When it was announced that Daniel Craig was to be the sixth actor to play James Bond for 2006’s Casino Royale, Bond fans were up in arms. Craig was blonde, he was short and he was just too damn arty.

Perhaps they most objected to the fact that he had previously happily bared it all on celluloid and had even – gasp – played gay in a film.

They were destined to eat their words as the craggy yet sexy actor blew audiences away with the most complex representation of 007 to date. Craig’s Bond remained masculine, tough and deadly, but he also hinted at rarely seen human vulnerability.

Craig was a Bond for a new era, one as at ease with flaunting his scantily clad body as any previous Bond girl. Audiences clearly approved and Casino Royale went on to become the highest grossing film in the history of the 007 franchise.

Most pleasingly, the film’s producers subverted one of the most heterosexual male celluloid wet-dream moments in film history – when Ursula Andress emerged from the sea in a wet bikini in Dr. No – by instead having Bond step out from the ocean wearing a pair of tight blue trunks. (For many a young gay boy that image may well stay forever ingrained in their brain.)

Thankfully the forty-year-old hunk is back to reprise the role for a second time with Quantum of Solace. But just who is this new-era action hero and why is he so bloody sexy?

Daniel Craig was born in Chester, England, and was brought up in Liverpool, leaving there to join the National Youth Theatre in London at the age of seventeen. He continued his training at the prestigious London Guildhall School of Music and Drama, graduating in 1991.

Few are aware that his film debut was in the 1992 South African boxing drama The Power of One, but it was with his performance as Geordie Peacock in the 1996 television drama serial Our Friends in the North that he first came to the attention of critics.

In 1998 he played his first gay role – that of George Dyer; painter Francis Bacon’s working class boyfriend, in Love is the Devil. It’s also here that he bared all for the camera for the first time in a number of scenes.

Piercing blue eyes aside, Craig doesn’t have the most classically attractive of faces – especially with a pair of rather prominent ears, but he is undeniably sexy. And then there is that body…

“Getting naked on screen has never bothered me,” Craig said earlier this year. “I’ve kind of made a career out of it. I work out, because that’s what I do now. It’s part of my job. I’ve always worked out to keep fit.”

Craig also told the Daily Mirror that he was more than happy to bare all in a Bond movie: “In today’s world we expect female actresses to go naked so why not men? I have told bosses I’m prepared to do a full frontal scene. I’m not shy and Bond wouldn’t be shy about it either.”

One person to have seen the actor naked in the flesh is co-star Dame Judi Dench who plays M in the Bond films. She apparently caught a glimpse of Craig’s manhood while he was undressing in his trailer and reportedly said: “It’s an absolute monster! Maybe I shouldn’t have said that. How uncouth of me!”

Craig came to regret his openness about showing off his body on-screen when the beach scene in Casino Royale became the focus of so much hype on the film’s release. “I never want to put those things on again,” he later commented about his blue swimming shorts.

Criag’s first experience with the Hollywood blockbuster came in 2001 when he played Lara Croft’s nefarious boyfriend in the first Tomb Raider movie, alongside Angelina Jolie. And in 2006 he was to play gay once again in Infamous; about the life of author Truman Capote.

In the film, Craig, as killer Perry Smith, shares an on-screen kiss in a prison cell with actor Toby Jones who plays Capote. Jones was to later cheekily quip, “I never dreamed I would kiss James Bond.”

When asked about the possibility of James Bond having an onscreen gay love scene, Craig responded “Why not? I think in this day and age, fans would have accepted it. I mean, look at [the British TV series] Doctor Who – that has had gay scenes in it and no one blinks an eye.”

Craig has also acknowledged that he has something of a gay following. “I was out recently and all these gay guys were over me like a rash, but they never ask about the Bond plot,” he recently joked.

James Bond producers have to-date regretfully not chosen to take up Craig’s offer to bare all or have a man-on-man love scene for queen and country. (Now that would have been a license to thrill.)

As for his personal life Craig appears happily heterosexual. He was married from 1992 to 1994 to Scottish actress Fiona Loudon, with whom he has a daughter, Ella, and he is currently in a relationship with American film producer Satsuki Mitchell.

Quantum of Solace, the 22nd James Bond film, which recently released around the world – and in South Africa – has already proved that Craig’s success as Bond in Casino Royale was not a fluke. It had the highest weekend box office of any Bond film in the US and, as of 18 November 2008, it had already earned $321,857,447 internationally.

Craig will be back as Bond: he’s signed on for four films so we can expect to see him thrill us at least twice more on the big screen as the most famous fictional spy in history. And with luck we just might yet see James Bond lock lips with a man (perhaps kicking off a new tradition of Bond Boys). With a black man set to take over the White House in 2009, stranger things have happened.

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