MAYBE he’s charming or maybe he’s forgotten my name, but I can’t deny going weak at the knees when Elliott Wright calls me ‘babe’.
The afternoon we meet in La Cala de Mijas, the deep-tanned 34-year-old reality TV star may look like he just strolled off the beach but he is, in fact, ‘highly stressed’.
A pint of fresh orange juice down though, and he is back to his best; full of banter and talking a million miles an hour.
The man from The Only Way is Essex (or TOWIE – the UK’s most popular reality TV show) is on a mission to single-handedly charm the coast.
All part of his plan to ‘kill it’ with his new restaurant Olivia’s La Cala, he promises to make it the single most exciting new venue on the coast this summer.
Touchingly named after his five-year-old daughter, it certainly promises to be something very different for Mijas, with a lobster and burger bar and a main restaurant with up to a dozen chefs and many more waiters.
“I want my bar staff to be handsome and my waitresses to be beautiful… the barmen have got to be 10/10 – they’ve got to look good for the girls,” he insists.
Despite currently resembling a building site, he is confident it will be open in July with a celeb-packed launch, promising to feature his famous cousin Mark and new wife Michelle Keegan, ex-Coronation Street, as well as ‘loads of footballers, boxers, actors and, of course, lots of fit models’.
But it is not all plain sailing with the restaurant, formerly known as Mijas Playa, having the usual issues over planning with the town hall.
“I actually got nicked the other day,” he laughs, totally unfazed.
“I got frogmarched down to the town hall by a couple of officials for pulling down too many walls – all sorted now, I hope – lot of red tape out here and I learnt that the hard way!”
Herein lies Wright’s real talent – he is hell-bent on getting the job done, his way, without fretting about the system.
And, above all, he knows how it works here, having lived in Spain on and off since he was 10 years old and since opening his first restaurant at the ripe old age of 21 in Alicante.
He still has the restaurant, called Eduardos Villamartin Plaza (soon to be renamed Elliott’s after his son Elliott, 8,) in Orihuela, and it is often packed with up to 200 covers a night, he boasts.
But nothing compares to the excitement and buzz that is building up around his first venture on the Costa del Sol.
Taking no chances he is spending a whopping €3 million on the site, which will also include a champagne bar and stage for performances.
Wright may have the body of a Greek god, but he’s got the shrewd mind of a businessman, and despite his happy-go-lucky vibe, he’s deadly serious about making this a success.
“I never really wanted to be famous and I never wanted to go on the show because my heart’s in restaurants and hospitality,” he reveals to the Olive Press in his first ever interview in Spain.
Talking to him over drinks at Cafe Bulevar, next to Homefinders estate agents, he adds: “I’m a sociable person and grounded – I love the job I do, I love talking to people and I want my restaurants to be like coming to a party at my house – welcoming.”
And for the close-on half a million Twitter followers that hang off his every tweet, he is remarkably down to earth and sincere.
In his own words he is ‘unstable, volatile and a bit of a nightmare to control’ but face-to-face this comes across endearingly as he flits lightning-fast from subject to subject.
You can almost see his brain whirring behind piercing blue eyes.
Perhaps surprisingly, he rises every day at 6am for two hours at the gym before work and is ‘barely drinking’ at the moment, all the hallmarks of a driven guy.
One minute we are laughing about how long he takes to get ready in the morning (‘Only two minutes, I don’t mess around’), and the next, it’s back to business.
“It stressful when you’ve invested every single thing you’ve got into something, and if this fouls I will be bankrupt.
“But I’ve never failed before and I don’t expect to now. Not in the name of my daughter.”
Although recently single after splitting up with TOWIE co-star Chloe Sims, Wright is open to finding love on the Costa del Sol and settling down, but he is focussed on putting his kids and business first.
Humorously, he admits that apart from looking for ‘big boobs – after personality, I promise’ a future love interest ‘could be international, just like my food, as long as she makes me smile’.
And the food may well be international, since Wright’s long-standing head chef Dave Gallagher has just returned from Australia – and is putting together a talented team.
All is not hunky dory, however.
The star is reeling from the news that his ex-wife is moving their kids back from Alicante to Ireland, having initially moved them from the UK to Spain, meaning he will only get to see them occasionally at weekends and during holidays.
“It’s like everywhere I’ve gone I’ve chased her and the kids and she’s now moving back to Ireland. It’s very upsetting,” he reveals, showing a rare sensitive side.
This does not rock his commitment to Spain though, a place he has always loved, and harks fondly back to the days when Puerto Banus bars shunned all but collared shirts and chino-wearers and, of course, glamour girls.
The son of a successful Bethnal Green car dealer, he actually went to private school in Marbella for two years, at international school Aloha College.
While back then as a youngster he got to know and love the fleshpots of Banus and ‘Marbs’ well, these days he thinks the scene is a ‘little shot’.
He insists though that he is not trying to intercept the Puerto Banus market, but is adamant that many will travel to La Cala when they see its potential.
Wright discovered the unspoilt spot by chance when his ‘Uncle Dave’, who owns Homefinders, suggested it.
“I fell in love with it here and see massive potential.
“It’s vibrant, it’s got that Andalucian feel about it and it’s very friendly – all it needs now is for someone to show it off with a trendy, universal place.”
He is in good company, as three reality TV stars are setting up shop in La Cala: TV chef Steve Saunders has opened the Pink Geranium, while a mystery Life on Marbs star will run the soon-to-open Jessie’s wine bar.
Meanwhile, he is keen to quash the rumours that he is set to quit TOWIE to concentrate on his new venture.
“It has been a great way to drum up business and public recognition and I enjoy doing. I don’t plan to leave just yet.”
It is certainly not likely to happen this summer, with the cast of TOWIE set to touch down on the Costa del Sol next week to film their annual The Only Way is Marbs special and it is a racing certainty that they will all be popping over to see his new venture.
Just back from the big celebrity wedding this year between cousin Mark and Michelle, he is certainly optimistic: “We’re all over the Olive Press, the Costa del Sol and ITV. Watch this space.”