24/7: Amanda? I Thought It Was All above Board and She Was Free to Have Fun; NEIL MORRISSEY TALKS FOR FIRST TIME ABOUT HIS AFFAIR WITH TV STAR.(Features)

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Byline: POLLY GRAHAM, Showbiz Editor

NEIL Morrissey is visibly squirming as he talks frankly for the first time about his affair with actress Amanda Holden.

Head lowered, the Men Behaving Badly star refuses even to utter her name.

"I never really spoke about it because I couldn't deal with the stuff which was going on and being slung at me. Everything went in the air."

Since Neil's five-week romance with Amanda, the wife of Family Fortunes star Les Dennis, was exposed two years ago he's been rocketed to the status of No.1 adulterer - the king of all love-rats.

"It was so unfair to be involved in some kind of slagging match, which is what it turned out to be," he says, shifting uncomfortably on an armchair in London's trendy members-only club, Soho House.

"I was like, woaah, this is not it at all. It was a bit of fun for a few weeks and it was all over and done with.

"As far as I was concerned it wasn't behind anyone's back."

So you were led to believe that Amanda was no longer with Les when you were seeing each other?

"Yeah, right," Neil, who was single at the time of the affair, confirms, flashing hurt puppy-dog eyes at me. "As far as I was concerned it was all above board."

Les, who wed Amanda seven years ago, would probably beg to differ. The first he knew of the liaison was when pictures of the couple on a romantic weekend in the West Country appeared in a newspaper in May 2000.

The scandal caused Amanda - currently starring in BBC's Cutting It - and Les to split, but they patched up their marriage. Meanwhile Neil was cast as the rotter.

"Everyone regrets any unnecessary hurt it causes, I know I do too, but that's all over and done with now. Amanda and I have no contact at all. I've so moved on."

Moved on Neil has and he is now happily co-habiting with his blonde girlfriend of nearly two years, TV producer Georgina Hurford-Jones.

It is for her sake and "everyone else involved" that Neil is uncomfortable about talking about the fling with Amanda which blossomed when the pair co-starred in TV drama Happy Birthday Shakespeare.

"I wonder why people are so fascinated by all that?" he asks."I suppose it's the same reason people buy Barbara Cartland's books.

"It's also two people at work and where do you meet people?" he shrugs, relaxing at last. "We are all actors and in the industry you become friends.

"The whole thing was brought up in a conversation with a friend of mine the other day.

"They said: 'Your name has become synonymous with adultery.' It is a terrible, terrible thing to be associated with. I haven't had that many girlfriends, Christ almighty. It's just people's perspective of me. There comes a time when I have to say - I'm just not like that.

"I'm not a cheeky charmer in real life. I wouldn't say I was shy but I am not like that and I'm not great at chatting up women."

Neil actually comes across as an extremely likeable and friendly happy-go-lucky chap.

He says: "I don't get out a lot. I'm happiest at home watching telly with a Chinese takeaway.

"That's our evenings, most of our evenings, and I like it like that."

Neil, who in June will star in the new BBC drama serial Paradise Heights - along with The Royle Family's Ralf Little and Where The Heart Is star Pam Ferris - seems genuinely content with Georgina, who he calls Georgie.

"We have just had a nice break for her 30th birthday in Paris," he says. "It's a great relationship. But she doesn't like me talking about it. For anyone suddenly put in the spotlight it's difficult.

"We live together," he said, before adding, strangely "at the moment."

I ask if, as he approaches his 40th birthday, he is at last ready to settle down with Georgina.

"This is crass questioning," he scornfully insists. …