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From Wags to stitches.

HOLBY City could easily be mistaken for a real working hospital. If the avid viewers who write in asking to be treated there are anything to go by, it often is.

Save for one crucial difference - the impossibly good-looking staff.

It's a fact not lost on former Footballers' Wives star and latest Holby recruit Laila Rouass, who makes her debut as surgeon Sahira Shah on February 15.

And given Holby's propensity for love triangles, it shouldn't be too long before she gets to enjoy a few romantic entanglements.

"Ooh, I hope so because there are some really dishy guys," laughs Laila, 39.

"I was just thinking on set, 'I could kiss you, and you', so I hope there's some romance. I mean, Sahira's married but that's never stopped anyone."

Aside from causing a stir with certain members of the male staff, suspicions are expected to grow over Sahira's history with consultant general surgeon Henrik Hanssen (Guy Henry) - and then there's fellow surgeon Jac Naylor (Rosie Marcel).

Jac's been striving to attain the role of top dog on Darwin Ward but looks set to be overshadowed by Sahira.

"They're both very competitive and focused and both want the same outcome but they do it in different ways and have different approaches to their job," explains Laila.

"I think they've got a lot of respect for one another as both are very good at what they do, they're exceptional, but you've also got the catty comments, which gives it a fun element."

It was shortly after Laila finished filming ITV1's Primeval that her agent asked what she'd like to do next.

"I remember saying the only good show I would actually sign up to do on a long-term basis is Holby City," she says. "It's so understated in the most positive sense."

But she says it was crucial that she really loved her character before she signed on the dotted line.

"You're going to be playing her for such a long time and if you don't like her or can't get 'into her', then you're stuck with it and that's what I found scary."

In Sahira, she hopes they've created someone viewers can relate to and identify with.

"She's juggling lots of things, career and motherhood, and sometimes she gets it right and sometimes she gets it wrong and I think it's a reflection on what millions of women are going through now," she says.

Laila herself is mother to a four-year-old daughter, Inez. She has since split from the girl's father, Nasa Khan, and is dating chef James Petrie, head of food development for Heston Blumenthal.

The 12-hour days on Holby have been tough but Laila feels there have been advantages for her daughter.

"It's great for Inez to be out there and have her independence because it's just the two of us, so it's nice for her to be at nursery more and spend more time with my family and her friends," she says.

"I think she's gained a lot from it but the time we do have together is fantastic." And it's Inez she has to thank for keeping her in shape. "I keep saying I've got to go the gym; every New Year that's my thing and it never happens. But when you've got a child who's so active, you keep running around."

In fact, Laila says she's pretty low maintenance - bar a Botox attempt six years ago. "Everyone else was doing it so I thought I'd try but I looked demented. My mum thought I'd had my ears pinned," she laughs.

Born in London to Moroccan parents, Laila says she always knew she wanted to be in the entertainment industry.

"My aunt was a dancer and the choreographer for Soul II Soul and I used to follow her around because I liked the drama and glamour of it all," she recalls.

She attended the London-based Lee Strasbourg Theatre and Film Institute but left after a few months.

She moved to India to do a spot of TV presenting and was offered a couple of films before returning to the UK.

Laila says she's still recognised from TV drama Family Affairs, which she appeared in 10 years ago, although most people will forever associate her with her Footballers' Wives alter ego Amber Gates.

"Footballers' Wives was so OTT and glamorous, but I've enjoyed doing completely different things since," she says.

Aside from Primeval, that's included The Sarah Jane Adventures and Spooks, though her stint on Strictly Come Dancing, in which she was partnered with Anton Du Beke in 2009, marked a brief return to glamour. The pair came fourth and remain in regular contact she says. "He was a dream, a real dream," she says. When they meet up "we have a little twirl wherever we are".

But it's her latest project which has made her mother the happiest, she says. "She's always wanted me to be a doctor and this is the closest she's ever going to get."

. Holby City, BBC One, Tuesday, 8pm
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Feb 12, 2011
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