Bang! There it is,'' says Max Beesley, jolting the table with a stab of his finger, pointing at something I can't see. Seconds later, and he's off again, like a hyperactive toddler after too many E numbers: ''Bang. There, you see? Bang.'' Stab. ''Bang.'' Stab. ''Bang.''

This strange percussive scene is unfolding at arm's length from me, as Beesley concludes the interview before ours. The journalist smiles weakly through the noisy outburst, they say farewell and then she nips over to me, whispering that no, he won't talk about his relationship with Mel B. ''And I tried everything,'' she says, through pursed lips, ''everything.''

This is what the table-banging was all about. Beesley, looking through his press cuttings, was pointing out that every article mentions his two-year relationship with the former Spice Girl. Although it is now strongly rumoured to have ended, with Beesley now in LA, and Mel B reportedly heading off to Brazil, he refuses to confirm or deny the split.

Given the stories that have appeared in the tabloids about him, you wouldn't know Beesley had had any role other than that of celebrity boyfriend. The broadsheets will mention the 31-year-old's acting, most likely the lead role in a 1997 BBC adaptation of Tom Jones, but only in passing. Nothing in his career since then -

a handful of films including the hardly sparkling Glitter, starring Mariah Carey, and described

by one critic as having ''all the vroom of a milkfloat'' - has come close to eclipsing the subject of his Spicy liaison as far as the press are


Whether the relationship is over now or not, that leaves Beesley with a problem, but he intends to remedy this, and fast. This month sees his second television role, co-starring with Anna Friel in Fields of Gold, a hard-hitting drama about GM crop trials, scripted by Irish writer Ronan Bennett and The Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger. He also appears in Hotel, the Mike Figgis film that opened last month to wildly mixed reviews.

His trip to LA is his boldest move yet; an attempt to find more fame, more fortune and headlines that don't mention famous girlfriends before they mention his day job. He is staying a while with Lucy Liu, whom he met on the set of Hotel. The actor is refreshingly down to earth about the machinations of the US film industry, and says he'll stay out there only for as long as it makes sense ''as a business proposition''.

''My thinking is, if there's good work out there, do it. If there isn't, come home - don't stay there chasing a dream, going to endless meetings that don't go anywhere. This is how it works: the first two meetings, they just register you. The third, they say, 'he's okay'. The fourth they say, 'let's see some of his work'. The fifth meeting, they say, 'we've just seen some of his work', and then at the sixth they say 'great'.''

Beesley says all this with characteristic Mancunian vigour and plain speaking. Originally from Burnage, the same Manchester suburb as Liam and Noel Gallagher, his is a curious mix of the two brothers' styles. He has all the swagger and self-confidence of Liam, referring to various women as ''birds'' or ''babes'', as he works his way through plenty of wine (most celebrities these days won't even do caffeine in front of journalists). Yet he seems, at least, to have a genuine, sensitive side, and a seriousness where work is concerned, talking about his ''craft'' and the moment he knew he wanted to act.

The roots of this mix aren't hard to fathom. He grew up in a musical household - his father a jazz musician, his mother a jazz singer - so life at home was bohemian, if poor. It was also, he makes it clear, principled and political. He's called Maxton after James Maxton, the Red Clydeside leader (''let's form a union and not take any s**t from anyone'' is how Beesley sums up Maxton's politics). His middle name Gig, after the actor Gig Young, must have suggested acting as a career, I say, long before the life-changing moment, in 1995, when Beesley got Raging Bull out on video and, watching Robert De Niro, decided that he wanted to be an actor.

''When I was growing up, watching films was always my escape,'' he says. ''If I was sad or lonely, and when I'd been arguing with someone or when I had no money - I used to rob my mum's purse sometimes and they'd never be anything in it, maybe 12 pence or something - films like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or Oliver were pure escapism from it all.''

But before acting, Beesley's way out of Burnage, just like the Gallagher brothers, was music. A classically trained percussionist, he studied at Manchester's Chetham's School of Music, winning a scholarship to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London at 18. After ten months of study, he dropped out to work as a session musician, touring with Take That, Paul Weller, Aretha Franklin and George Michael, earning a good living and seeing the world. But acting was what he wanted to do, and so Beesley went to New York in 1996, training as an actor in intense one-to-one sessions over several months. Returning to the UK, it took more than a year for him to secure his first role, as Tom Jones.

Much to his chagrin, most of the questions he is asked by journalists don't focus on the journey he has made since then in terms of his career, but on the twists and turns that his love life has taken. He dislikes this attention and argues the media intrusion has been a constant battle for him and Mel B, but you get the feeling that it's also to do with his self-respect, his ego; a simple desire to be asked about himself.

''I've spent 15 years working and then two years ago I met Mel and the press changed how they talked about me,'' he says. ''I went from being someone with artistic credentials to Mr Spice and it's really demoralising. It doesn't detract from the relationship to say that, but it is really infuriating. It's the same with Guy Ritchie and Madonna; you never get an interview with him just as a film director.''

Beesley had a certain profile as a celebrity boyfriend even before he got together with Mel B, having dated singer Mica Paris, actress Carmen Ejogo, who left him for Tricky and television presenter Melanie Sykes, who very publicly ended their relationship by seeing in the new Millennium with Chris Evans in Tenerife instead of going on a luxury holiday with Beesley. If speculation is correct, and the fiery, on-off relationship between him and Mel B has ended at her instigation, this third dumping will doubtless prove further irresistible fodder for the tabloids. Maybe he should seek out girlfriends who aren't famous.

''If you fall in love with someone,'' he replies, ''it doesn't matter who they are. I've had lots of girlfriends who weren't in the public eye. It is hard, all the intrusion: you have a row with someone and even though you've sorted everything out, you get the are-they-going-to-split headlines for the next ten days. If I courted the press and sold my soul to the media devil, fair enough, but I don't. I know plenty of people who do, who get their holidays paid for and in return have their photographs taken on the beach, but not me.''

