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Hooray for Hollyoaks; One's sexy and one's a bit mad - meet Dannielle Brent and Natalie Casey, the girls who make TV's hottest soap tick.

THE clothes rail is brimming with skimpy tops - few of which Dannielle Brent can wear.

When I say `can', I mean allowed. Brent has a great figure. Everyone agrees. Her on-screen character, Hollyoaks lesbian Gina Patrick, doesn't do her justice - all lip studs and scraped back hair.

But when she walks out of her dressing room, her chest heaving over the top of a flimsy dress, the press officer puts her foot down.

We gather round Brent to assess the problem. We want sexy. The press officer wants safe. Brent's co- star, Natalie Casey, is simply jealous.

The press officer concludes it is more than her job is worth to allow revealing shots of any of the Channel 4 soap's young stars to be taken.

Even the men's mags had to agree to give Mersey TV picture approval before they splashed pictures of a knicker- clad Brent across their glossy pages, she points out.

So we compromise. Brent gets to wear the dress (which everyone wants to buy), but the photographer must play it safe (no cleavage shots). The stereo is switched back on, and the shoot continues.

Brent and Casey, who plays Carol Groves, jig up and down in their matching dresses. Boy band 5ive are singing out from the stereo, and Brent knows all the words.

Which is not surprising really. Just endearing. Abs, real name Richard Breen, is one fifth of 5ive. He is also Brent's boyfriend of two- and-a-half years.

She says she met Abi (her pet name for him) at the Italia Conti stage school in London. When she landed a job on Hollyoaks, he landed a job in 5ive. They see each other when they can, or when work allows. No pressure. No ties.

"Weekends I go home to central London, and Abi comes up here when I'm working," she confides. "But at the end of the day, Hollyoaks is my job. I would never give it up because I didn't get to see Abi."

When they do see each other he teaches her 5ive's dance routines. Hence the jigging up and down. She, in turn, lets him help her practice her lines.

"Whenever I'm doing my lines he acts out the other parts. He puts on all these silly voices," she says.

And when her character enjoys passionate clinches with her on-screen lesbian lover, Emily Taylor, he is "very understanding".

"Even if I had to kiss boys in the soap, he wouldn't be really bothered," she says.

I ask whether she fancied herself as the Chester-based soap's Anna Friel, the first British soap star to snog her female friend. Her celebrated clinch with Holby City's Nicole Stephenson has done nobody any harm.

"At least it gets people's attention - you're not likely to be forgotten," she agrees.

And it's not as if she will get typecast as a lesbian: "It's not as big a deal as when Anna Friel kissed a girl in Brookside. That was something new."

Her fan mail hasn't stopped since Gina came out of the closet and Brent snogged her real- life best friend, Lorna Pegler on-screen.

But she takes it all in her stride. For two months Brent and Pegler planned `the kiss', and how to tackle the lesbian storyline.

"It used to be boys writing to me, but now it's women as well. I've had a few saying: "If you stop going out with her, will you go out with me?'," she says. "But I still get the odd guy writing to me and saying: `I loved that lesbian kiss'."

Brent originally auditioned for the part of Kate Patrick, the Patrick family's most dysfunctional member. And still thinks she's much more like Kate than Gina. Still, "it turned out quite well", she says. "Kate Patrick ended up having to leave. It turned out quite a lot better for me." She is not fazed when the public think she is either Gina or a lesbian.

"When you are in a soap a lot of people take it as real life. They think to play that person you have to be that way inclined."

Natalie Casey agrees. Her boyfriend, Jason Kavanagh, played Nikki Shadwick's rapist, Luke Musgrove, in Brookside. And he's still paying the price.

"Luke's nothing like Jason," she pleads. "But, because of the storyline he had in Brookside, people think he is the same as his character.

"People forget you can get hurt because you are a public face . He's sensitive to it all and gets very upset."

She, of course, sticks up for him: "I end up having to shout at them. I'm like a little Yorkshire terrier, saying: `It's not real!' "

Casey is Carol. Carol is Casey. As you see, I am having trouble distinguishing between the two. They are both bonkers in the nicest possible way. And never stop talking.

When she is not eating - something she does a lot - or thinking about food - "what will I have for tea tonight? Spaghetti bolognese? Maybe pasta and meat? Maybe meat?" - Casey talks.

She could talk for England. And Scotland. And Wales. And there's nothing you can do but listen.

She is not as sad or as nosey as Carol, she says. But like Carol, Casey, 19, is "the fun one", the one who makes everyone laugh.

She wishes she was "the sexy one". Then doesn't: "I've always been a comedy northerner, which isn't a bad thing. Everybody's here for a purpose, and some people are sophisticated and sexy, but I've always been able to make people laugh. That's my gift. It all makes the world go round."

In between pictures she flits from the crisps to the sausages on sticks, to the mini quiches, to the sandwiches and back to the crisps.

She has been with Jason for a year and-a-half and, contrary to popular belief, she says he is just as mad as her.

They make Lego together and go to the pictures together. He is, she concludes, "just a fella".

"People must think we go home and I get my satin mules on and he reads me Shakespeare. It just so happens that we both have this job which is being on TV."

She has been on Hollyoaks for five years, and wouldn't mind moving on to something like Sunburn, "living in Portugal would be really nice". But like Brent, Casey is biding her time.

"At the moment I'm very happy," she says. "People say school days are the best days of your life, but all I remember about school is saying: `I'll see you in double maths'.

"There are three types of people in this business. Those who want to be recognised, like the RSC; those who want to be famous, and those who want to be rich. Me and a lot of people are a little bit of everything."

These are, she repeats, the best days of her life - even if they (Hollyoaks) do make her wear "costumes" and film in Wales at midnight on a freezing winter's night.

And then she's back on to food, and big bars of chocolate - "the only thing which keeps me going". Where she puts it all is anybody's guess.

Hollyoaks, Mondays and Thursdays, Ch4, 6.30pm; Sunday omnibus, 11.00am- 12.30pm
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Spavin, Vicky
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Mar 18, 2000
Words:1207
Previous Article:Glitter boy in flasher shame.
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