Byline: Christine Smith
SOAP stardom. Many a young actor's dream. Making the grade in the nation's most popular TV serials can earn you fame, fortune and the kind of long-term security few thespians achieve.
But there is a downside.
Just ask Coronation Street's Chris Bisson, whose on-screen character Vikram Desai is at the centre of the show's hottest storyline.
Millions of viewers are gripped by the amorous antics of "Dirty Desai", who has embarked on a clandestine affair with one of his taxi firm's customers, an older married woman, Hazel.
Surely this is the kind of drama performers dream of. Well, yes... to an extent.
While he's enjoying the Street no end, 26-year-old Chris is dismayed at the off-screen results of playing a rotten love rat - he is the number one hate figure among Britain's taxi drivers.
He screws up his handsome features, leans across our lunch table at Manchester's fashionable Lincoln Inn restaurant and - with genuine astonishment - tells me: "It's unbelievable. Cab drivers keep telling me I have made their lives difficult and complicated.
"Their wives are worried they're knocking off another woman too."
And has acting out such scenes of illicit passion made Chris want to "knock off" a married woman in real life?
"No way," he says with conviction, "Vik is foolish and moody, where I hope I am not.
"The great thing about acting is you get to do all the things you would never do in real life. I will never have an affair with a married woman. I mean it."
Pause. "I've just jinxed myself, haven't I?" he declares, "I'm gutted. I should never have said that."
I'm afraid I can't offer the guy too much sympathy. This mess is all his own fault.
Chris, who joined Corrie in January 1999, explains his steamy storyline emerged after he gave ITV bosses an ultimatum: make my character more interesting or I'll quit.
"Vikram was boring me to tears," he says. "He wasn't opinionated and he didn't really fit into the Street.
"I planned to leave. But the scriptwriters came up with this idea and it has been great."
But surely Chris thinks he is lucky, having survived the recent "soap blood bath" which has seen a succession of brutal axings.
He nods. "The cast was too big," he says, "There were so many characters that sometimes you wouldn't be working for five weeks, which can be frustrating.
"Inevitably there were going to be changes. And I understood this."
So he is safe? Can he stay at Corrie as long as he wants now? "Yes, I am signed up until the end of this year," he reveals.
"Morale has wobbled. Where people's livelihoods are at stake, it is bound to.
"But everyone has looked after each other and it is bouncing back."
On Chris' request, we are sitting as far away as possible from the window to avoid the stares of passers-by. He owns at least 10 baseball caps to help disguise himself.
Today he has forgotten to bring one along. And he is not exactly cheaply dressed.
"I am wearing a Nigel Hall jumper, Valentino jeans and Nicole Farhi boots," says a man who evidently loves his labels.
"All these trappings come with the job," he chuckles.
Self-confessed Man United fanatic Chris lives alone in a converted barn just outside Manchester, drives a flash car and loves hanging out with his mates. He goes to lots of parties.
"They call me 'the Corrie ambassador'," he says. "Because I go to events, project a good image and talk to the right people.
"But when everyone has gone I get drunk in the bar!"
I inform Chris he comes across as a typical lad. He agrees. "I am only 26 and I haven't hadn't had a serious girlfriend for nearly a year," he says. "I don't mind."
"Well sometimes I do," he says on reflection. "The grass is always greener, isn't it? …