SOAP beauty Gemma Atkinson joined a host of celebrities to help launch this year’s Great Manchester Run.

The Bury-born actress will be running the event for the first time this year, alongside the hundreds of Boltonians expected to take part.

She was among the celebrities at the launch event in Spinningfields yesterday, and pledged to raise money for the new children’s hospital appeal.

The race, which takes place on Sunday, May 17, is now open for entries, and more than 6,000 people have signed up.

Thousands of pounds was raised for local charities in last year’s event, which has grown in popularity since it first took place in 2003.

About 10,000 people took part in the first event, but up to 33,000 are expected this year.

Russell Watson will sing at the start of the race to send the runners on their way. Bond girl Britt Ekland and Coronation Street stars Anthony Cotton and Samia Smith have also pledged their support.

Jo Pavey, winner of the run for the last two years, said: “I have really enjoyed competing in the event. The atmosphere is superb and the course is great, allowing a very competitive race. It is definitely a highlight of the year for me.”