Now, more than ten years after leaving to pursue his presenting and stand-up comedy career, James is making a return to the Channel 4 soap.
As Hollyoaks' well-loved star Tony Hutchinson faces his battle with cancer, his old friend Finn returns to help Tony get the most out of life.
For those who didn't watch Hollyoaks when you were in it originally, what can you tell them about your character?
"Finn was in the show from 1998 to 2002 and a bit of a wheeler dealer, cheeky chappy - got into all sorts of scrapes. He was a bit of a thinker - quite into philosophy and travel. He returns because Tony's got cancer and Diane's called him up. He springs Tony out of hospital and forces him to live his life before he dies. They go to Dom's wedding in Spain and they get into a few scrapes, end up in Morocco and it's all about Tony experiencing life – a sort of bucket list."
What was Finn's reaction when Diane told him about Tony?
"He hasn't really been in contact because Finn just follows the sun, travels around, hasn't really been in touch. But obviously everyone has got a lot of affection for Tony. It's an odd one because he's pretty down and worried but Tony's brother, Dom just wants to party and Finn's stuck in the middle, trying to keep Tony's spirits up, trying to organise stuff and keep them out of trouble.
So where has Finn been since we last saw him?
"Well Finn left with Cat Deely on a barge, which isn't bad. I think he's just been travelling round, as I say, following the sun. He's not really that materialistic, he's always just been into having a good time, travelling and meeting new people. I think he's just been travelling around for the last ten years and he’s back in Chester when he's called by Diane."
How excited were you not only to return to Hollyoaks but be asked to do Hollyoaks Later?
"I was very chuffed actually. I'm very proud to be an ex Hollyoaks cast. Most of the cast are quite young and I think they achieve great things and tackle big topics, topics that need to be played out for young people. Some big talent has come through here: James Corden, Will Mellor, Warren Brown - all great talents. Being here is all about learning and I learnt - this was my first job. I didn’t even do any school plays, no drama school, no stage school, I dove straight into this. So to be asked back was a real pleasure. I was chuffed to be back in with Nick Pickard because I know Nick so well from my first time here. I didn't work with John (Pickard) but I know him socially - John's fantastic. And Jeremy Edwards I know very well through my time here so it's been like an old team getting back together really. Danny (Dyer) I know socially as well and he's been great. I’ve really enjoyed it."
How do you feel knowing Hollyoaks is 18 this year?
"It's quite shocking to hear that we're eighteen this year but it's a testament to all the hard work. There's a big responsibility to entertain and inform a teenage audience and I think it's paid off."
How has Hollyoaks changed since you were here?
"Well it's got much bigger. When I was here there was a cast of about fifteen or sixteen now it's triple that. It's just won five British Soap Awards so I know it's doing particularly well at the moment and the viewing figures are good so it's a perfect time to come back. It's funny because when I was here it was Mersey TV and it was owned by Phil Redmond (no relation). It looked like what it was - a converted school. Now it looks more like a studio, but behind every door there's a least one person I know from my time here: 'alright Jimmy mate how are you?' and it's all hugs and everyone's lovely. I live in London - there's no eye contact in London - up here everyone's friendly and it's been nice. I was quite nervous coming back because I thought 'was I that popular, will anyone remember me?' but everyone has been so sweet and welcoming - it's been brilliant."
What did you want for Finn in coming back?
"When I first got the script I was dead chuffed and I thought first of all I'd love to come back and be involved with Tony. That's obviously the main storyline and Finn was always chasing the girls and getting into trouble. And I thought I'd like to be the same character but a bit older and decrepit and you can add some pathos in there then. Because as a 25 year old bloke doing that it's fine, but as a thirty five, forty year old bloke it's not so good. So theres a couple of scenes where Tony challenges Finn on his lifestyle, how he runs away from responsibility and it was quite nice to do that stuff."
Would you ever consider coming back into the main show?
"Yeah I'd love to come back - I've only just come back into acting. I moved from my comedy agent to my acting agent almost a year ago and I've done quite well. I've been quite pleased with myself. I've done a couple of adverts and a pilot for a sitcom and now this, I've really enjoyed it. I was missing the acting. It's a great show and it's definitely something I'd consider."
What will our viewers be most surprised to learn about Finn now?
"That he hasn't really grown up. That he still thinks he's funny, he’s still chasing the girls, saying the wrong thing to the wrong people. How he hasn't been slapped or put out of business is a shock because he's such a cheek. He's so cheeky and he's always in trouble. Maybe it's not a surprise."
Have you kept in touch with anyone from when you were on the show?
"Obviously I kept in touch with Nick and Jeremy. Ben Hull, who played Lewis is a very close friend of mine, I see him quite regularly, although not enough really. Paul Danan I see, he's great fun. It's hard because we're all in our thirties and forties now and married with kids, moved away, in different parts of the country. I really make an effort to see Ben particularly. Jez Edwards lives round the corner from me so I see him fairly regularly."
What's been your most exciting job since you left the show?
"I've done quite a few actually: SMTV and CD:UK that was my first presenting experience. I went on to do Mile High for Sky, playing a bit of an Essex Wide Boy. Casualty was great because I really had to stretch myself as an actor. There was no comedy in my part - it was all drama, lots of shouting and medical stuff. Probably the most exciting stuff was trying stand-up, getting on stage when you've got to do half an hour of jokes to a room that don't know who you are, that was quite challenging and quite exciting. I've got lots of heroes and I've worked with a few of them and that's been amazing. You get lots of advice. Terry Alderton is probably one of my biggest British comedy heroes, he's been great. Jarod Christmas who's in Hollyoaks Later too, he's a fantastic comedian, I've worked with him a few times and he's given me lots of nice advice."