FLAWS ARE TO BE CELEBRATED”
“With six young children and a highprofile relationship making headlines, there’s never a dull moment for Madeleine West. And with a starring role in a new television drama, things are not about to slow down…
ehind closed doors, Madeleine West’s life is far from perfect – and she isn’t afraid to admit it. On a good day (which starts at 4.30am), West’s life is organised chaos. On a bad day, it’s bedlam. But that comes with the territory of being a working mother of six children under 13. “Life has taught me that imperfections aren’t something to be ashamed of, they are something to be celebrated,” she tells Stellar. “They are what make us interesting. Our idiosyncrasies are what make us stand out and make us special. And they are an opportunity to learn about yourself.”
That particular lesson came from the moment, 16 years ago, when West saw her reflection in a hospital mirror for the first time after being hit by a bus during a trip to Sydney. The left side of her face had borne the brunt of the accident, leaving her with three skull fractures, two cerebral haematomas, a brain haemorrhage, broken blood vessels in her eyes and layers of skin sheared away from her face.
West later learnt that as she lay unconscious in the gutter, a pair of sex workers cradled her broken body, called an ambulance and tended to her wounds. “They stayed with me until police arrived then disappeared into the night,” she says. “I did put a call out at the time, asking them to come forward so I could thank them, but they never did. Of all the people who walked past me, stepped over my body, stole my wallet from the gutter, it was two street walkers [who stopped to help].”
West admits it was a long road to recovery from the accident. “The first time I saw my face in a mirror, I wanted to die. Had a nurse waltzed in at that moment and accidentally dropped a bottle of sleeping pills, there’s every chance I would have taken them,” she says. “And I am now grateful for what happened. It made me ask myself, ‘Do I want to be an actor so I can be on the cover of a magazine and have people think I look sexy in a bikini, or is it because I want to tell people’s stories and let them live vicariously through me for a moment?’ And it was always the latter, and once I embraced that I healed really quickly.”
It also reunited West – who spent her childhood in the small town of Woodend, Victoria – with her mother after years of estrangement. “We had been disenfranchised from the time I was 16 to 18, so it was really lovely to be back in the nest,” she says. “Because the plates in my skull were still shifting and healing, the pain was excruciating. I was on very strong pain medication. It would come on in the middle of the night, and she had two very young children at the time from her second marriage, and she was still there for me. That just proved to me, for all the judgement I may have cast on her in the past, she was an exceptional individual and she loved me. And was ready and willing to make the sacrifice and demonstrate that.”
Even now, West bears the scars from her accident. She suffers frequent migraines, a section of skin on her face is a noticeably different texture in summer and she can still feel the fracture in her skull. From 2007 to 2010 West played a high-end escort in the Foxtel drama Satisfaction in tribute to the two good Samaritans who comforted her in the street that night. It was just one in a string of TV and film appearances over the past 18 years since she scored a breakout role on Network Ten’s Neighbours. And now she’s back in a starring role in a new drama, Playing For Keeps, which follows the lives of glamorous and powerful women behind the men of a fictional AFL club, the Southern Jets.
“It’s about one of the greatest games that Australia has ever produced, and that has more impact and more gravity than it ever has before,” she says of Playing For Keeps.
“And all the characters, the people in this world, we see them on social media. We see them being interviewed. But do we really know them? This show creates that beautiful, shiny world as we have seen it from an objective position, but then we crack it open and we give the audience an opportunity to vicariously live through us and walk into that world. It’s voyeuristic in the best possible way.”
A mad Collingwood fan, West sought inspiration for her role as the coach’s wife and sexy den mother from stories her social circle of real-life WAGS had told her over the years. “I am not going to drop any names because I don’t think that would be the right thing to do, but I do have friends in that world,” she says.
West’s children were front of mind when she and Bennett separated after 13 years together. The chef has been living and working in Byron Bay while West has remained in Melbourne. West has previously refused to comment on rumours about the status of their relationship, but she now reveals to Stellar: “We’re not currently together. We’re striving to reconnect as friends and parents, but who knows what the future holds? As a family we’ll continue to split our time between Melbourne and Byron Bay.”
West says the breakdown of her relationship was a result of the pressures of balancing the demands of their jobs and their young family. “Having a public profile, having two high-pressure careers, having a multitude of children – and I will say they are a lot harder to train than dragons – it puts exponential pressures on a relationship,” she says.
“And cracks can form, and things that we don’t necessarily plan in the beginning can happen.”
She adds of the interest in the break-up: “It’s hard when people ask questions. People will always be curious no matter what you do. There will always be salacious rumours made up about you. That’s part of public life and you have to accept that.”
Until recently, West has had to turn down some job offers to keep things on an even keel at home. But now her youngest children, twins Margaux and Xalia, have turned three, she feels free to expand her horizons as a writer and actor. At 38, West believes she’s only just hitting her straps as an actor, and is set to cut her teeth as a director on Neighbours. West was studying law, with the hopes of one day assisting victims of sex crimes, when she landed the role of Ramsay Street’s resident good girl, Dee Bliss. “I was in my third year [of a degree] when I was doing both Neighbours and studying,” she recalls. “That became too taxing and I could see Neighbours was offering me a once in a lifetime opportunity, so I made the choice that I can return to law and I still intend to one day. In all my spare time…” she adds with a wry laugh.
She says her passion for helping abuse victims led her to become a staunch advocate for other women on set. While supportive of the changes ushered in by the #Metoo movement, West says she has never been afraid to stick up for herself when she was asked to do anything she wasn’t comfortable with.
“We have all had our experiences and I have made a point of relating my own experiences to other women in the industry,” she says.
“Unfortunately there has been such a perception that when you’re gifted with a role you sometimes have to make untenable choices and necessary sacrifices to hold onto that role, because there are hundreds of girls behind you