HE's terribly good at being bad, having famously played notorious gangster Reggie in The Krays and murderous Steve Owen in EastEnders to much acclaim.

But The Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is in another league, according to Martin Kemp.

"It's all the nasty roles I've ever played personified," he laughs.

"Everything in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is larger than life and it's the same with this. The Child Catcher is a larger than life version of that nasty character I've always played.

"If you thought Steve Owen was bad, wait until you see this!"

It's the first foray into musical theatre for the 54-year-old, who is still best known as the bassist in new wave chart-toppers Spandau Ballet despite a successful career as an actor, and it was an easy decision to take on the role.

The father of two, married to former Wham backing singer and one half of 80s duo Pepsi and Shirlie Shirlie Holliman, explained his grown up children fashion photographer Harleymoon and radio DJ Roman made the choice for him.

He said: "I've been a fan ever since I was a boy. I grew up with that film, my kids grew up with that film. It's been a big part of their lives.

"When I was offered the part, my girl and boy were all over it. Even though they're now 23 and 27, they were all over it saying you have to do that!

"It's different for me, it's something I haven't done before. But it's a nice way to dip my toes in it.

"I always love this point in rehearsals when you're finding your feet, getting to know a character and sometimes carrying a few nerves."

The nerves could be put down to playing such an iconic role, first made famous by Sir Robert Helpmann in the 1968 family classic film and then taken up by the likes of Richard O'Brien, Paul O'Grady, Wayne Sleep and Alvin Stardust on stage.

"You have to find your own way," Kemp muses. "But I have no problem with taking little bits from everybody else's performances.

"The trick is not to be scared and to be as comfortable as possible.

"My Child Catcher will be different anyway, hopefully there will be a few surprises for the audience!"

Born in London in 1961, Martin attended a children's theatre drama club from the age of seven with his older brother Gary. He landed appearances in a number of TV show, including Jackanory, The Tomorrow People, Dixon of Dock Green and The Glittering Prizes.

His life changed in the late 70s when the manager of Gary's band The Gentry suggested he replace the band's bass player. Martin learned to play bass in three months. The band was renamed Spandau Ballet and went on to have global success in the New Romantic era, topping the UK chart with True and reaching number two with Gold.

They split in the 90s over a disagreement about royalties, but reformed seven years ago and have successfully toured and played festivals ever since.

The Kemps, Tony Hadley, Steve Norman and John Keeble are taking a break for now, but will be back on stage soon.

"It won't be just yet," Martin says. "We've spent the last year or two years together, so are doing our own thing, but we'll come back at some point."

A break from the band has allowed Kemp to take on a few acting cameos, most recently in comedy spoof-documentary series Brian Pern: A Life in Rock and, brilliantly, in the new series of Birds of a Feather, playing gangster Vince who romps in the back of a hearse with maneater Dorien Green.

"Oh that was a lot of fun. I'm not just saying this because I was in that first episode, but that half hour of comedy was fantastic.

"I think it was the best piece of comedy I've seen since Del Boy fell through the bar (in Only Fools and Horses).

"It made me laugh out loud. I always struggle with shows that have got a laugh track on them, a laughing soundtrack. But I didn't notice as I was laughing so hard."

Kemp is also busy penning his one man show An Audience with Martin Kemp, which visits 15 UK venues in May, opening at The Spring Arts and Heritage Centre in Havant.

"Going out on tour with the band is so big, it's just enormous. We have five or six truck loads of equipment and 100 people and we take it around the world.

"I wanted to do something really small and I hope it will be a good night. People can ask questions and hear my story first hand."

It's a fascinating story, which includes the removal of two benign but life-threatening brain tumours in 1995.

That's one of the reasons for his positive outlook on life.

"You never know what's around the corner. But I love this big business called entertainment.

"The thrill of being an actor is that, once you get to grips with not working all the time, it's the thrill of not knowing.

"I'm never one to rule out anything. I like to see what comes through the door. I do things I think I'm going to enjoy.

"For me, I'm in such a lucky position to have that many things I can tap in and out of. I really appreciate that. Whether it's directing, acting, theatre, the band, it's my hobby.

"If you can turn your hobby into your job, you're a lucky person. That's what I tell my kids.

"That's the way to enjoy life."

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which also starts Jason Manford, Michelle Collins and Phill Jupitus, is at Mayflower Theatre from Wednesday until Sunday February 21.

Tickets: 023 8071 1811 or visit mayflower.org.uk