JOE McFadden has fond memories of Bradford. "It's where I learned to ride a motorbike," he says, recalling his time as PC Joe Mason in ITV's much-loved Sixties police drama Heartbeat.

This summer Joe is back in Bradford, in a very different role. He's starring in Priscilla Queen of the Desert, the colourful road trip musical about two drag queens and a transgender woman who head for the Australian Outback in a battered old bus to put on the show of a lifetime. Based on the 1994 film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert - and with a parade of dance-floor classics including It’s Raining Men, I Will Survive, I Love The Nightlife and Finally - the sassy show is about friendship, self discovery and acceptance.

"It has a big heart, great tunes, fantastic characters," says Joe, who plays Tick, a drag act forced to confront his past when his wife asks him to do a show at Alice Springs and spend time with the son he barely knows. "The relationship between the three friends drives the story as they find out he has this whole other life; a wife and son tucked away. They get into some quite dangerous situations travelling across the Outback, and they all have to make big decisions."

Adds Joe: "This show was way ahead of its time; I think it’s one of the first pieces of drama centred around a trans person and discussing things like gay parenting. It was a trailblazer.

"People are more used to seeing things like drag, but a lot of the serious issues are still around, sadly."

Joe says this re-vamped production goes "back to basics".

"Last time it was very polished. This is a whole new design concept which goes back to the grittiness of the film. It's about people struggling to survive, they don't have masses of money - they make a dress out of flip-flops. It's exciting to have a brand new production, it's different from the show people have seen before."

It's co-produced by Jason Donovan, who played Tick in the West End and on tour. "Jason knows this story inside out; having his input is brilliant because he’s played this part, I’m hugely in debt to him because he championed me," says Joe. "We ran into each other on Loose Women, we had Strictly in common so we were chatting about that and a couple of weeks later I was called in to meet for the show. To have Jason's seal of approval means a lot, he’s been nothing but complimentary and encouraging.

"He told me to get used to wearing heels early on," laughs Joe. "I was a bit like Bambi but I'm slowly getting better. I don't know how anyone could wear them all day! Some of the shows you see with drag queens, I don’t know how they manage it. The make-up, the hair, the shaving. I have complete respect for them for doing it every night."

Being a Strictly Come Dancing champion - Joe won the 2017 series with Katya Jones - stands him in good stead for Priscilla. "I've waited for the chance to use that bit of dance training. When this came along it felt like a perfect fit," he says. "Tick is an entertainer, his moves have to look polished. And in drag I become a different character.

"I had a good teacher on Strictly. I absolutely started from the ground up, I think people could see I was working full pelt. But I got used to learning routines in a short space of time. And, having done Strictly, I’ve been looking forward to our (Priscilla) costumes. All of that stuff isn't alien to me anymore."

Joe recently starred in the UK tour of The House on Cold Hill, which followed his four years on Holby City. "It's good to get back on stage - the longer you leave it, the scarier it gets," he says. "It’s just a brilliant discipline as an actor, going on there and getting through it every night, telling the story from start to finish. As an actor you shouldn’t allow yourself to get stale and play the same part too long. I want to play loads of different roles. I feel so fortunate that I get to do TV, musicals, plays and things like Strictly. Things couldn’t be going much better."

* Priscilla Queen of the Desert runs at the Alhambra from September 17-21. Call (01274) 432000.