Look who’s back BABY
Madeleine West on raising six kids and returning to Neighbours
If actor, accomplished author and aspiring screenwriter Madeleine West had written her return to Neighbours, there’s every chance the fantasy scene she had in mind for her character Dee Bliss — “arriving again, wearing a wet, sodden wedding dress, saying ‘I’m baaaack!’” — would have joined her famous, watery demise 13 years ago in the pantheon of epic episodes of the classic Aussie soap. Before news of her resurrection was hinted at last year, the last time fans saw West on screen she was careening off a cliff in a station wagon, moments after marrying the love of her life, Toadie Rebecchi. Or rather, a dummy of Dee did, which West explains “almost decapitated itself as the car went over the cliff”, the blonde wig sweeping out the window “and nearly ripping the doll’s head right off”. Standing on the Altona shoreline that fateful day, watching her character meet what was believed to be her ocean grave, was a giggle rather than grief-inducing moment, West remembers. “Being surrounded by the crew, it was all quite hilarious,” she says. “The true heartbreak was in the actual wedding and afterwards when I had to read out a letter I’d written to Toadie, which he discovered when he got home, post-disaster. That was quite heart-wrenching.”
While she won’t spoil the details of Dee’s return, she says: “She’s not a ghost, nor is she a figment of Toadie’s imagination, and she wasn’t abducted by aliens. Suffice to say, she has returned and the audience will be in for several big shocks.”
Now a mother of six children (with her TV chef husband Shannon Bennett of MasterChef
Australia fame); the author of parenting book Six Under Eight; and with a recurring role as openly gay breakfast TV co-host, Erica Jones in Ten’s prime-time drama hit The Wrong Girl, West has somehow found the time for the 14-week guest role.
She also has plans to direct and write for the soap this year.
The maturity that has come with motherhood and her determination to set a positive example for her children, she says, is all the motivation she needs.
“When you have a passion, you make time. I’m amazed by how much you can fit into a day.
“Sometimes it means sacrificing other things, so my social life is often wanting. But if it means getting up at four or five in the morning to run through some scripts, or do a final edit on a column I’ve written, or work on kids’ school production costumes, I just figure I’ll sleep plenty when I’m dead.”
While some of her offspring are showing an interest in showbiz, a no-nonsense West has set them some strict guidelines for success.
Allowed one extra-curriculum activity per school term, they must devote themselves to it or, after three weeks, “that’s it, it’s done”.
As West explains: “It’s not anyone else’s responsibility to push us forward, otherwise we end up in a state of children who are entitled, undeservedly so, and are consistently sending their parents in to fight their battles for them.
“We end up with a society who don’t have the skills they need for the jobs they are doing.”
WATCH NEIGHBOURS, ELEVEN, MONDAY, 6.30PM
“I’m amazed by how much you can fit into a day”