TABLOID newspapers have dubbed him ‘the most hated soap man in Britain’ for his controversial new role in Eastenders, but Prestwich actor Chris Coghill said he is delighted to be playing a bad guy in such a vital storyline, entertainment website Digital Spy has said.

Chris, aged 33, who grew up in the town and now has homes in Manchester and London, shot to fame when he played lovable rogue Craig in hit Channel 4 show Shameless.

He has just arrived on Albert Square, playing paedophile Tony King in a storyline that has sent shockwaves through the soap-loving nation, drawing dozens of complaints from viewers in just his first appearance.

After leaving jail, Tony is reunited with girlfriend Bianca Jackson, played by Patsy Palmer, but, unknown to everyone, the shady character is obsessed with his 15-year-old stepdaughter Whitney Dean, played by Shona McGarty.

Chris, who has also featured in Doctors, The Bill and Holby Blue, said it’s not easy pretending to be an abuser, but he hopes the controversial issue will persuade abuse victims to seek help.

He added: “At first, I had a couple of very long meetings with the writers. We talked a lot about a backstory for Tony, which had been talked through with the NSPCC children’s charity..

“From talking to the them and reading case studies, it became apparent that the way the story was being written was very true to life.

“What’s very important is that abusers do tend to groom a whole family, rather than just the victim. That’s the backstory for Tony.

“He entered the family as a hero figure. From the beginning, Tony was building up the picture that he was the family’s saviour. So for those reasons, his relationship with Bianca gives him the cover he needs to the rest of the world.”

It is the first time in recent years that a soap has tackled such a sensitive issue, and Chris said he is glad it is being treated so carefully by his colleagues in the Albert Square cast.

“Shona’s fantastic to work with. She’s very natural, very instinctive and a natural actress. There isn’t any uncomfortable feeling at all.

“Obviously there’s a small proportion of the public that believe soaps are real, but I do put my faith in the other 99.9 per cent of the population that would probably just say ‘oh, there's that actor who plays Tony’ rather than ‘there’s that nasty man from Eastenders.”

Though Chris has just arrived in the story, it is filming well in advance and he is due to leave the Square in the next fortnight before taking up a role as a cheerful chap in an ITV series.