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I needed to get my teeth into something; Emma Pomfret meets the former actor who's swapped the fantasy land of Footballers' Wives for reality in the NHS.

Byline: Emma Pomfret

ONE are the peroxide blonde highlights and loose women of Footballers' Wives' Conrad Gates in favour of sharp suits and an even sharper tongue, as actor Ben Price joins the medics on BBC One's Casualty ward.

"I left Footballers' Wives because I'd done enough of Conrad - in fact I was more than happy to be shot by Bruno because I didn't want to end up being typecast," grins Ben.

"You know I've been on screen without any clothes on so much, I don't think there was much more that I could have taken off to be honest.

"I've had fun but I wanted to move on and Casualty is a very different kind of drama - it's much more rooted in reality whereas Footballers' Wives is complete fantasy land.

"It's a bit like the British version of Dallas, I suppose - but I can safely say that I definitely won't be coming back in the shower like Bobby Ewing," he laughs.

In fact, Ben says that he was particularly delighted to be offered the part of Nathan Spencer - the department's new Corporate Director and the bane of Harry Harper's life - because he is the absolute antithesis of Conrad Gates.

"I needed to get my teeth into something juicy after Footballer's Wives and Nathan is very management-driven.

Basically he's a workaholic and he's quite dour and straight-laced," explains the 34-year-old actor, who has also appeared in Soldier Soldier, Peak Practice, and Wire In The Blood. "There really is no trace of Conrad in him at all, he's as far away from him as you can get. Conrad had an inordinate amount of arrogance, he was very aware of his talent and his looks, but Nathan's not arrogant even though he may come across that way at times.

"He's just really direct and he knows he's damn good at his job because, being a former banker and restaurant manager, he's done very well in management before - although the NHS is a completely different ball game of course."

Indeed, Nathan is a seriously smooth operator who is used to getting results, Ben says. In his very first episode he ruffles a lot of feathers when he insists on installing a waiting list system.

"Nathan is bit of a loner and he's certainly not there to make friends, he's there to push the hospital into the 21st century - much to the distress of the rest of the staff," laughs the Newcastle-born actor.

And straight away he finds he's ruffling feathers, he adds. Casualty stalwart Harry is far from impressed by Nathan's iron-fisted management techniques.

"He really shakes things up and stamps his authority pretty much straight away. In fact, he and Harry have a huge locking ofhorns in almost the first scene." In fact, from the chaos of the front desk to the emotions of the Casualty consulting rooms, Ben admits that Nathan doesn't really fit in anywhere on the wards. He simply sees his job as conveying the other side of the NHS which is all about strict management meetings and tight budget controls.

"Medically Nathan doesn't care. Regardless of injury or diagnosis he just wants the hospital patients to be treated as efficiently as possible, and that's that.

"Deep down Nathan knows that Harry is a very good doctor but he also thinks that he's a bit of a dinosaur - and that age-old image of doctors and consultants fluffing their way through things just isn't going to wash with someone like Nathan.

"I think he also suspects that certain nurses aren't really pulling their weight which obviously makes matters even worse," Ben smiles.

And it's not just Nathan's distinct lack of popularity in the department which is a cause for concern for Casualty's newest recruit.

Whereas soccer star Conrad was a huge hit with every woman that happened to have the bad - or good - luck to cross his path in Footballer's Wives, Nathan is not exactly your typical social butterfly"Nathan is not great in social situations - he's not very good with women and with emotions - God he's not even very good with his Mum when she comes into the hospital for treatment."

"He'd make pretty poor boyfriend material to be frank," Ben grins.

"He would take a girl out to the best restaurants and he'd really look after her but emotionally he doesn't like to let too much go.

That's another way in which he is very different to Conrad.

"Conrad was quite out there with his emotions and he really didn't care who knew it but Nathan is really quite shy."

But shy or not, after a couple of gruelling weeks in the Casualty department even Nathan decides that he needs a little more excitement in his life than the endless rounds of balance sheets and management meetings.

"He keeps his professional and personal life completely separate - until he asks out Selena out on a date that is," Ben smirks.

"He even has a go at Harry, saying that he shouldn't be having any dalliances with the staff, and then he goes straight out and does the same himself so he has some double standards to say the least."

However, despite poor Nathan's initial difficulties settling into his new job, Ben himself had no such concernswhen he joined the regular cast of Britain's longest-running medical drama.

"It's really nice to play a character like Nathan because every time I read a scene he really packs a punch. And it helps that everyone who I work with is so lovely," he reveals.

"They're such an established cast and you can really see why the show has been prime-time for the last 20 years. They're a tight-knit family and they really have something special going on," he says.

"I get on particularly well with Simon Mac Corkindale, who plays Harry. He's a great bloke, and we have a real laugh and then get to have a real go at each other when we're filming."

And filming scenes with Harry and the rest of the Casualty cast is certainly something that Ben will be doing a lot of between now and Christmas, especially since they don't finish shooting the show until Christmas Eve.

"Then I'll be driving up to Newcastle to see my parents with my wife," says Ben.

"We'll just have a bit of a family Christmas and it'll be really quiet. I don't get to go back home that much so I can't wait to see my family and my mates and really get to relax."

p BEN PRICE joins Casualty on BBC One from Saturday, December 10

CAPTION(S):

Ben Price as NHS manager Nathan Spencer, in Casualty, and with the cast of Footballers' Wives; Ben with Footballers' Wives costars Sarah Barrand (Shannon Lawson) and Jamie Davies (Harley Lawson) at an awards ceremony and, left , onset as Earls Park's star player and captain Conrad Gates, with Ben Richards, who plays Bruno Milligan
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Dec 3, 2005
Words:1153
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