The most unlikely sex symbol in Britain? Everyone wants a piece of James Corden

The co-creator and co-star of BBC3's 'Gavin and Stacey' is the man they all want to be seen with. And if he wins a Bafta tonight, the queue will get longer. By Cole Moreton

He's lardy. That much is obvious. According to the harsh rules of modern celebrity, James Corden should have no chance of success with the critics or the ladies – so why has the 18-stone actor suddenly become the most attractive man in his business?

The supermodel Agyness Deyn was the first to be photographed draping herself all over him. Then came Lily Allen, who may be his new squeeze. Other well-known women have followed, and the Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe enjoyed a long (and possibly over-acted) full kiss on the mouth with Corden on stage at an awards do last month.

Tonight, at the Bafta television awards, commissioning editors are also likely to be all over Corden like stalkers at a stage door. He is up for Best Comedy Performance of the Year in the series he co-writes, Gavin and Stacey. The BBC3 comedy, whose second series coincidentally ends tonight, has also been nominated by viewers as Programme of the Year.

Used to relaunch the channel as younger and sassier, the story of love between a Welsh girl and an Essex boy has been a ratings hit. And that's not all: Corden and his co-creator Ruth Jones, who also appears in the show, have just sold the American rights to NBC for £2m. When the network remade The Office as an American hit, Ricky Gervais became a player in the US. Corden resists comparisons, before admitting: "I'd be hugely flattered if anyone thought that."

So what is it about this comfortably built man of 5ft 7in that attracts the attentions of female stars usually seen with boys in ultra-skinny jeans? His huge ratings? His mammoth earning potential? "If he was an average Joe I wouldn't have looked at him twice," a former lover admitted last week, "but there's a certain quality about James which charms the pants off the girls. I've seen him with a group of women who are all giggling helplessly within minutes of meeting him. It's a combination of intelligence, talent and he's got a very clever sense of humour."

Women melt in his company, she said. "He's very suggestive and you don't know for sure if he means it – so that keeps you hanging on and intrigued."

His playful patter was seen in public last month on the Lily Allen and Friends chat show. "Let me tell you this," he told the host, keeping up lots of eye contact, "on my life, without irony or agenda, truly, I don't think you realise how lovely you are. And I think you could do with someone to tell you every day." Within moments they were talking about marrying in Las Vegas, and have been seen out together, although Corden insists: "She is just a mate of mine that I have gone out with a couple of times."

The 29-year-old from Hazlemere, Buckinghamshire, must be unafraid of rejection by now, having been unable to land a job for eight years after stage school. His first big break was as a pupil in The History Boys by Alan Bennett, at the National Theatre, on Broadway and on film. He met his writing partner Jones on the set of the ITV series Fat Friends. "He's a comedy genius," she says. Both will be executive producers on the US Gavin and Stacey, but are unlikely to reprise their roles as Smithy and Nessa.

Corden told the BBC on Friday that the extraordinary success of the past few months, professionally or otherwise, had been "very odd, and surreal at times, but I can't complain about it". He is "aware" of internet forums set up by women who would like to explore more than his sense of humour. "It's odd because people are asking me why I think I'm attractive, and what they mean is: 'What's that about, because you're obviously not hot.' No one is asking Brad Pitt that question."

Best of Bafta

* Judi Dench is in line for her 11th Bafta this evening for her role in the BBC's 'Cranford'. She holds the record for the most Baftas with 10, and the most nominations, 24.

* Ricky Gervais has the most awards for television work, with seven. American director Woody Allen holds the record for film, with eight wins.

* Tonight's television awards are dominated by the BBC and Channel 4 – both public sector broadcasters. Between them they account for 69 of the 86 award nominations.

* The bad year for ITV is capped by 'Coronation Street' failing to muster a single nomination. ITV, however, comes up trumps with series that have been most nominated. The list is headed by Prime Suspect, with 25 nominations and seven wins, followed by Inspector Morse with 16 nominations and six wins, Brideshead Revisited (13 noms, seven wins), Jewel in the Crown (15, 5) and Cracker (12, 6). The South Bank Show has the most ever nominations with 43. Harry Hill is carrying the flag for ITV comedy this year.

* Bafta – the British Academy of Film and Television Arts – was founded in 1947 by David Lean, Charles Laughton and Carol Reed among others.

Andrew Johnson