SHE’S best known as Nigel’s stepdaughter in EastEnders and super-vixen Claire Devine from Hollyoaks. He, meanwhile, pounded the beat on The Bill.

Now the duo are set to bring a double dose of stardust to south Essex this festive season.

Soap opera stars Gemma Bissix and Chris Simmons will be heading up the cast for Grays’ Thameside Theatre’s Christmas pantomime, Cinderella, which will run for 55 performances from December to January.

Gemma, 29, is hoping to shed her bad girl reputation as she swaps her Hollyoaks high heels for a flowing dress and wand for the part of Fairy Flustered.

The actress, who joined EastEnders at just nine years of age as Claire Bates, has plenty of theatre experience under her belt, but it’s her role as calculating Claire on Hollyoaks that made her most famous.

Gemma says: “I had a great time on EastEnders, but Hollyoaks was fun because I got to be so bad.

“The public really hated Claire. People still sometimes hurl insults. Once, I went into Sainsbury’s and the cashier refused to serve me! She actually snarled at me, ‘You should be ashamed of yourself!’.

“As an actor it goes with the territory, but actually it’s quite a compliment because if she thinks it’s real then I must be doing a good job.”

Gemma, who also featured in the 2009 series of Dancing on Ice, has most recently been treading the boards in a play in Milton Keynes, but says she’d love to make it from Hollyoaks to Hollywood one day.

She said: “I’d love to do a costume drama, a Pride and Prejudice-style film, but I think I have to branch out a bit from soap opera work first.

“My gran is always saying to me, ‘Why can’t you play someone nice?’ So it would be great to be in a film.”

Meanwhile, the part of Cinderella’s trusty sidekick, Buttons, will be played by Chris Simmons The actor, who grew up just across the river in Gravesend, Kent, made his name as DC Mickey Webb on The Bill, but he has also appeared in EastEnders as one of Kat Moon’s lovers. He says: “I can’t wait. I’m a jobbing actor and this looks like a lot of fun. I can’t wait.

Before his acting days Chris, who now lives in Greenwich, had a variety of jobs, including working with his dad as a diver on the River Thames. In fact, he once had to pull a dead body out of the river at Tilbury.

He recalls: “I was only about 19, it was really sad. It was a woman in a car who had committed suicide.”

Chris has now teamed up with his actor pal Ciaran Griffiths of Shameless fame to write and film their own comedy sketch show called Wayne and Abel But it’s not one for the prudish. Chris explains: “It’s very dark. It’s a late night show, very close to the mark. “We’re working with a production company now and fingers crossed it will be picked up by a TV network.”

So will poor Cinderella be able to finish her chores, ditch her wicked stepsisters and live happy ever after with her prince?

Polka Dot Pantomines, the force behind this year’s panto, is promising audiences the musical will be a “bundle of laughs” with plenty of audience participation. It follows last year’s sell-out Aladdin, which starred EastEnder, Dean Gaffney.

Thameside Theatre
Orsett Road,Grays.
December 7 to January 6
Various prices
Tickets are on sale now
0845 3005264