JOE McFadden doesn’t like to dance too close to journalists.

The actor may have held onto Katya Jones like his life depended upon it on the way to winning Strictly in 2017, but the Glaswegian has always been guarded with the media – not one to trot out his innermost thoughts.

But we want to know about Joe. We want to know about the impact of reality TV fame on his acting career. We want to know more about his past, the school years, how he never set his heart on acting, yet has thrived in an industry that is as dismissive as Craig Revel-Horwood.

We’re in his dressing room at the Manchester Opera House where he’s touring with the Peter James ghost story House On Cold Hill. McFadden plays the web designer dad who moves his family into a dilapidated old house with more secrets than Victoria. The Wednesday matinee is over and he is still buzzing as he serves up green tea and those less healthy, (but lovely) M&S chocolatey bits that are sold by the bucket.

The actor doesn’t quite look as young as he did when he starred in Take The High Road back in the 1980s but at 42 still has the eyelashes and boyish smile that helped land the heartthrob roles in the likes of Holby and Heartbeat.

Yet, is he up for a close dance? His character Olly is ghostie disbeliever. Is he? “I’m sort of agnostic,” he says, “although I used to go to a spiritualist church back in Glasgow when I was much younger. I didn’t really gain much insight, although one woman once revealed I was an actor. Interestingly, I was appearing in Take The High Road at the time.”

McFadden found himself acting after a drama teacher at Holyrood Secondary in Glasgow suggested the then 12-year-old apply for a TV role in Taggart. Had he loved those drama classes? “I really did,” he says, grinning. “It’s the classic story of shy kids who like to perform, to come out of their shell. Most actors are introverts.”

Was he bullied by the Neanderthals who reckoned drama to be sissy? “Yes, it was tough. I was seen as ‘the Wee Actor Guy’ and I got picked on, just as the Wee Ginger Guy in the school did.”

How did he deal with it? “Well, my friend Celia says her enduring memory of me is of being a very fast runner. I had this spider sense so if there was danger around I would take off.” He adds: “But at least I had my wee acting gang, and we’d do musicals and plays together. It wasn’t all bad.”

Aged 15 he was enlisted into High Road where he learned the craft of acting. But six years on he walked away. “It was a mental thing to do, I guess,” he says, with a wry smile. “The show was still successful. But I wanted to go away, to London, and see who I was . . . if that doesn’t sound too weird.”

It doesn’t, Joe. “But by this time I’d had also appeared in The Crow Road, and the film Small Faces so I’d had a taste of other things.”

Did he miss out not going to drama college? “Not really, although I had an inferiority complex until I did theatre. I worried about what students had learned for three years. But then you realise every actor makes it up as they go along.”

He grins: “I’ve since done the voice and singing lessons. And I’ve learned that a good script and a good director is half the battle.”

There’s a sense we’re dancing closer now. We go on to talk about the London experience. It all worked out, landing a movie, Dad Savage and some great theatre such as Rent. Along the way McFadden reveals a character insight; he wants to improve continually. On his days off from theatre work he actually goes to theatre, to watch, to learn. But if developing as an actor is so important, why do Strictly? Was there a fear of losing credibility? “Of course,” he agrees. “That’s why I asked my agent, lots of actors and friends, and the overriding feeling was life’s too short, and I should give it a go.”

Despite picking up the glitter ball the phone didn’t ring off the hook with job offers. “It rang, but not with things I wanted to do.” What were you offered, Joe? “I’m not saying,” he says, smiling. Come on, mate. Dance with me a little. “OK, I was offered pretty much every reality show around. Like Celebrity SAS. But I thought Boot Camp? That looks like a nightmare.” His voice goes up a tone. “Why would I want to do that?’ And I don’t want to be a celebrity. Since then it’s been waiting for the right thing to come along. Which is what happened with this. (House on Cold Hill). And we’ve got Priscilla in the Autumn.”

Yes, Priscilla. Joe McFadden is set to become one of the Queens of the Desert, playing drag queen Tick, and it’s a brilliant role (although he knows the killer heels will kill him.) Yet a generation ago lots of actors would have shied away from cross-dressing roles.

“Would they?” he queries. Yes, Joe. “Well, I loved the film and I think the musical is even better. These characters are out there, and fantastic, and the show is still so relevant, we’re still fighting the trans issue today, and the idea of gay people having children.”

He adds: “The idea of playing nice Scottish guys would be hard for me.” He doesn’t want to be seen as a Joe McFadden. Thankfully, over the years casting directors have seen his potential to be mean and moody (TV drama Sex, Chips and Rock n’Roll) rotten through and through (mini-series The Glass, 2001) and appear darker than a provincial theatre in August (Entertaining Mr Sloane). But how far would he go to play the really interesting characters. Would he step down into small theatres for £400 a week? “Of course, if the script was good, ” he maintains. “Because getting on stage is great for an actor, especially when you’ve worked on a show like Holby for four years. In TV you can get a bit lazy, and feel ‘I could be doing this in my sleep.’ You need to challenge yourself and to feel the fear.”

We’re jiving now. What of personal life. Joe? We talk of his home in Highgate Village in North London, living a few hundred yards away from luminaries such as Annie Lennox, Stanley Baxter, Sting . . . “I bought the flat from a make-up artist when I worked on Rent,” he says of the 1998 run. “It was the first flat I looked at and it’s been great.”

Still single? “Yip.” What’s wrong, Joe. You’ve got the eyelashes. The charm. “Not talking about it,” he says smiling. And I can’t blame him. Spill the beans and life can go a bit Strictly all too soon.

But he adds: “I’m happy and I’m on my own and that means you can do what you want. In a relationship everything has to be paid for.”

He grins: “I wasn’t going to talk about this.” But now that you are . . . “Well, it’s difficult to be in this job and have a relationship. You are on tour. It’s much easier suiting yourself. And relationships will come about when they’re supposed to, won’t they?”

Joe McFadden seems happier than he’s ever been, excited by life ahead. Despite being single, he seems to be feeling the love more than ever. And after all, that’s why actors become actors. “Doesn’t everyone want to be loved?” Yes, but not to the extent actors do. “You’re saying actors are more needy?” Yes. He laughs hard. “Well, maybe. But I think this work is a vocation. You need to do it. I’m not sure it’s about a need to be loved.”

He adds: “For my part, I couldn’t do anything else. I don’t have other options. And hopefully, I’ll act for the rest of my life.”

He doesn’t wish to find out if that will be the case. “I didn’t go back to a spiritualist because I don’t want to know what’s in store.”

This hasn’t been an Argentine Tango but it’s close to American Smooth. “Look, I’m happy. Very happy. I’m not a moaning actor. And while this is an unusual way to earn a living it’s brilliant.”

The House on Cold Hill, The Theatre Royal, Glasgow, May 28 – June 1.