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There is no doubt that 2001 has been a life-changing year for Claire Sweeney. A year ago she was just another soap actress on Brookside and, although she'd clocked up nearly a decade in the programme, only fans of the programme knew her well. 

Then something she did 'just for charity' propelled her into the limelight. Her appearance on Celebrity Big Brother for Comic Relief caught the attention of the British public and now Sweeney is a household name. 

Coming second to Jack Dee on the voyeuristic game show didn't mean she'd lost. In fact her friendly smile and breezy nature made her a hot showbiz commodity and career-wise, she has gained the most out of the six contestants.

"It was just for charity really, a bit of fun," she says, trying to play it down. "But my character in Brookside was quite horrible. At the time she was being really nasty to her mum. I'm a lot nicer than her so obviously people made that comparison."

After she left the house the actress went back to playing Lindsey Corkhill but things were very different. Her singing on the show had impressed record bosses and TV executives were impressed with the public reaction to the real-life Sweeney.

This week she makes her presenting debut on Challenge of a Lifetime, the remixed version of Don't Try This At Home which was presented by Davina McCall, in which she'll be persuading unwitting members of the public to perform dangerous stunts.

Very much a people person, Sweeney feels confident about following in McCall's footsteps but admits she was a bit nervous when she found out she'd have to perform the stunts if a contestant failed.

"All I'd done before was go on the Mad Mouse ride in Southport," she grins. "I've never been much of a dare devil."

The first stunt Sweeney had to do had her in tears at the prospect. Despite the contestant's best attempts at riding a bike over a canyon in Bangor, Wales, on a 12 inch wide bridge, he failed it twice, losing the bike to the rocks below. Sweeney then had to attempt it herself.

"I thought as it was telly - it's pretend really isn't it? - they'll let him have a few goes and they won't make me do it," she says with her infectious giggle. 

"They let him have another go but then suddenly the camera was on me and I was like 'I can't do this!' I was crying my eyes out, I was really scared so I went and rang me mum and told her what was happening and she said 'Come home, don't do that love'."

Sweeney ignored her mother Kathleen's advice and made an attempt at the stunt but generally speaking their relationship is very close and the actress mentions her regularly.

Bringing her daughter up in Walton, Liverpool, Kathleen set her on the road to stardom when she offered the 10-year-old horse-riding or dance lessons. Sweeney picked the latter and they lead her into a career of performing show tunes on cruise ships. Four years of singing on the high seas left her wanting something more stable so she returned to Liverpool and landed the role of Lindsey in Brookside.

Like anyone who moves onto the doomed Close, Sweeney's soap character has had her fair share of tragedies. Lindsey has been raped and imprisoned in Bangkok. After 10 years of Corkhill bad luck, she found going into the Big Brother house a breeze.

"It wasn't at all terrifying, I quite enjoyed it," she says. "I just chilled out while I was there. I just went in for charity and to have a bit of fun. I think I was a bit naive. I had so many people, especially my mum, saying to me 'You're really brave doing it, you must be mad'.

"When I came out there were loads of job offers which I could only have dreamed of yet it happened. But it was like a big spotlight had suddenly been put on me. It was scary."

Sweeney's week in the house left the public wanting more of the Scouse lass and she was recently plastered across billboards as the new face of Marks and Spencer. Record labels also showed interest but her singing career is likely be on the stage as she's currently in talks to take over Denise Van Outen's part in the musical Chicago.

For now, though, she's easing herself into the job of television presenter. "The thing about the show that appealed to me was that if I'd done a studio programme with scripts it would have been more nerve-wracking," says Sweeney. "This was just me talking to people and everything was on first take so what you see is all very real. They wanted someone who was good at talking to people and could interact with people."

While Celebrity Big Brother has brought Sweeney many opportunities it has also brought tabloid attention to her personal life. She split with her long-term boyfriend Blackburn Rovers goalkeeper Alan Miller last year, and her blossoming relationship with theatre producer Adam Kenwright has filled column inches. She is reluctant to talk about the relationship, merely saying they've been out for dinner a few times and are getting on 'great'. The recent tabloid rumours of their impending marriage seem premature.

There is a change on the way however as she'll be leaving the Close soon - but we haven't necessarily seen the last of Lindsey. Brookside's creator Phil Redmond has left the door open by not killing her character off.

"Phil's a friend as well as a boss," she grins. "He's been great over the last year. I'd love to go back maybe next year and do a bit.

"I expect I'll be crying when I leave. I've got me party so a few Jack Daniels and I'll be in tears. There's three of us leaving, me, my screen mum Sue Jenkins and Barbara Hatwell (Ron Dixon's wife Anthea) so we're having a big joint party. There's karaoke so it's going to be great."