Re­becca Gib­ney:

the TV star moves home to New Zealand!


She was half way up the Route­burn Track with her hus­band when a sense of calm came over Re­becca Gib­ney that stopped her on the spot. The cou­ple had just wrapped the pro­duc­tion of the se­cond sea­son of their hit show Wanted, a kind of Aus­tralasian Thelma & Louise, filmed in Queen­stown. They’d popped the Cham­pagne with the post-pro­duc­tion crew, sent off the fi­nal footage and were en­joy­ing a hike to­gether.

“There was no one else there, we lit­er­ally didn’t see one other soul and there were birds fly­ing down and land­ing in front of us. The minute I get into the for­est I feel like noth­ing else mat­ters, I feel calm and com­pletely at ease,” says Re­becca.

There will be a whole lot more time spent in New Zealand’s forests from now on, be­cause the Kiwi-born star has de­cided to make New Zealand home again after 30 years of liv­ing and work­ing across the Tas­man.

She and her hus­band Richard

Bell – who to­gether head R and R Pro­duc­tions – along with their son Zac, 13, had only ever in­tended to make Queen­stown their home tem­po­rar­ily while they made Wanted, but the prospect of re­turn­ing home to Syd­ney at the end of film­ing sud­denly had lit­tle ap­peal.

In­stead they’ve de­cided to put down per­ma­nent roots.

“My son has ac­tu­ally dic­tated that, be­cause he doesn’t want to go any­where,” Re­becca ex­plains. “He is like, ‘I am done, you can do what­ever you want but I am stay­ing here!’”

Over the past year, Zac has de­vel­oped great friend­ships in New Zealand and is lov­ing school. “We can’t take that away from him,” says Re­becca. “He has been a kid who has had to adapt to our life­style. In 2015 we were in Bris­bane for a year,>>

be­fore that we were in Syd­ney and he was born in Tas­ma­nia. So we have moved him around and I think now it is re­ally im­por­tant that he gets a solid base so he can fo­cus on school.”

Zac, who loves the out­doors, is a hot-shot on the Queen­stown ski fields and is rev­el­ling in New Zealand’s lack of poi­sonous in­sects and rep­tiles.

“He adores it – he runs around bare­foot even in the snow and is thrilled that noth­ing can kill him,” Re­becca says with a laugh. “He misses his mates and parts of Aus­tralia but he loves the fact that he doesn’t have to think about [snakes and spi­ders]. Par­tic­u­larly in sum­mer when you walk past a bush there [in Aus­tralia] you are al­ways re­ally cau­tious be­cause you are like, ‘Is a snake go­ing to come out of there? Are there any fun­nel webs?’ We just don’t have that here.”

Richard, a keen skier, is also very happy in his new home, and if he and Re­becca have their way they will be cre­at­ing more pro­duc­tions in Queen­stown, which 52-year-old Re­becca de­scribes as “one of the most beau­ti­ful places in the world”.

“Oh yes! We ac­tu­ally have two ideas for films that Richard and I are de­vel­op­ing and the great thing about film­ing Wanted here is we have now worked with and de­vel­oped some great re­la­tion­ships with lo­cal crew.”

In the mean­time, the Lo­gie win­ner, who is best known for her role as

Julie in Packed to the Rafters, will com­mute to Aus­tralia, where she and Richard have more projects un­der­way.

She also has a TV role com­ing up later in the year but can’t talk about it yet; all she’ll re­veal is that she has to shed 10kg – which is no mean feat after the age of 50.

The no-carb diet starts next week, so she tucks into sand­wiches and tarts dur­ing our photo shoot, but only after mak­ing sure ev­ery­one else is taken care of. She is un­fail­ingly upbeat and ac­com­mo­dat­ing, with an ever-ready belly laugh – the anti-diva of the tele­vi­sion in­dus­try. “This,” she says,

“is like dress-ups for the day!”

