Max Beesley: Access all areas

He's travelled the world with Robbie Williams, but in the BBC's 'Hotel Babylon' Max Beesley is playing a concierge to the rich and famous
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Max Beesley has an unusual middle name: Gig. Quite appropriate, really, for an actor who has enjoyed a successful secondary career as a musician. He has played keyboards and percussion alongside artists such as Paul Weller, George Michael, Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, Jamiroquai, Take That and The Brand New Heavies. "Sting and Prince are the only two artists I haven't worked with," Beesley says, with a laugh.

The son of the jazz drummer Maxton Beesley and the jazz singer Chris Marlowe, Beesley attended Chetham's School of Music, in Manchester, and was once a choirboy in Manchester Cathedral. He has penned the score to the movie The Emperor's Wife, and written songs for Geri Halliwell.

But, most famously, Beesley spent eight months in 2003 touring the world with his close friend Robbie Williams. During the course of the global jaunt, they played to a staggering two million people. Beesley is in awe of Williams's abilities as a showman. "I had a fantastic time touring with Rob," beams the 34-year-old. "He's one of my best pals, but every night he just amazed me with his talent and drive. He's one of the most astonishing performers I've ever seen."

Williams is setting out on another gargantuan tour later this year, so does Beesley fancy hitching a ride once again? "No," he replies, "I don't crave that buzz because I've had the ultimate live experience. Playing Knebworth with Rob in front of an audience of 70,000 is hard to match.

"Anyway, at this stage of the game, I want to concentrate on acting. I don't want to pull a half-boiled pan of milk off the stove and put another one on in its place. I want to boil this one fully and get my Ovaltine!"

As he says this, Beesley is on the set of his latest vehicle, Hotel Babylon, a glossy, eight-part BBC1 adaptation of Imogen Edwards-Jones's exposé of the high jinks that go on behind the glitzy façade of an unnamed five-star hotel in London. Beesley plays Charlie, the suave head receptionist. He is our way into the hotel, introducing us to the cast of colourful characters who people the "backstage" area of the establishment, including the ambitious general manager, Rebecca (Tamzin Outhwaite), and the Cockney concierge, Tony (Dexter Fletcher).

Picking over lunch in his trailer, Beesley really looks the part in a dark pinstripe suit and an immaculately cut brown shirt. Like those other celebrated natives of Burnage, Manchester, the Gallagher Brothers, he is an immensely entertaining presence - in his company, you're never far away from the next joke.

When I ask, for instance, whether he might be getting engaged to his long-term girlfriend, the actress Susie Amy (who played Chardonnay in Footballers' Wives), he fails to suppress a smile as he says: "Will our relationship become anything more permanent? I'll make sure I tell you before anyone else."

Beesley goes on to laugh long and loud when shown a mocked-up poster produced by the Hotel Babylon crew of himself standing next to the young William Shatner. The caption reads: "long-lost father and son". "I've got to show this to my dad," the actor guffaws. "He'll love it."

One reason Beesley is in such a good mood may well be because he is finally being assessed in terms of his work, rather than his girlfriends. "It's brilliant," Beesley enthuses, "I'm only ever in the papers nowadays when I'm in a drama." In the past, he says, the media were only ever interested in the women he was dating - model Melanie Sykes, singer Mica Paris, Hollyoaks actress Davinia Taylor and, most famously, Spice Girl Mel B.

Looking back, Beesley feels that this press fascination with his private life might have damaged his career. "People in the business can be affected by that. However intelligent they are, casting directors think: 'He must be out partying all the time, so we'll recruit someone else.'"

In spite of everything, though, Beesley retains an impressive equanimity about that time. "I don't hold any grudges,'' he declares. "It's like prison - you can't fight it. If you let it eat away at you, it really affects you. You have to just try to keep doing good work and let that speak for you."

He is not so calm, however, when it comes to discussing our current fixation on celebrity. "We're the worst in the world," he says. "We're a nation that just can't get enough of celebrity magazines. The public seem to think that fame will bring them a lifestyle of endless travel and parties. But, as far as I can see, the only positive thing to come out of fame is that you can use your profile to help charities.

"These reality-TV shows only perpetuate our obsession. It's dangerous for the people who go on them because they're being put into a shallow fantasy world without any support. I must admit I do occasionally watch I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!, but would I ever appear on it? Never in a million years. There are other ways of raising money for charity. I can't think of anything worse - I'd rather spend the weekend with Satan!"

The actor thinks that his working-class background has prevented him from being seduced by the fame game. "I'm amazed by stars who become horrendously rude and arrogant on set. No one's job is more important than anyone else's. Everyone should be treated the same, whether they're earning ten pounds or ten million."

He ascribes his level-headed attitude to his mother and father. "It's a reflection of their parenting. I came from an area of Manchester where I could easily have turned out naughty. There was villainy all around us there, but I think that has just made me more rounded. Anyway, I was always too preoccupied with film and music to entertain any of that bad stuff."

That preoccupation led to a glittering early career. In 1997, while still in his mid-twenties, Beesley landed the title role in the BBC's adaptation of The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling. However, his progress stalled when he went to America and made several movies that failed to set the box office alight.

His most regrettable move was co-starring in Glitter, the semi-autobiographical Mariah Carey vehicle. Beesley is refreshingly candid about the movie's flaws. "When we shot it, the script was fine and Mariah did a really good job," the actor recollects. "But when I saw the finished product, I was saddened and upset. It was terrible. The studios had cut out all the volatile moments between Mariah's character and mine, so there was no tension left. Also, it had the misfortune to open on 12 September 2001. But even if it hadn't," he admits, "it would have been a disaster."

The actor is clearly much more at home over here. He came straight on to Hotel Babylon after several months in Yorkshire filming Bodies, the bleak, multi-award-winning BBC2 series about medical negligence in a hospital obstetrics department. Written and produced by Jed Mercurio, a former hospital doctor, the series tackles medical malpractice, cover-ups and whistle-blowing.

"Is it too shocking? I don't think so," says Beesley. "The point is, this is reality. This stuff happens in hospitals. Some people might say, 'We don't need to see that,' but all we're doing is depicting real life in the form of drama. As a doctor, Jed witnessed 99 per cent of what's in Bodies."

Hotel Babylon was, therefore, something of a change of pace, but, says Beesley, "It was a delight coming on to something so different. Like Hustle, Hotel Babylon is really glamorous and sexy. It's a different experience from spending six months in Leeds with dead babies. That's enough to bring any man down."

The actor was especially drawn to the picture of the secret life of the hotel. "I love the way this drama lets us see the politics and the shenanigans that go on behind closed doors. For example, staff are often called to rooms to help damsels in distress, who then step out of the bathroom and 'accidentally' drop their towels.

"I also like the idea that the concierge can get you anything, from an evening dress and a Trinidadian diplomatic cigar to the morning-after pill."

In his time touring the world, Beesley has stayed in a lot of places like the Hotel Babylon. What's the worst he has ever visited? "I once stayed in a hotel in New Orleans that was absolutely rancid," he recalls with a shudder of disgust.

"The safe was plonked in the middle of the floor, and the room looked like one of the spare bedrooms out of George and Mildred. There was an army of different animals marching across the floor. The hotel didn't have any stars - except me, obviously," he adds with a chuckle.

'Hotel Babylon' starts on BBC1 on Thursday at 9pm