AT first glance, Lauren is the svelte young woman at a slimming group irritating all the other members who feel she’s rubbing salt in their wounds.

But, as Natalie Anderson points out, even though Lauren isn’t overweight she has her share of insecurities.

The Bradford actress plays Lauren in Fat Friends the Musical, Kay Mellor’s stage adaptation of her popular TV series about various colourful characters who meet up at their weekly Super Slimmers class.

The musical centres on Kelly, played by Jodie Prenger, who is preparing for her wedding, a day she has dreamed of all her life. Kelly is happy in her skin, and fiance Kevin likes her the way she is, but when she can’t fit into the wedding dress she falls for, she decides to buy it anyway and starve herself into it. Add to the mix her mother Betty, a champion slimmer, and Super Slimmers chief Julia Fleshman, who sets about turning Kelly into a social media sensation, and you have a funny, poignant show that takes a swipe at the diet industry and encourages us to be happy in ourselves.

“Lauren thinks she has to look perfect. Even though she’s not big, she’s obsessed with her weight,” says Natalie. “A lot of women relate to her. She owns a wedding boutique and is an eternal romantic, but she’s neurotic and can’t find the right man. This show has a big heart and examines the pressures we face to look a certain way. Social media has a big part to play in all that.”

The show also stars X Factor winner Sam Bailey as Betty, Atomic Kitten’s Natasha Hamilton as Julia and Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff as Kevin. Kay Mellor wrote and directed the show, which has songs by Nick Lloyd Webber.

“It works so well as a musical. A few new bits have been added since we opened in Leeds last year, and there are some surprises,” says Natalie. “I was at drama school when Fat Friends was on TV, I loved it. It made stars of James Corden and Ruth Jones. Gaynor Faye played Lauren, my character. She and Alison Steadman, who was also in it, came to our opening night. Kay is great to work with, she talks to us about our characters and if we suggest something she’s fine about changing things. She’s not precious at all.”

Natalie, who was in the first series of Pop Idol, with Bradford’s Gareth Gates, particularly enjoys the songs in Fat Friends. “My little boy, Freddie, came to see it - he’s only six so it’s the first thing he’s seen me in - and he said, ‘Mummy, you have got a beautiful voice’.”

Natalie got her break in ITV medical drama The Royal, filmed at St Luke’s Hospital, where she was born. She went on to play Alicia in Emmerdale, and other TV credits include Wire in the Blood and Dalziel and Pascoe. On stage she played Nessarose in Wicked in the West End, and Lady Capulet in Romeo and Juliet at West Yorkshire Playhouse.

“I’ve never performed at the Alhambra, so I’m really looking forward to our week there. I’ve got lots of family coming along,” says Natalie, of Guiseley. “It’ll be lovely to go home to my own bed. Touring is demanding, you need the stamina of an athlete. I’ve never eaten so much brain food! Beetroot juice, almonds...”

Looking ahead, Natalie hopes to work close to home again. “I get restless and like to swing between TV and theatre. There’s so much filming in Bradford and Leeds, I’ve only ever had to work in London twice.”

* Fat Friends the Musical runs at the Alhambra from May 14-19. Call (01274) 432000