Game on for safari star

Actor and ex-ballet dancer Jeremy Sheffield is checking in as a guest star in the new series of Hotel Babylon

Hotel Babylon

BBC1, Tuesday 9PM

It's been a while since we last saw former Holby City actor Jeremy Sheffield on telly but he's back this week as a guest star in the deliciously kitsch Hotel Babylon.

Before that, his last small screen outing was a year ago in BBC Two's Safari School, which featured eight celebrities learning to become rangers in South Africa's Shamwari Private Game Reserve.

Jeremy admits he's not usually a fan of the reality TV show format, and had already turned down the chance to be a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing (he used to be a professional ballet dancer so thought it might be slightly unfair on other participants!) and a judge on Dancing On Ice ("I can't ice skate so wouldn't know what I was talking about," he says), but he felt he couldn't miss the opportunity to be around such amazing wildlife in Safari School.

"I loved it, it's really my kind of thing," the striking 41-year-old says. "Wildlife is a great passion of mine.

Memorable

"The most memorable moment of the experience for me was when we got to walk into a pride of lions," he remembers. "You can obviously be killed in a second, so we had a ranger at the front and back of the group with rifles. But I was so terrified I thought, 'Well, I need to have something', so I picked up a rock! As if that's going to stop a charging lion."

He says that having been trained as a game ranger for the show, he now regularly dreams of giving up his life as an actor and emigrating to Africa.

"I do have those fantasies, and then I remember that I live in a lovely flat in London," he says.

Now he admits South Africa seems a million miles away, so he has thrown himself back into his day job – acting. He took a break from work after Safari School to nurse his gravely ill father, who sadly died last year, but he says he's now ready to return, and is currently filming a British horror film.

"I hadn't worked for a while, and Hotel Babylon was the first thing I did after my father died," he says. "It was a really nice way to come back, I had a lovely time."

Jeremy plays the head chef at the plush hotel who ends up having a bit of a meltdown when a celebrity chef is brought in to replace him by the hotel's new PR guru.

"I am forced to work under him," he explains. "I normally play high status doctors and architects, people who are in control, so to have someone who is right on the edge of a nervous breakdown was fun. The story is a bit sad, but there are funny moments."

Jeremy first found fame in Natalie Imbruglia's music video for her hit Torn and went on to star as dashing surgeon Alex Adams in Holby City, before winning roles in TV shows including Murder In Suburbia and films Creep and The Wedding Date. But acting wasn't always on the cards for Jeremy – he actually trained as a ballet dancer.

He started dancing aged five and won a place at the Royal Ballet School at 10, but says that he was never teased about his talent, despite it being seen traditionally as a girl's hobby.

"It was probably because my background was as a middle class boy in a middle class area," says Jeremy, who grew up in rural Essex. "People played classical instruments and other things, so it wasn't that unusual.

"I think it's better for male ballet dancers now, mostly because of Billy Elliott, The film's done an amazing job of making people understand that being a ballet dancer is incredibly hard work and takes a huge amount of energy and strength."

Jeremy went on to have a successful career at the Royal Ballet in London's Covent Garden, but gave it all up at the age of 27 to become an actor.

"Fundamentally it was because of an injury," he explains. "I had a series of operations on my ankle after breaking my big toe during a show. They tried to fix it but it was never going to be 100 per cent.

"At the time I'd had enough of dancing anyway, so it made a difficult decision much easier, a surgeon saying, 'You can't do this anymore'."

And Jeremy hasn't look back since, despite the insecurity of being a jobbing actor. In fact, he says he actually enjoys not knowing what he will be doing next.

"One of the things I got a bit fed up with in the ballet was the predictability of it," he says. "I really love the fact I don't know what's coming next. The older I get it becomes more of a worry, because I've got a huge mortgage to pay. But my natural instinct is that I like new things.

"That's the good side of being an actor; the down side is that you never know if you're going to get another job."