Ellie Genower finds Denise Van Outen in full bloom in deepest Huddersfield...
Denise Van Outen has starred on Broadway, presented a Channel 4 weekend show and appeared in an ITV sitcom.
Not bad for someone who began her career as a weather girl on The Big Breakfast.
But it was still a surprise when the 31- year- old blonde from Essex, famous for her ladette image, announced she was joining the cast of gentle Sunday night ITV1 drama Where The Heart Is.
"It is a completely different thing to what I've done before," agrees Denise. "After doing theatre, I wanted to do more acting - I kind of got a taste for it, and was interested in doing dramas. So when I got the call for Where The Heart Is, I got very excited."
Offered the possibility of doing a soap, rumoured to be EastEnders, at the same time, Denise instead chose the role of single mum Kim Blakeney in the ITV show.
" For the soap, they wanted me to play a 'tart with a heart' type of character and to me, that was a bit predictable. I think people would be expecting to see me do that," she says.
Her role in the series meant that the actress has had to temporarily swap living in swanky Hampstead for a place near Huddersfield, close to the Where The Heart Is set.
It's a far cry from the London party scene and celebrity circuit - Denise found herself back in the gossip columns last year when she split from her boyfriend of three years, nightclub owner Richard Traviss, the man who many expected her to marry.
"I was obviously upset because it's always sad when a relationship ends but you get a bit stronger and so I was fine about it," she says.
"We're still on good terms although I haven't spoken to Richard in a while because it still seems quite recent - we only split up in September.
"But I've got good mates. I crammed in a lot of girlie nights out in that time."
Since then, she's been linked to a string of famous men, including Little Britain star David Walliams and TV personality Chris Evans, although she says there's nothing in the reports.
However, she admits that there is a new man in her life - record exec Ferdie Unger-Hamilton.
"I am dating but I don't want to talk too much about it because it's really early days," she says coyly. "After Christmas, we got to know each other a little bit and then I came up here for Where The Heart Is, so it's all kind of been put to one side but he's good like that.
"There's no pressure in it at all, and he's not in the public eye which is nice."
Last year's break-up wasn't the only turning point for Denise - she also celebrated her 30th birthday.
"It doesn't matter who you are, when you hit these milestones you do sit there and think, 'Where have all the years gone?'" she says. "But in my 20s, I feel I did all the things I really wanted to do. And I felt that all the mistakes and things I wasn't sure about in myself had been settled. I'm kind at ease with myself now."
So does being 30 mean Denise stays in more and goes out less?
"I do a bit of both really. But I'm not one for doing really late nights any more. Three o'clock in the morning is really late for me nowadays. There was a time when I could stay out until six and still look as fresh as a daisy at 11 o'clock the next morning. Can't do that now."
She admits her enviable figure is more down to luck than any special diet or exercise. "My family are all like it - it's genetic," she explains. "I don't really work out or go to the gym. I try to but I get bored."
But the actress confesses she does have hang-ups about her figure. "I'm always conscious of my belly, because I have got a good old little roll going on, but I actually think that's more attractive than having a rock hard stomach and being stick thin," she smiles.
And that also applies to all those skinny Hollywood stars. "They can't be enjoying their life, I'm sorry!" she says, mystified. "How can you be? My greatest indulgence is food. I love it."
Unlike many British stars who've tried their luck in America, Denise isn't that desperate to make her name in the States, preferring to wait for the right project.
"I've had meetings over there but I think if you want to crack America you have to be really dedicated and go and live there," she admits. "You'd have to give it your best shot and give everything up here. And I have quite a nice time over here because I get to do some nice work and I have all my friends."
In fact, since The Big Breakfast, Denise has had her fair share of ups and downs. She made a name for herself in theatreland as murderess Roxie Hart in Chicago, before being chosen by Andrew Lloyd Webber to star in his hit one-woman show Tell Me On A Sunday.
She hopes her stint in Where The Heart Is will be a success. Her character Kim, and her seven-year-old son, make their first appearance in the second episode, on Sunday, where they find it tough to be accepted in the small village community.
"There's some really nice moments going on with the characters, and some fiery ones as well. I don't know if I'll stay for another series though," she admits.
"There's an option for next year so we'll just have to see what the reaction is. That's the thing about this career - you never know what's going to happen."