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“It was never a choice – a de­ci­sion – that I made [to quit act­ing],” she says. “It just nat­u­rally hap­pened be­cause, ob­vi­ously, I wanted to be there with the kids. I don’t want to miss any­thing. And I was for­tu­nate enough to be trav­el­ling with Lley­ton and got to see all these won­der­ful places and have these mem­o­ries with my kids. I am with the kids all the time. Every minute of the day. And I love it.”

The state of her mar­riage has proved to be a tire­less source of fas­ci­na­tion for the gos­sip mag­a­zines, with breath­less re­ports of an al­legedly im­mi­nent di­vorce mak­ing front page news week in and week out for more than a decade. It’s a cir­cus that He­witt says bears no ac­tual re­sem­blance to the far less dra­matic re­al­ity of their do­mes­tic life.

“We have a good lit­tle rou­tine go­ing,” she says. “When Lley­ton comes back [commitments to his Ba­hamas-based ten­nis academy and role as the Davis Cup cap­tain re­quire him to travel fre­quently], it just light­ens the load. He re­ally likes to help and every morn­ing he’s like, ‘No, no, you’ve done the school run for the last three weeks, so let me do it.’”

t was love at first sight be­tween au­di­ence and ac­tor when He­witt, then a fresh-faced teenager named Rebecca Cartwright, joined Home And Away in 1998. “I re­call the first au­to­graph I was asked for was af­ter my first night on air,” she says. “We stopped at a surf shop and some­one recog­nised me af­ter just one night, which I found re­ally odd as I didn’t even talk in the first scenes.

“I was so young and en­thu­si­as­tic and had all the en­ergy in the world,” she re­calls of the long days on set. “And I loved it. I would turn up and peo­ple would say, ‘Bec, it’s too early to be that happy!’ I was jump­ing around ready to go.”

She still counts many of the cast and crew among her close friends, in­clud­ing Kate Ritchie. “Liv­ing in dif­fer­ent cities makes any free-and-easy catch­ing up im­pos­si­ble,” Ritchie, who lives in Syd­ney, tells Stel­lar. “But that is a tes­ta­ment to our friend­ship. Our con­nec­tion re­mains the same. Our his­tory, love for each other and in­ter­est in our grow­ing fam­i­lies re­mains the same re­gard­less of lo­ca­tion and ease, mean­ing we will long re­main friends for all the right rea­sons.

“What I know about Bec is that she has put her chil­dren and fam­ily life be­fore ev­ery­thing else for so long. Not out of sac­ri­fice, but out of love and ded­i­ca­tion.”

De­spite her im­mense pop­u­lar­ity, He­witt man­aged to es­cape the bad press that can en­gulf teen stars and never had any run-ins with the law – un­less you count the time the po­lice pulled her over just to meet her.

“I had a re­ally lovely fam­ily that kept me grounded,” she says. “It’s just your job. You turn up. You dress up. I got to play dress-ups for a liv­ing. I re­ally hope I re­mained hum­ble through­out. Fam­ily was al­ways the most im­por­tant thing. So when I left work, I left it all be­hind.”

For as long as she can re­call, He­witt wanted to per­form. “My mum used to tell this story that we would catch the train into the city to go to the cast­ings, and by the end of it I would have the whole car­riage talk­ing to me,” she laughs. “I would do lit­tle songs and dances. When I was five she put me into an agency. I started out with com­mer­cials and I loved it. Yes, there was the bonus of get­ting the day off school, but I re­ally loved be­ing in front of the cam­era and I loved danc­ing as well.”

Two decades later, He­witt now finds her­self the one fer­ry­ing chil­dren to dance classes – among other ac­tiv­i­ties. “Mia is very creative,” she says with vis­i­ble pride. “She loves do­ing fash­ion illustration. Lit­tle Miss Ava is a se­ri­ous gym­nast. She does 15 hours a week and eight hours of dance on top of that. Cruz is in­ter­ested in any­thing to do with a ball, but ten­nis he loves. He will hit balls un­til the sun has gone down.”

Cruz is so pas­sion­ate about ten­nis that he spent his sum­mer hol­i­days train­ing at his fa­ther’s ten­nis academy – but while Aus­tralians might hope to see an­other He­witt on cen­tre court one day, his mother stays res­o­lutely neu­tral.

“I hope he doesn’t feel that pres­sure,” she says. “Cruz is such a strong in­di­vid­ual. He will just do his own thing, hope­fully. But he has the ded­i­ca­tion and com­mit­ment.”

As for He­witt, de­spite her hus­band’s pa­tient at­tempts to help her im­prove her game and af­ter all these years in the pres­ence of a pro, she still con­sid­ers her­self an “ab­so­lute be­gin­ner”.

“When I met Lley­ton, I didn’t know any­one from ten­nis,” she re­calls with a laugh. “I had never seen a ten­nis match. Roger Fed­erer could’ve been a swim­mer for all I knew.”

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