INTERVIEW: By Hilary Porter

SHE is a popular TV presenter who got her big break in 2008 winning a competition to become the face of MTV Europe. Since then the bubbly Irish presenter Laura Whitmore has presented shows such as I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! Now!, the ITV2 spin-off to Ant and Dec’s award-winning jungle series .

She also, most recently, competed on Strictly Come Dancing but had to bow out early after breaking her ankle.

But now Laura is heading for Southampton as she is starring alongside Shane Richie in the next thrilling stage adaptation of multi-million selling author Peter James’ Not Dead Enough which comes to Mayflower Theatre from Tuesday March 7 - Saturday March 11.

She told me: "It's so exciting because of my acting background and I've wanted to get back on stage for the last nine years. I'm a huge fan of Peter James; he's the king of thrillers and suspense. The book is so successful but it's never been on stage before

This is the first time my character Cleo Morey has been on stage and it's really fun to be able to play with that. Every night is very different too.We are five weeks into a 23 week tour and every audience is different and how they react. It's a dark thriller but there's lightness too.

My character is a pathologist – she cuts up the bodies and takes DNA. She’s very important to the storyline and finding out who the killer is. She’s dating the detective, and as much as there’s this gruesome crime story there’s also a love story going on too. And without telling you too much, she’s slightly closer to the situation than she’d like to be!"

Laura is delighted that Peter James has given her the creative freedom to play Cleo as she perceives her:

"In the books Cleo is British and we've worked round my perception of what she she's Irish!

It's really fun to be able to play the character. With Peter you have him there but he lets you do your own perception of the character. And after watching me perform he said to me, "you are my Cleo" - that was lovely!"

Laura actually trained as a journalist at Dublin City University, including a year studying abroad at Boston University in the United States and she says she always loved covering crime as a reporter. And it is here that she found inspiration for Cleo.

"I remember working on crime cases back in Ireland. I was obsessed with our state pathologist in Ireland, Marie Cassidy. I always thought she was quite glamorous for a pathologist. She did this podcast where she spoke about being a woman in that industry, and I felt like there were a lot of similarities to the character of Cleo, because it really is such a man’s world."

Peter James is celebrated for his in depth research for all his books and it seems he likes his actors to also gain 'hands-on' experience for their roles too ...including visiting the Brighton and Hove Mortuary where Cleo works!

Laura revealed that Peter James had taken them round Brighton where the books are set and the trip to the mortuary had been particularly illuminating.

"I walked round the mortuary and chatted to the people working there. Radio 2 music was playing and everyone was just doing their job ...even down to the guy that has to clean up and make sure everything is spotless. It's just normal life to them but in the fridges next to them were all these bodies. And then there was the realise if there is one thing in life you know we will all end up there in the end. It's just life."

So could she imagine doing Cleo's job in real life?

"No, I couldn't do it - I'm a bit squeamish with blood."

But what is it like working with Peter James who is clearly fascinated by death ...the word 'dead' is, after all, used in every one of the titles of his Roy Grace books.

"Peter James is the opposite of morbid. He's so dynamic and has so much energy and he's the life and soul of every room he's in. We are so lucky as you don't always have the author in the room with you. Spending that week in Brighton where the books are based was great. I was walking round and saying ...oh that's where Katie Bishop got murdered. ..!"

"It's a great role. It's the first time I've done something on this scale. There are nine of us in the cast and everyone is different. It's lovely to play a strong female character and to have some input.

Shane's lovely and obviously so well known and theatrical. I am so lucky to work with people like him. I worked with Ant and Dec for five years and you pick up a lot working with people like that; you are like a sponge and pick up on their professionalism.

‘I love those guys. When you work with them you get to see how good they are. They are absolute masters at what they do.

It's nine years since I've been in a play like this. Presenting is such a laugh - anything can happen and you don't know how well it will go. With live theatre everything is different. I'm so happy to be getting back to doing this, especially as Cleo has not been on stage before. "

Clearly loving the whole experience, she is philosophical about her swift departure from Strictly last year: "I sprained my ankle so went out quite quickly . I went from topping the leader board to not being able to dance at all. It's a shame but everything happens for a reason."

“I'm a huge fan of Peter James' books and so honoured to be cast as his Cleo for her first theatrical outing.

... I'm also unbelievably excited to work with Producer Joshua Andrews and Director Ian Talbot. Before I trained in Journalism, I studied Drama and played some great roles including Lady Macbeth and Annie in All My Sons! I have been waiting a long time to return to acting and for a great role like this to come along."

Tickets for Not Dead Enough (7 - 11 March 2017) are on sale from Mayflower Theatre Box Office tel: 02380 711811 or online at Ovation Restaurant bookings: 02380 711833