Re­becca, it seems, is only half jok­ing when she cred­its her ca­reer longevity to the sage, if earthy, words of an old col­league. “Years ago, on Fly­ing Doc­tors, I asked [the late Aus­tralian ac­tor] Mau­rie Fields, ‘What’s the best ad­vice you can give me?’ and he said, ‘Show up on time, know your lines and don’t be a dick,’” she says, laugh­ing. “I took that ad­vice.”

With close fam­ily and friends on both sides of the Tas­man, Re­becca says she is un­fazed by trav­el­ling back and forth from New Zealand to Aus­tralia for work.

“Luck­ily I have places I can stay in Mel­bourne and Syd­ney, be­cause a lot of my friends are there. We also have a stu­dio in Syd­ney so we still have strong ties to Aus­tralia.”

While two of her sis­ters are in Aus­tralia, Re­becca, who is one of six sib­lings, has fam­ily nearby in New Zealand. “My niece lives in Cromwell, my brother is in Nel­son and my sis­ter is in Master­ton and Mum was over here just a few weeks ago. I have just had my best friend come and my other best friend Jane Hall is com­ing in three weeks. We have de­vel­oped some re­ally strong friend­ships here too so it is very much a fam­ily place.”

Re­becca, who grew up with a mother she idolises and three dot­ing

“As I get older, I don’t give a rat’s any more what people think.”

big sis­ters, has al­ways sought and savoured the com­pany of women. Some of her hap­pi­est times have been spent with the women she loves best – usu­ally in her “jim-jams”, wine in hand, mulling over life’s minu­tiae for hours on end. For Re­becca, fe­male friend­ship is food for the soul, and the ac­tress has nur­tured so many strong bonds it seems as if she has a con­fi­dante for ev­ery oc­ca­sion.

“My friend­ships mean ev­ery­thing to me be­cause they can hold up a mir­ror to you,” says Re­becca. “I’ve got the friend I can go to for per­fect ad­vice, but I’ve also got the friend who’ll just sit and lis­ten and hold a tis­sue while I sob. I’m the worst fash­ion­ista on the planet, but if I need ad­vice on what to wear, I’ve got a friend who’s the most in­cred­i­ble dresser.”

Re­becca in­sists she has never en­coun­tered any cat­ti­ness or ri­valry among women, and seems scep­ti­cal that it even ex­ists. “Maybe I’m just hang­ing out with the right girls. I’ve never been jeal­ous of other women. Be­ing the baby of three older sis­ters who adored me, I was never in­se­cure about fe­males – I loved be­ing around them. I’m just a girl’s girl.”

It’s no co­in­ci­dence then that her lat­est project is a cel­e­bra­tion of sis­ter­hood – a ve­hi­cle for strong fe­male char­ac­ters that are way more than just a man’s ap­pendage. Wanted is a drama se­ries about two po­larop­po­site strangers who get mixed up in a mur­der and go on the run, pur­sued by a cop and a hit­man. In the up­com­ing se­cond sea­son, ac­coun­tant Chelsea (Geral­dine Hakewill) and su­per­mar­ket cashier Lola (Re­becca) are on the road again, this time to rescue Lola’s kid­napped son.

“Re­ally it’s about their friend­ship and about how far they’ll go for each other,” says Re­becca, who is al­ready plot­ting sea­son three. “That was im­por­tant to me – to cre­ate a show that was about women.”

In keep­ing with the theme, the vibe for to­day’s photo shoot could be termed “retro road trip” – the kind that re­quires a $5000 Valentino trench coat – and Re­becca is lov­ing it. Squeezed into a low-cut 50s-style frock, she won­ders if she looks a tad too busty. “Push those pup­pies down!” she jokes, as she tucks her­self into the bodice.

On a re­cent flight to Syd­ney, Re­becca tells us, a 50-some­thing flight at­ten­dant told her she never ap­proached fa­mous passengers, but she’d made an ex­cep­tion for Re­becca. “I just wanted to let you know,” the woman said, “that when­ever you come on the telly, I just get this re­ally warm feel­ing.”

It’s safe to as­sume she’s not the only one. For more than 30 years, Re­becca has played some of the best-loved women on Aus­tralasian tele­vi­sion and was crowned a Gold Lo­gie win­ner in 2009, tak­ing the cov­eted TV Per­son­al­ity of the Year ti­tle.

