Jeremy Sheffield talks about the agonising end to his ballet career and why he needed time out of Holby City. By Sue Malins.
When Jeremy Sheffield, who plays Holby's sexy surgeon Alex Adams, offers to show you his tattoo, you can't help but get excited. So it's disappointing to discover that not only is it on his calf, but it's made up of intertwined koi carp.
"I'm a bit of a trainspotter when it comes to tropical fish," admits Jeremy, 37. "I've always had an affinity with water. I've sailed, swam and gone scuba-diving. And I love Koi carp. I've kept them since I was a kid. I'm planning a giant aquarium in one wall of the house I'm renovating. People's eyes glaze over when I start on about the fish,, but I could watch them for hours."
He is something of a fish out of water himself, having trained as a professional ballet dancer before a serious injury ended his career and he turned to acting instead. It's something his many female fans will regard as a happy accident, but Jeremy dismisses his heartthrob status.
"All you can do is accept that it comes with the territory and just lie back and enjoy it," he says.
There's a certain amount of irony in his comment given the speculation about his sexual orientation. In the past, he has spoken of a three-year relationship with a woman. But he has also talked to the gay magazine Attitude about the problems of being a gay actor playing a straight character. These days, discussions about his private life are strictly off-limits.
"I don't necessarily have anything to hide," he says. "I just don't need to encourage that kind of information about myself. It makes it harder for an audience to believe in the character you are playing."
Whatever the secrets of his private life, they haven't harmed his image as Holby City's dashing Alex Adams, who recently discovered he has Parkinson's disease. It's a role he came back to in February.
"I decided to take six months out to see what else I could do," he reveals. "I wondered if I was getting stuck after being in Holby for so long and I wanted to see if I was employable elsewhere."
During his time out, Jeremy appeared in Linda Green, an Afternoon Play for the BBC and made Grease Monkeys, the gritty BBC Three series. He has also been working on Hearts of Gold - a forthcoming two-part drama. In it, he plays a married GP who falls in love with a nurse.
It will be the third time Jeremy has played a medic on TV - he was Dr. Thomas in the 1996 series The Governor. He's also been cast as an architect and a lawyer.
"I'm probably destined to play middleclass English professionals for ever," he says. "Not that I'm complaining. I'd love to play a butch Cockney criminal or rough and ready Northerner but, after all, a middleclass Home Countries bloke is what I am."
Born in Kelvedon, Essex, Jeremy's mother was a deputy headmistress and his father was a businessman. At the age of five, he went to ballet lessons simply because a girlfriend went. His talent was soon spotted and five years later he was accepted as a boarded by the Royal Ballet School. At the age of 17, he joined the Royal Ballet Corps but, nine years on, his dancing career came to a sudden, agonising end.
"I was dancing in Cinderella," he says. "I landed on my big toe and broke it. I also ripped the tendon that runs through the ankle and flexes the big toe I needed three operations to shave bits off the tendon. I'd been unhappy at the Royal Ballet for several years, but I was too scared to leave. So when the surgeon said I had so much scar tissue that there wasn't a lot more they could do, it was a relief. He had made the decision for me."
Jeremy turned to acting and appeared on TV on both sides of the Atlantic, making two US TV movies in 1998. A year later, he was cast in Holby City. Now with only months left on his contract, Jeremy, who still has a flat in Miami, dodges any speculation about what he will do next.
"If you are content with your lot you'd never try to do other things," he says. "And there's lost I still want to do."
Whatever he does, it is unlikely he will ever come to terms with being famous.
"Strangers come up and tell me, 'I know who you are'." he says. "But all they really know is what I do. Only my closest friends and family know who I am."