Bad girls, a gay governor and a prospective Tory MP, actor James Gaddas has an interesting manifesto for the voters of Stockton. He tells Steve Pratt why he went into politics.

James Gaddas isn't the first actor with aspirations of becoming a Member of Parliament. He is, however, the first one best known by millions of TV viewers as either gay prison governor Neil Grayling in Bad Girls or the drayman who bedded Natalie Barnes in Coronation Street.

Those with slightly longer memories may even recall his bedside manner as senior registrar Dr Robert Nevin in yet another ITV series, Medics.

And it's just possible that his face will spark nods of recognition among people who saw a stage double act known as the Sean Connery Brotherhood.

As Bad Girls returns to ITV1 screens, Stockton-born Gaddas is busy preparing for his latest role - prospective Parliamentary candidate for Stockton South, one of the key Tory target seats in the next General Election.

He doesn't see any problem swapping his role as governor Neil Grayling in women's prison Larkhall for the House of Commons. The more cynical might say there's not much difference. Others would claim that being on TV gives him an advantage. When he goes canvassing in his hometown, people often know the face - even if they can't put a name to it and children who open the door shout, "Mum, it's the bloke off the telly".

Then again, people who don't like Bad Girls might hold it against him and put their cross elsewhere on the ballot paper.

Interviewing him during a weekend visit to Stockton, discussing the over-the-top tosh that is Bad Girls one minute and the state of the nation the next, does strike you as odd. He makes no excuses for combining acting and politics. Acting, he points out, "is how I put my bread on the table".

As Grayling faces an industrial tribunal, accused of sexual misconduct, the actor will be gearing up for fighting the election.

He finished filming Bad Girls earlier this year and isn't expecting to start work on the next series until November, an arrangement that suits him fine. "It's perfect for me politically because it frees me up to do what I want in that area," says 44-year-old Gaddas.

"My daughter was born when I was doing Coronation Street and my wife came up with her to Manchester but I was in the studio for 12 hours a day and hardly saw my daughter.

"You realise, especially having a baby late, how important family is and how important it is to spend time with them. You have that gap between series where you can spend with your family. I would love to go back to the theatre but the stuff I was being offered was tours which meant 12 weeks away from home."

He did manage an appearance on Stars In Their Eyes, impersonating singer Robert Palmer. Performing live in front of an audience was more terrifying than any acting role, he says.

"My agent rang while I was on the set of Bad Girls and said Stars In Their Eyes were interested in me appearing. It's one of those things that are ten months away when you say 'Yes'. Then it creeps up on you," he says.

"When I was doing the Street at the same studio, we used to see them going to do Stars In Their Eyes and say, 'Why are they doing it? They're mad'. Then I found myself agreeing to do it."

His entry into the political arena was something that crept up on him like Stars In Their Eyes. The turning point was the birth of his daughter four years ago.

"I've already been interested in politics but I was one of those people who tended to moan rather than do anything. After she was born, I thought that if you want to change you have to be prepared to put yourself forward," he explains.

"You set yourself up to be knocked down but at least you can look in the mirror and say, 'I didn't just moan'."

So he joined the party. For him, it was "a Conservative thing - giving power back to people and letting people make choices". He found that a background in politics wasn't essential to stand for Parliament. He went through an assessment before being put on the list of prospective candidates and applying for vacant constituencies.

"Stockton was always the one I wanted," he says. "I'd been up for a couple and not been successful before it came up. I thought, 'This is the one that I want and, if it doesn't come off, I'll go back and just help out'."

The process was not unlike acting auditions as he prepared speeches, answered questions and was interviewed by Tory officials.

He still regards Stockton as home, although he's lived away for the past 20 years since studying at Bristol Old Vic Drama School. His parents still live in the town and are, he says, "over the moon" about his political aspirations. His father had showbiz connections, fighting as a wrestler under the name Earl Warwick. When not in the ring, he was a civil engineer.

Gaddas himself became an actor "by mistake". He'd appeared in plays at Grangefield School, Stockton, and a friend assumed the pair would be going to study drama at Billingham College. In fact, Gaddas was set to go to Stockton Sixth Form College. "I felt so bad that I rang Billingham, auditioned and went on a two-year course there. Twenty years later, I'm still doing it," he says.

He went to study at Bristol when he was 18, then spent a couple of years travelling, returned to theatre work and through "a lucky accident" found himself on the blossoming London stand-up comedy circuit. He appeared at the Comedy Store, alongside the likes of Paul Merton, before formed the Sean Connery Brotherhood with a friend.

"In the end, I left that to concentrate on acting. It was difficult to go for drama work and say you've been doing stand-up comedy," he says.

Waiting for a general election to be called provides breathing space for him to get on doorsteps and meet people in the North-East. "I'm getting a feel for everything. Stockton South is a target seat, we need to get everything in place and up and running," he says.

He already displays a politician's required skill of steering the conversation towards politics. The Tories were his party of choice, although he doubts he'll ever be the archetypal politician as "there are lots of issues around the world on which I wouldn't have what would be perceived as the party line".

He talks about choice and the individual, about being tired of the nanny state, and the man in the street having more common sense than anyone in Parliament. "Originally people went to Parliament to represent constituents. Now it seems to have been taken over by the party machine and it's all about numbers," he says.

"Ultimately, I don't give a damn if people don't agree with me. But if we can engage in conversation and get people interested in politics, that's good when you realise that more people voted in Pop Idol than at the last General Election.

"To me it's about talking to people, which I love. I opened Victoria Park for the residents' association in Thornaby and spent six hours there. I enjoyed myself. We could have left earlier but I like talking to people and knocking on doors.

"I don't have a political background but a very strong belief in what I believe is fair."

To people asking how he's going to fit acting in with being an MP, if he wins the seat, he gives a short answer: "Stop acting". HM Prison Larkhall's longest-serving governor may yet be forced out of office by voters, causing Gaddas to go from prison to Parliament.

* Bad Girls returns to ITV1 tonight at 9pm.