As Emmerdale's Dave Glover and Dr Patrick Spiller in Casualty, Ian Kelsey has won himself a legion of fans. But, as he tells us, he's just as happy treading the boards.

IAN Kelsey still finds that fans are surprised when he strides out on stage as Billy Flynn in the hit musical Chicago - currently on at Blackpool Opera House as part of a national tour.

And yet the TV favourite is a seasoned musical theatre performer having played lead roles in both Grease and Chicago in the West End.

"Musical theatre is where it all began for me as a youngster in York," said Ian. "I have to be honest and say that the original reason me and a mate joined the local amateur group was for the social life. After all, the boys were outnumbered three to one by the girls.

"But once I'd been in a few shows and found out what great fun it was I was hooked. I'd really recommend it to anyone to have a go at and just have some fun.

"Too many people now are trying to get into the business for the fame but that's not what it is about. The members of the amateur societies are doing it for the enjoyment, which is what it is all about."

Having "got the bug" in productions such as Half a Sixpence and Some Like It Hot, Ian went to drama school before landing a plum role in one of the country's top soaps.

He played the part of Dave Glover for three years from 1993 to 1996. He was in Casualty for a similar length of time.

"It was a difficult decision for me to leave such high profile series," he said. "Part of me thought I'd gone to drama school for three years so I deserved a good job. Before I went into acting I learned to build trains for three years and got a good job as a result.

"But you can get too comfortable. On Emmerdale I found myself doing roughly the same scenes with different people and I knew for me it was time to move on. It can be really scary to give up a role. You have to be brave because it is not guaranteed you will get any work. In TV you do get well paid but you might not work for a couple of years so you need that money just to pay the bills."

Having played Danny in Grease Ian had already proved he could handle a major musical role but he still was under no illusions when he auditioned for Chicago.

"I knew I could do it," he said. "But you can never take anything for granted."

Having got the role of Billy, Ian has played a full season in the West End before embarking on a national tour. The racy production, which tells the story of nightclub singer Roxie Hart, is full of glamour - and scantily-clad actresses.

"It's not a bad gig to get," laughed Ian.

For all its lightness and laughter, this current production is very demanding on its cast.

"It is an incredibly disciplined show," said Ian. "Every move is choreographed, every line, every step is worked out for you. That makes it very restrictive for an actor, which does take some getting used to. It has to be so slick, there is no room for ad-libbing or taking liberties"

After a season in the West End, Ian is happy to be touring with the production.

"The West End is completely different from anywhere else," he said. "Many people who come to the shows are tourists who see it as part of their itinerary. I remember in Grease one night walking out on stage with the music blaring like a rock concert to see the whole of the third row of Japanese tourists fast asleep.

"On a tour you are playing to audiences who have come to see the show, very often having saved up, which makes it a special occasion so you get a great reception."

Chicago is at Blackpool Opera House until tomorrow, details from the box office on 0870 380 1111.