What makes things worse for Beesley is that some of the tabloid attention he does get in his own right is stingingly unfriendly, following a spat with one of the Mirror's 3am Girls after they'd had cruel fun with the more lacklustre aspects of Mel B's career post-Spice Girls. For much of the interview he's mellow and friendly, flirtatious and tactile; there is a lot of eye contact and touching my arm. When he is talking about the feud, though, he is angry and resentful, and he sees me, as a journalist, as part of the


''I made the mistake of saying something to a particular journalist about what she'd been writing. If she was a guy, I'd have battered him all over the room but instead, I battered her verbally, saying that as a black woman she should do more to represent other black people'' - he means Mel B, of course - ''I knew immediately I shouldn't have done it, but I'd sat by while she'd written terrible things about my bird. Every day following that they battered me back in print, calling me a womaniser, saying I'd been with hookers, that I was an arsehole on set, that I was flatulent, had bad breath, everything.''

After he's got this rant out of his system, Beesley returns to being flamboyantly charismatic, ordering more wine, swapping jokes with his half-brother Jason who's waiting for him (Jason has had his own tabloid profile of late, following a brief fling with Meg Matthews), jumping up to play the piano in the bar, and just as happy to talk about a cookery course he and Mel went on, as he is to tell me about the research he undertook for his part in Fields of Gold.

In the new drama, Beesley plays a young farmer who talks his father into hosting GM crop trials on their land, believing that the project will be for the greater good. Soon he realises that the company behind the trial are solely interested in profit and so he corrupts the trial, with tragic consequences. To prepare for the role, Beesley spent a week working on a farm near Stoke-On-Trent, a period he describes as ''full on''.

''I milked the cows, did some combine-

harvesting, baling and pig farming. The farmers seemed quite surprised at how practical I was, but I think that's down to my Burnage roots - it's a lovely place, great spirit, salt of the earth, but you have to graft to survive, know what I mean? The farmer probably thought he was getting Hugh Grant for a few days.''

Beesley's practicality also extends into other areas, like the kitchen. He talks about food at length, naming his favourite restaurants,

recommending a family-run Italian place that he likes to visit after a stint in Harvey Nicks, and describes dishes he cooked on his cookery course in such detail that my stomach starts to rumble.

''I got the chef on the first day and told him I wanted to make the chicken with truffle Armagnac and pig's bladder. They brought out these bladders and they did smell a bit, well, of wee.'' I note that Beesley pronounces Armagnac as ''Armaniac'', a deliciously well-dressed error.

Ask him what he hopes for in the next few years, and the actor talks about looking after his family, maybe buying some property, having children of his own (he refers to Mel B's

daughter, Phoenix Chi, as his step-daughter). What he'd like, though, is some serious success, the role that makes him a household name as

an actor.

''If things turn golden with the acting, if that's my karma, then that would be brilliant but everything so far has been amazing - getting the music scholarship, working with great bands, then switching to acting. I've had a fantastic life so far; I'm lucky. I'd like the great role that changes everything, but at the moment what's important is being happy in myself. Because the business can be so fickle, that's really important.''

That's why, he says, he and Mel have tried to live as normal a life as possible. They haven't had security when they've been out, unless it's been a major event such as an awards ceremony, even though both have been victims of stalking. As well as not talking freebie holidays in return

for publicity, they've travelled alone. ''No PAs, no help, nothing,'' he says. ''It's just me, the

missus and my step-daughter, otherwise you imprison yourself.

''When I was working with Mariah Carey, I pulled her up on having so much security, 24 hours a day. I said, 'babe, what's that all about?' and she looked at me and said, 'John Lennon, that's what it's about'.''

I'm just about to snigger at the idea of Carey putting herself in the same breath as Lennon, when Beesley adds that he is good friends with Julian Lennon.

I begin to ask why he calls Mel B the ''missus'' and whether this means something more significant than him being a cheeky, or sexist 'er indoors kind of guy. He dodges the question, naturally, and also refuses to comment on

stories about having spent (pounds) 29,000 on a commitment ring for her. And Beesley does, I see, sport something impressive and diamond-studded himself on his wedding finger, but would naturally find it intrusive to talk about it.

Some time after we meet, I try again to glean more information about the rumoured split via his agent, but I'm told Beesley won't comment on his private life. But with he and Mel B in

different countries, relations between them look anything but cosy. They haven't been seen together in public since early March.

After thoroughly dodging the specifics of his love life, he talks generally about fame (''the only thing it buys you is grief,'' he says, with feeling, ''and maybe a table at a restaurant that you couldn't otherwise have had''), and then without prompting, Beesley begins to talk movingly about his mother. ''I used to say I was doing it all for her when she was alive.'' He seems upset, momentarily close to tears, and this all feels so much more intrusive than any question I might have asked about Mel B, so I keep quiet.

''But truthfully, I was doing it for my ego and for the money. Now though, with her gone, I really am. Patricia Jean Christine Marlowe,'' he says, savouring each part of her name, ''even though we never had much, she always looked after me. Diamond.''

I don't get a chance to ask the details, as he's made a quick return to liveliness and darts off

to talk to his brother, who tells us a hilarious

and unprintable anecdote about a stripper

and a tie. Beesley drums on a table, plays a few more tunes on the piano and then it's time to

go. He kisses my hand and disappears. I call

a friend and tell her than Max Beesley has

just kissed me.''Oh he goes out with what's her face, doesn't he?'' she says, ''the Scary one.''

I almost say ''bang'' on the Burnage boy's

behalf. n

Fields of Gold starts on BBC1 in June