Paul Nicholas

Stage star Paul Nicholas is preparing to join the cast of BBC's long-running soap EastEnders.

The 69-year-old British actor, best known for his roles in Jesus Christ Superstar, Hair and Cats, will play Gavin Sullivan, the estranged husband of Kathy Beale, when he makes his soap debut this autumn.

"I am delighted to be joining the wonderful cast... for what is going to be an exciting time ahead," he said of the new acting gig.

"I can't wait to get started and seeing what's in store for my character."

Nicholas, who shot to fame on the West End stage, has appeared in TV shows including BBC drama Sunburn with ex-EastEnder Michelle Collins and sitcom Just Good Friends.

He is currently touring the UK in a stage version of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, which plays next week at the Ashcroft Theatre in Croydon (22-27 June).

Nicholas's debut follows a surprise return of Kathy Beale, played by Gillian Taylforth. The actress's character, who had been presumed dead for more than a decade following a car crash in South Africa, made a brief comeback during EastEnders' 30th anniversary celebrations in February.

Viewers will watch the fallout from her reappearance when she returns to the square. BBC bosses have hinted that Nicholas's character will play a major role in the storyline.

"We are all thrilled that Paul has agreed to join our cast to play Gavin," said Dominic Treadwell-Collins, the show's executive producer.

"It's brilliant to have him back on our screens, playing a major part in Kathy's explosive return to the Square, while also holding the key to many more of the Square's secrets."