When the news leaked last week that the soap heart-throb Adam Rickitt had been selected by David Cameron as a potential Conservative MP, there was a predictable backlash from right-wing activists. Rickitt is one of the 100 telegenic "super-candidates" on a list that includes the environmental adviser Zac Goldsmith, Margot James, the Tories' first openly lesbian candidate, and the chick-lit novelist Louise Bagshaw.
Rickitt, the 27-year-old former Coronation Street actorbest-known for his "six-pack" stomach, will now be allowed to apply to become a prospective parliamentary candidate in one of the party's most winnable seats. As one disgruntled Tory grandee observed: "You have to be a chisel-cheekboned thirty-something to get on the list."
In fairness, Rickitt has slowly been hatching his political career. He appeared on BBC's Question Time in February and although his agent insisted that "Adam is appearing with no political agenda", it was an open secret he had already been marked as a future Tory candidate. In March it was reported that Rickitt was being groomed to succeed Tory MP Sir Nicholas Winterton, 67, in Macclesfield, Cheshire. Winterton told Conservative Central Office: "I wish Adam luck, but there are no vacancies here." His wife, Ann, the Conservative MP for neighbouring Congleton, told friends: "This will happen over my dead body."
Party chiefs approved of Rickitt's sure-footed performance on Question Time - he even lectured the US about gas emissions. "Everyone at HQ was hugely impressed by his confident and assured style," said a senior Conservative source. "He is exactly the kind of young, dynamic character that David Cameron wants to promote as the face of the party."
If elected, Rickitt would be following in the tradition of such celebrity Tory MPs as Sebastian Coe and Giles Brandreth. But arguably he brings a very different sort of cool. "In contrast to a more crusty breed of Tory MP, he appears more liberal in his attitudes," says Steven Murphy, editor of Inside Soap magazine.
Friends are quick to stress this is no flash-in-the-pan career move. "He has always been incredibly interested in government, having been raised by his family to be as politically aware as possible," says a close friend. "He has often campaigned on local and national issues, and this seems like the most natural next step."
Rickitt's whole career has been about reinventing himself. Although he won fame in a gritty Northern soap opera, he was a public school boy, set to study law at Oxford until he was discovered by Take That's former manager Nigel Martin-Smith. After a brief stint as an underwear model, his acting career was launched in 1998, at the age of 19, cast as Nick Tilsley in Coronation Street.
He caused a sensation with his beefcake physique and blonde floppy hair, soap's first boy band-style star. "He really was a product of the Neighbours/Home and Away/Hollyoaks way of working, where you pick someone the audience could fancy and then check if they can act..." says Murphy. "Coronation Street was going through a lot of change. EastEnders was beating them in the ratings because they were perceived as a little bit cooler, and Adam was put in to try and grab some of that audience."
Rickitt quit after only 16 months. "They probably thought I was off my trolley," he acknowledged. "A job like that is fantastic; it gives you security. On the down side, I was only a young guy. I hadn't experienced anything else in the business. I wasn't married. I don't have kids. It wasn't too traumatic to leave."
He enjoyed a moderately successful pop career with three hit singles and an album, but claims he grew disillusioned by the shallow music world. He reinvented himself as theatre actor in the musical Rent, causing a minor storm by appearing bare-chested on the cover of gay magazine Attitude. But he has always been unashamedly metrosexual and seems to enjoy being a gay icon.
"I'm straight and very comfortable with that," he told one reporter. The tabloids claim his bed-hopping past gave Tory party chiefs some concern. Rickitt admits he dated so many female fans he lost count. Corrie babe Samia Smith is reported to have shared his bed as has his former Rent co-star Jane Doyle. Rickitt himself insists he is a true romantic.
"I think when you're born, your soul is split into two and given to your perfect partner. When you see each other you'll be with each other for ever."
The youngest of four brothers, Adam Peter Rickitt (a self-confessed mummy's boy) was born in 1978. He followed his brothers to Sedbergh School in Cumbria (despite being once suspended for drunkenly peeing on a housemaster's chair). He passed five A-levels, but an injury put paid to a rugby career - and temporarily made him bulimic. "I was so depressed my rugby dreams were gone that I'd shove food in my mouth until I could hardly move - then I'd go and be sick."
He was already a pin-up: the local girls' school co-opted him as a model for their GCSE fashion show. However, Rickitt kept his desire to be an actor secret. "I was accepted at Cambridge to study law, but the day I got my results I told my dad what I really wanted to do. His jaw virtually hit the floor."
There is an honourable tradition of soap stars making the leap to serious acting. Michelle Collins and Tamzin Outhwaite have became two of TV's most bankable stars, while Daniela Denby-Ashe shone in North and South. So why has Rickitt found the leap harder? "I think the problem for Adam was he learned on the job in front of millions of viewers," says Murphy. "With all due respect he wasn't that great an actor when he started. He got there, but it took a while."
Rickitt found himself drifting back to Coronation Street (his last major appearance was in 2004). More recently he has carved out a career as a reality TV star. As well as C4's The Games, he took part in Five's Alive: Back to the Andes, in which a group of C-listers recreated the feats of survivors from the Andes plane crash.
Whatever the truth behind his impatience to stick with any one job for too long, Rickitt has certainly grown up. "When I came into the business I was very green," he recalls. "The pitfalls are that you're too open and too trusting... you learn to see who your friends are very quickly."
His latest incarnation as one of "Dave's babes" may be his best casting yet, according to Steven Murphy. "Crucially he has that totty factor." Will he encourage younger voters? "There seems to be a lot of apathy among that age group, so it could be something that young people hook on to. You can't have him saying, 'Yeah, everyone's going to have a 20 quid record token and free cider when they're 16 as one of my policies.' But I'm quite sure a pretty, buff-toned boy isn't going to go badly wrong."