Look who’s back BABY

Madeleine West on rais­ing six kids and re­turn­ing to Neigh­bours

Herald Sun - Switched On - - FRONT PAGE - HOLLY BYRNES NA­TIONAL TV ED­I­TOR

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”

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