Simon Shepherd is a happy man. He’s found the secret formula for not only making viewers’ hearts race – but also his telly bosses’.
And typically it’s the latter that pleases him most.
Since his return to our screens as Dr Will Preston in Peak Practice, viewing figures on the long-running show have soared.
ITV is happy, his producers are happy and Simon, frankly, is in his element.
Not that he’ll boast about it though.”Oh, yes, apparently the figures have gone up,” he says modestly. “Of course I’d be delighted if that was because I was back.”
One look at his fan mail would suggest that’s the very reason the medical drama is back in TV’s top ten.
“It’s lovely, some weeks I get around 20 or 30 letters,” explains the 44-year-old actor.
“In fact I’m planning to sit down and go through them this week and reply to them. I think if people bother to sit down and write to me, the least I can do is respond.’
Simon and his screen wife Dr Kate Webster, played by Shelagh McLeod, have been away from Cardale for three years.
Viewers saw how Will returned on his own, full of mystery, only to finally reveal that their daughter had died of cystic fibrosis and that he and Kate had split up.
Kate followed Will to their old haunt, keen to patch up their marriage, but wounded Will has been playing hard to get.
“It’s very well written because when Will finally gives in this week, Kate tells him it’s not as easy as that,” says Simon, who is married to Oscar-nominated costume designer Alexander Byrne.
Shelagh is delighted the writers have made her character more complex.
“I think he has said No to her so many times that it would be ridiculous to think it would be a smooth course,” says the 36-year-old actress. The pair are delighted to be back in the programme together, having formed a close bond in real life.
“It is great because we are such good friends, it means we have a sort of shorthand when we’re working together,” adds Shelagh, who is married to property developer Marek Pilkington Miksa.
“Yes, it means Shelagh can tell me if I’ve got spinach in my teeth when we’re in the middle of a scene,” quips Simon.
During their departure – supposedly in America to try to find treatment for baby Emily – Simon has rarely been off the box, having starred in Rogue Trader, Warriors, Bliss and the Catherine Cookson drama Tilly Trotter.
Shelagh has appeared in shows such as The Knock and Wycliffe and has spent some time in Canada where her sister is a judge. She was auditioning for a leading role in a film with Andy Garcia when she got the call from Peak Practice.
“I had to say Yes, I really wanted to come back,” she says.
The only down side to being back in the Peak District for both actors is being so far from home.
“You do find yourself driving up and down the motorway at odd times of the day and night,” Simon admits. “I can’t pretend there aren’t times when I’m on that road wishing I was somewhere else. I seem to be married to the M42 at the moment!
“But it’s one of those things – and it’s worth it to get home and see the family.”
Simon’s family consists of four children – Joe, 13, nine-year-old twins Billie and Arthur and Beatrice, five, who live in the family home near Bath.
“I’ve bought a little house in Derbyshire so family and friends can come up and stay,” adds Simon.
“It’s a modern house with the most fantastic views and it’s been fun – I’ve just discovered Ikea and have had a ball.” In fact, Simon has become the perfect host when it comes to fellow cast members on the programme and often puts his love of cooking to the test.
“We all go trailing over and Simon will make us supper,” says Shelagh, who stays in a hotel when she’s filming.
“I find being away from home the only little down-side to being back. I do miss Katherine and Marek.”
Katherine is Shelagh and Marek’s five-year-old daughter, who is still puzzled why her mummy is ‘in the telly’.
“She’s completely critical,” laughs Shelagh. “She’ll tell me straight away if she doesn’t like my hair or the way I look.
“It’s very hard being away from her because the old umbilical cord is there, but she’s a very happy child and very much a daddy’s girl.”
Simon says his children are “far from star-struck” and actually think it is “quite funny” that their dad is back as the Cardale heart-throb.
“I am just Dad to them and that’s all that is important,” he says. “If people say things when we’re out, I just remind them of who I really am. The rest of it is just my job – albeit a very enjoyable one.”