“There’s an elite group of ‘golden girls’ in Aus­tralian drama who have won our re­spect through per­se­ver­ance, tal­ent and dig­ni­fied per­for­mances,” says me­dia com­men­ta­tor David Knox, “and Re­becca Gib­ney is up there with the best of them.”

The 1990 mini-se­ries Come in Spinner put her on the map, but over the years she has racked up a string of im­pres­sive TV cred­its, in­clud­ing The Fly­ing Doc­tors, Hal­i­fax f.p. and, of course, Packed to the Rafters, which made her our favourite screen mum. “At over two mil­lion view­ers week in, week out,” says David, “Rafters was light­ning in a bot­tle.”

When the se­ries ended after six sea­sons in 2013, Re­becca was of­fered roles in the same ma­ter­nal mould, but she wanted to ex­ploit her high pro­file and branch out into edgier ter­ri­tory – hence the beer-drink­ing, burg­ereat­ing Lola in Wanted. “As I get older, I don’t give a rat’s any more what people think,” ex­plains Re­becca. “From an act­ing point of view, that al­lows me to take risks that I might not have taken 15, 20 years ago, when I was not as com­fort­able in my own skin. I don’t care what I look like – I want to ex­plore ar­eas that I haven’t be­fore, which is re­ally ex­cit­ing… I’ve kind of got a new lease on life.”

At 52, as Wanted’s co-cre­ator and ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer, Re­becca is tak­ing charge of her ca­reer. “I have to,” she says. “Roles don’t write them­selves. You ei­ther have to knock on doors – or bash them down when you get to a cer­tain age – or cre­ate roles your­self.”

Her can-do at­ti­tude is a com­plete about-turn from the crip­pling self­doubt of her 20s. The way Re­becca

“I’ve never been jeal­ous of other women. I’m just a girl’s girl.”

“I was blessed that I had people that be­lieved in me, even when I didn’t .”

sees it, she squan­dered too much of her youth on self-loathing and in­se­cu­rity. She gave Hol­ly­wood a crack at 26, for ex­am­ple, but lost faith and came home after just three weeks. She still won­ders what might have been if only she’d backed her­self. “I spent a lot of my 20s self-sab­o­tag­ing and mak­ing mis­takes and I ru­ined re­la­tion­ships,” she says. “I kept [think­ing], ‘Oh, I’ll be dried up in a few years or they’ll find out I’m fak­ing it.’

“That would be the big­gest ad­vice I would give any young woman: re­mem­ber you are unique and there is no one else like you – be­lieve in your­self and man­i­fest what­ever it is that you want. I didn’t do that… I was blessed that I had people that be­lieved in me, even when I didn’t.”

Uni­ver­sally loved in the in­dus­try and a well-known cham­pion of other women, Re­becca has men­tored young fe­male ac­tors and given a leg-up to new­com­ers such as Wanted co-star Geral­dine (“She looks like a su­per­model and she’s got a gi­ant brain – she’s quite spec­tac­u­lar”).

When Aus­tralian ac­tress and for­mer Home and Away star Melissa Ge­orge was trolled re­cently and blamed for the abuse she al­legedly suf­fered at the hands of her French part­ner, it was Re­becca who sprang to her de­fence: “I couldn’t be­lieve that people could ac­tu­ally have a go at her when she was reach­ing out and was in ob­vi­ous pain,” she says.

Re­becca’s mother would have been proud. Raised by an abu­sive fa­ther

and mar­ried to a vi­o­lent al­co­holic, Shirley suf­fered reg­u­lar beat­ings as she brought up the six Gib­ney chil­dren, at the same time teach­ing them kind­ness and com­pas­sion.

The youngest of the brood, Re­becca still wor­ships her mum. “She had such a trou­bled, tur­bu­lent child­hood with so much hor­ror and yet man­aged to be­come the kind­est, most gen­er­ous woman,” says Re­becca, who has just be­come an am­bas­sador for do­mes­tic vi­o­lence char­ity Share the Dig­nity.

