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…

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Front Page - Pho­tog­ra­phy CAMERON GRAYSON Styling KELLY HUME

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

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