at Christmas, so this is going to be great,” he said.

“I’ve had to tell the kids that I’m not the real Santa but I’m doing this job because he will be busy over Christmas.”

Elf has been filmed and was broadcast on Channel on Christmas Day.

“We were able to sit down as a family and watch it which was really special,” said Louis.

“It’s a great show - it has that beautiful feelgood thing which you can’t put a price on.

“It’s not just for children it’s the whole family who enjoy it.

“Being in Elf will certainly stay with me for a long, long time. It’s in my top two in terms of jobs I’ve done and it may even be my number one.

“I always enjoy my job but this is stand-out in terms of how I feel about it.”

Elf: the Musical, the Lowry, Salford Quays, until Sunday, January 14. Details from 0843 208 6005 or