Real-life dra­mas

Af­ter 14 years Ni­cola Charles re­turns to Neigh­bours, hav­ing sur­vived some tur­moil of her own, writes Colin Vick­ery

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Cover Story -

‘‘I grew a Gan­dalf beard in the time it took me to watch The Hob­bit.’’ Seth MacFarlane @SethMacFar­lane Charles sit­ting in front of me is still mighty glam­orous but older (she is 42), wiser, and, she ad­mits, a heck of a lot hum­bler. A failed mar­riage and a bit­ter cus­tody dis­pute will do that to you. Charles has paid a steep emo­tional, fi­nan­cial and ca­reer price for love­g­one-wrong.

‘‘ Neigh­bours was my first act­ing role and I chose to walk away from it — and of­ten that is a big mis­take,’’ Charles says.

Charles mar­ried Ir­ish ac­tor Ja­son Barry ( Ti­tanic) in Au­gust 2003 but the pair split in 2008. Dur­ing that time they moved to Los An­ge­les so that Barry could pur­sue his ca­reer.

The pair have two daugh­ters, Freya and Nova.

It was Charles that ended the re­la­tion­ship af­ter, she says, ‘‘ I reached my limit’’.

‘‘ I fan­ta­sised a life for my­self and my mar­riage and my fam­ily that didn’t ex­ist,’’ she re­veals.

NI­COLA Charles knows what it is like to hit rock bot­tom. It is 16 years since the Bri­tish-born former model sprang to fame on Neigh­bours.

Those were the glory days – a golden pe­riod when Charles made head­lines as Sarah Beau­mont. Charles ap­peared on Neigh­bours from 1996 to 1999 and was cen­tral to one of its most mem­o­rable sto­ry­lines — the af­fair be­tween Sarah and her boss, Dr Karl Kennedy (Alan Fletcher).

The sex­ual ten­sion was pal­pa­ble as Sarah and the mar­ried Karl de­clared their love for each other at the end of the 1997 sea­son. Karl and wife Su­san (Jackie Woodburne) had been Neigh­bours’ favourite cou­ple.

The steamy ro­mance pro­vided a huge rat­ings boost to the Chan­nel 10 soapie.

View­ers never did know whether Sarah and Karl had or hadn’t done the deed.

Charles’ ca­reer soared, she was hot in the UK, and she was named one of the world’s sex­i­est women two years in a row.

Then, in 1999, Charles quit Neigh­bours — and pretty much dis­ap­peared.

Jump for­ward to now and the Ni­cola

‘‘ Even­tu­ally you have to face the truth — that the peo­ple around you that you think have your best in­ter­ests at heart don’t care about you at all.’’

The next years were con­sumed by a drawn-out cus­tody bat­tle for Freya and Nova in the US courts.

‘‘ It (the cus­tody dis­pute) was ex­tremely ter­ri­fy­ing,’’ Charles says. ‘‘ I felt be­lea­guered and out of luck — that it was never go­ing to go my way.

‘‘ I sat there (in court) and felt im­mensely shame­ful and dis­ap­pointed in my­self — that I had got into a sit­u­a­tion in my life where it was go­ing to take a third party (judge) to sort my busi­ness out.

It hum­bledme be­yond what I thought pos­si­ble

‘‘ It was an open court (to the pub­lic) so there wasn’t pri­vacy on any level about fi­nances or re­la­tion­ships or any­thing. I thought ‘ how does a per­son get to this point?’ ’’

Charles had to take a crash course in US fam­ily law and she even­tu­ally won the cus­tody bat­tle— but the scars re­main.

‘‘ Per­haps if I’d made dif­fer­ent de­ci­sions and been more ma­ture, I might not have ended up in that sit­u­a­tion,’’ she says. ‘‘ It hum­bled me be­yond what I thought pos­si­ble — the guilt and the shame.’’

Last June, Charles mar­ried Bri­tish DJ Mark Tab­berner. They have a son, Archie. Fi­nally, there is some sta­bil­ity in Charles’ life again.

Tab­berner has brought new­found hap­pi­ness.

‘‘ Now I am with some­one who brings so much joy and fun (to my life),’’ she beams. ‘‘ Mark is like a fourth child — a big kid — and that’s why chil­dren love him and why he’s such a great dad.

‘‘ I’d never been around some­one (be­fore) who wants to do the fun things in life.

‘‘ I’m quite a se­ri­ous per­son and work-fo­cused. If I had to pick one word to de­scribe me it would be ‘ bor­ing’.’’

She is also back do­ing a stint as Sarah on Neigh­bours.

‘‘ When I saw the scripts I was ab­so­lutely flab­ber­gasted. Ev­ery­thing is on the page. I was ac­tu­ally shocked read­ing it,’’ Charles says.

Rhys Uh­lich, also a mod­el­turned-ac­tor, joins Charles in the cast. Uh­lich, crowned the win­ner of Make Me a Su­per­model in 2008, plays Scotty Boland, a strap­ping farmer who fol­lows his high school sweet­heart Ge­or­gia Brooks (Saskia Ham­pele) to Erins­bor­ough. ‘‘ Ever since I got into mod­el­ling, act­ing has been some­thing I’ve wanted to pur­sue,’’ Uh­lich says. Neigh­bours, Eleven, week­nights, 6.30pm

Erins­bor­ough vis­i­tors: Rhys Uh­lich and Ni­cola Charles.

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