“She could have be­come bit­ter and twisted and an­gry over what she had to en­dure, and she’s ac­tu­ally turned it around to be­come the com­plete op­po­site. It’s a con­stant re­minder to me that things will al­ways get bet­ter.”

Re­becca has in­her­ited not only her mum’s for­ti­tude, but her op­ti­mism and equa­nim­ity. She has weath­ered tough times – from her trau­matic up­bring­ing to the break­down of her first mar­riage (to South­ern Sons singer Jack Jones) and an emo­tional col­lapse in her early 30s – but there’s no sign of re­sent­ment.

Just the other day she was ig­nored by a store full of young shop as­sis­tants, and yet the brush with mid­dle-aged in­vis­i­bil­ity in­spired cu­rios­ity rather than anger. “I ac­tu­ally caught my­self and [thought] ‘wow’, but I used to do that too with older people,” she says. “It’s very dis­re­spect­ful, but maybe it’s a rite of pas­sage that you ac­tu­ally have to move through.”

Re­becca has al­ways been can­did about her strug­gles, mostly be­cause she wants to of­fer hope – that ad­ver­sity can be over­come and that the past doesn’t have to de­fine us. “We’re all try­ing to get through this mad, crazy thing called life and we all need each other to do that,” she says. “Some­times it makes me feel vul­ner­a­ble when I talk about things that are painful, but if that helps some­one else, then I’ve done my job.”

That gen­eros­ity of spirit is a huge part of her ap­peal. At a time when ego and self-ag­gran­dis­e­ment seem to be pre­req­ui­sites for suc­cess, there’s a re­fresh­ing hu­mil­ity and lack of pre­tence about Re­becca. She loves glam­ming it up as much as the next star, but never tries to hide the ar­ti­fice – the hair ex­ten­sions and the glue-on lashes; she hap­pily tells me to­day that she’s wear­ing Spanx.

In fact, to mark The Aus­tralian Women’s Weekly shoot, she posts an In­sta­gram shot of her­self with her hairstylist and make-up artist and a shout-out thank­ing them “for mak­ing this old girl feel young again”. As she says, “It’s all fake!” She won’t pre­tend her diet is all chia seeds and ac­ti­vated al­monds ei­ther: “I’d love to say I’m a saint and I med­i­tate and eat well ev­ery day. I don’t.”

She still gets stressed too, but when the odd panic at­tack looms these days she has the tools, after two years of ther­apy, to quell it. When she was lost 20 years ago in a ter­ri­fy­ing fog of anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion, her psy­chol­o­gist brought her back from the brink by teach­ing her to look at life through a lens of grat­i­tude: “My motto for a long time was, ‘Lower your ex­pec­ta­tions and raise your ap­pre­ci­a­tion.’ That’s sort of how I live my life.”

Hers is a con­fi­dence born of con­tent­ment – and for that she can thank Richard, her hus­band of nearly 17 years, and their son, Zac. Richard, 53, is her best friend and “kind of my ev­ery­thing”, she says. “He gets me ut­terly and we’re each other’s big­gest fans. It doesn’t mean we don’t have is­sues, but we al­ways work through them be­cause I can’t imag­ine grow­ing old with any­one else. He’s my rock and I think I’m his.”

Once am­biva­lent about hav­ing chil­dren, Re­becca now wishes she’d started ear­lier and had two or three – be­cause hav­ing one child, she says, is in­tense. “I just want him to have that sta­bil­ity and the knowl­edge that we love him more than any­thing,” she says. “Now that he’s 13, he’s try­ing to step back and grow up and I’m strug­gling a lit­tle bit with that.”

She is, how­ever, happy he en­cour­aged the fam­ily to stay put in New Zealand.

“There is some­thing about New Zealand – it’s a small coun­try with a big heart and big at­ti­tude. I step off the plane here and I feel at home.”

LEFT: The Gib­ney girls Stella, Theresa, Re­becca and Diana with Shirley. RIGHT: Re­becca and son Zac on a night out.

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