WHEN Richard Grieve played Tick for the final year of Priscilla Queen Of The Desert’s three-year run in the West End, the Australian actor never imagined he would end up in another role in the show when it took to the road.

Was it his suggestion that he should flick from Tick to Bernadette, the transsexual performer that Terence Stamp made so memorable in Stephan Elliott’s 1994 film?

“No, it wasn’t my idea at all,” says Richard, who arrives in York on Monday for a week-long run in the outrageously camp musical at the Grand Opera House.

“I was aware the show was being remounted for a tour and I was asked to come and read for Tick again, but just the night before I was due to go in, my agent said, ‘Don’t get stressed but I’ve asked if you could read for Bernadette too’, which came completely out of left field. I’d never thought of being up for that role… but it’s turned out to be a jewel among the parts I’ve played.”

Those parts have included Aussie soap days as Sam Kratz in Neighbours and Dr Lachlan Frazer in Home And Away and the first civil partnership in British soap in the role of gay Jonny Foster, who ran an aerobics dance class and fitness club in Emmerdale.

Now, at 43, he is in his element in Priscilla Queen Of The Desert, Stephan Elliott’s fabulous, uplifting adventure of three friends who hop aboard a battered old bus searching for love and friendship in the rough, tough Australian Outback.

Richard’s first Priscilla role, Tick, is the central one, to be played by Noel Sullivan in York and Jason Donovan at Leeds Grand Theatre in July.

“Tick is a middle-aged gay man who works as a drag queen in the pubs and clubs of Sydney, and he’s not necessarily a particularly successful or good one. He has a wife and child that he left and who’s seven now,” says Richard, introducing the show’s storyline.

“He’s been an absent father and he’s being called back by his ex-wife to take up his responsibilities as a father – and so the three friends head off to Alice Springs to do a show there and for Tick to meet the boy.”

The role with the most fun to be had, however, is surely his new one, Bernadette. “Apparently, Bernadette is based on one of Australia’s first post-operative transsexuals, who was a performer in Les Girls back in the 1970s, which was a bit like Sydney’s answer to the Moulin Rouge, where everyone went for a night out when ‘gay’ wasn’t really a word that existed out in the open,” says Richard.

“In Priscilla, Bernadette is the older character on the road trip, so there’s a lot of friction between them as they each confront their demons, themselves and their place in the world, working out how well they don’t fit into that environment.”

Richard has brought his own stamp to the role, different again from Terence Stamp’s original.

“You have to treat it as fresh territory. The common thread for any performance is the story and you have to find your own truth in the character from that,” he says.

“For me, well, for everyone, she’s a fighter. As a transsexual, she’s undergoing the kind of change that’s very bold and very brave and comes with lots of sacrifices, and she’s made a success of that change by being string-willed, clever and very witty, taking on challenges with her sharp tongue.

“But she’s had to fight against the prejudice of the status quo, and so deep down there’s pain, and the only way to compete is with that wit.”

If it were possible, the musical version of Priscilla Queen of the Desert is said to out-camp even the film.

“I think the producers thought they were taking a bit of a gamble taking the show on tour when we started in February, but we’ve been bowled over by the response to it,” says Richard. “We’re on the road until February and it may well get extended.”

Each show may require Richard to arrive at the theatre two hours before curtain-up to prepare his make-up and all those costumes and feathers, but it is worth it, he insists. “One thing I can say: it’s a very classy show!”

• Priscilla Queen Of The Desert, The Musical, runs at Grand Opera House, York, May 13 to 18; Monday to Thursday, 7.30pm; Friday, 5pm and 8.15pm; Saturday, 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or atgtickets.com/york. Also Leeds Grand Theatre, July 1 to 13, 0844 848 2700 or leedsgrandtheatre.com