Even if he were not familiar from three hugely popular television series, actor Stephen Tompkinson would probably still turn a few heads. It is not that he is drop-dead gorgeous, like vintage Mel Gibson or Steve McQueen, it is more a question of dress.

Even in cosmopolitan Edinburgh, green pinstripe velvet suits remain the exception rather than the rule, particularly when complemented by a lime green shirt, heavy crucifix, and purple cuff-links.

It might not be to everyone's taste, but clothes have led to personal happiness for the star of Drop the Dead Donkey, Bally-kissangel, and Grafters.

It was while visiting his tailor last year that Tompkinson met Aberdonian Nicci Taylor. He had recently split from his Bally-kissangel co-star, Dervla Kirwan, and Taylor was working in the shop at the time. Now they are expecting a baby in November and plan to marry next year.

A lot of stars are reluctant to discuss their personal lives - Tompkinson happily discusses the joy of seeing his baby's scan and reveals they have already chosen a name: Daisy Ellen. Most stars do not drink alcohol during interviews these days - Tompkinson downs a couple of pints of Guinness. Most stars dress conservatively chic - no other star, in the history of celebrity interviews, has turned up in a green pinstripe velvet suit and purple cuff-links. In a world of hype and pretentiousness, prima donnas and prats, Tompkinson comes across as one of the lads. Retaining the voice of a Lancashire lad, he seems to enjoy the experience of the interview and exhibits a fine sense of self-deprecating humour and honesty.

Ballykissangel made him one of the most familiar faces on British television, but it was no star vehicle - he was the last actor cast and insists the producers were much more concerned about getting the Irish village and its close-knit inhabitants right, than worrying over who would play the priest who arrives on their doorstep.

He stole the show from Ewan McGregor and Pete Postlethwaite, in his film debut, Brassed Off, playing a miner who tries to alleviate his debts by working as a clown at children's parties. His wife and children leave him and he hangs himself, while still wearing his red nose and enormous clown's shoes.

Poignant stuff.

Tompkinson was rightly proud of that performance. He sat back and waited for the film offers to pour in, and waited, and waited. He has had to wait four years for his second film, Hotel Splendide, a black comedy in which he plays Dezmond Blanche, the manager of an establishment that makes Fawlty Towers seem well-run and welcoming.

''After Brassed Off there was no comeback,'' says Tompkinson, still sounding slightly pained and mystified by the experience, ''up until Terry (Hotel Splendide's writer-director, Terence Gross) . . . It's given me various sleepless nights about why he thought I would be right for Dezmond, this psychopathic, mother-obsessed Norman Bates character, but I was delighted to do this and stop panicking that I would never work in film again.''

Hotel Splendide is set on a bleak island and provides long-term guests with a strict and supposedly healthy regime of eels and enemas. The founder, Mrs Blanche, has recently died, and Kath (Toni Colette), an exiled sous-chef, is mysteriously recalled, threatening to resume her relationship with Dezmond's brother Ronald (Daniel Craig) and bring some normality to the island.

But Mrs Blanche still casts a shadow across the establishment and her spirit seems to inhabit the pipes, which pulsate with a life of their own, and the heating system, which is fuelled by human sewage. ''I think if people see it and don't want to go through a shower very shortly afterwards, then it hasn't worked,'' says Tompkinson, with a mischievous smirk.

''It's gloriously bizarre,'' he says, and even the film's detractors would have to admit this is not your average low-budget British comedy-drama. ''I thought it was very brave and terrific that Terry's imagination was going to be put into pictures.''

It is the first feature from a director who cut his teeth on shorts, commercials, and music videos - Gross by name and some are bound to say by nature, on this evidence.

Tompkinson had to adopt the sort of hairstyle that was sported, but certainly not popularised, by Bobby Charlton. ''I was left with a pelmet of real hair and nothing else . . . I looked horrendous for three months,'' he says.

Charlton, on the other hand, looked like that for much of his life. As if a Bobby Charlton haircut were not bad enough, Tompkinson spent two hours each day in make-up, acquiring a ruddy complexion and flaking skin.

But he did get to wear a green uniform, which goes so well with his eyes. Coincidence, he says. ''I don't think the whole design of the film was based around

my eyes.''

He eschewed his favourite colour for a black shirt and white dog collar as Peter Clifford, the English priest sent to a rural Irish parish, in the BBC sitcom Bally-kissangel. And the role of priest is one he might have been playing for real.

''I was born and raised a Catholic and it was the most enigmatic, glamorous role I had ever seen.''

STEPHEN Tompkinson was born of Irish stock, 34 years ago, in Stockton-on-Tees, but grew up in St Anne's, a seaside resort south of Blackpool. He has always loved the sea and still enjoys sitting looking out across the waves. ''It's the only thing you can gaze on that's soporific, yet powerful, and just makes your worries float away into insignificance.''

He and his fiancee recently moved from London to Hove on the South Coast and he has fond memories of annual holidays in Largs. ''We used to stay at the Castle Hotel, opposite the putting green. I remember Nardini's was just down the road. I used to gauge growing up when I could stop standing up to eat their knickerbocker glories - I could actually sit down after six years of going there . . .

''I particularly remember cricketer Geoff Boycott scored his 100th 100 at Headingley when we were in Largs, with my grandad, and it was the day I scored my first hole-in-one on the putting green.''

You don't get these sort of memories from Woody Allen.

Tompkinson was all for going to seminary at 12, but his father persuaded him to postpone his decision. He discovered a passion for Guinness and girls and came to realise it was the performance aspect, as much as the spirituality, that attracted him to the priesthood. So he went to drama school instead.

After an apprenticeship in BBC radio he made his mark in the early nineties as the reckless reporter, Damien Day, on the satirical comedy Drop the Dead Donkey, but Ballykissangel

provided him with his most famous role.

Romance blossomed on screen and off with Dervla Kirwan, who played the local landlady, Assumpta Fitzgerald. Despite the break-up of their relationship, Tompkinson and Kirwan remain friends and they have recorded a new ITV series together, Shades, in which they play ghosts.

And does Tompkinson ever have any regrets about forsaking the pulpit for the screen? ''No, I couldn't have planned things better if I had written my own script,'' he says, draining the last of his Guinness.

n Hotel Splendide opens

on Friday.