You started on Neighbours in 1990 - how has the show changed since then?
Neighbours has always had world attention especially in the UK. I think it’s really marvellous that the show itself has lasted and is going onto bigger and better things. There could be another 30 years in store though I don’t think I’ll be around for that - unless I come back as an angel! You never know, incredible things have happened in Erinsborough.
Did you always want to be an actor?
I always wanted to be a singer actually and I sang with bands back in the day. Along with this I had lots of work in different areas and eventually thought to myself, there’s got to be something better to do than this in life. I decided everything I was doing should be contributing to what I enjoyed the most and so I eventually got myself organised with the theatre. I, along with my friend Yvonne West, both auditioned for West Side Story in 1960 at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne. It was the very first production of that show to be done outside of the United States and it was just the most fantastic entrance into show business.
There was time to do things in the theatre - time to rehearse and time to develop. I brought all the skills that I learned to my roles in television and film. When you stand up on the stage by yourself without any stopping and starting, cutting or editing, you learn how to do it and to me this is the way anyone should start out in the beginning.
Can you name a highlight from your time on Neighbours?
I’ve met some absolutely wonderful actors that have played my daughters and my son along the way. I enjoy the company and camaraderie that we have in this show and that is one of the great things about Neighbours - there’s a great attitude of trying to do the job well and get it done. In each episode we show a piece of Australia to the rest of the world and I think we do it well. Time has proven that people like it and they feel that Neighbours, as an Australian story, is good to watch.
Are there any former co-stars that you still keep in touch with?
I still am very much in touch with my son Jason Donovan and he has a dear friend, a friend of our family, who is Guy Pierce. Unfortunately our business takes us in all in different directions and we’re like passing ships int he night. But the loveliest thing about it is that when we meet up it’s like there’s no time lost it’s just friendship again. It’s just terrific.
Was it hard to tackle a storyline featuring alzheimers?
I would like to complement the company for actually choosing alzheimers to be shown and for me to be portraying it. We are not beyond having lots of people in the suburbs with all manner of problems and we’ve got to show how they get through it. Alzheimers is a great area of choice, because it shows what is happening with people all around the world. It has touched me with friends and a few acquaintances who were enormously bright and enormously intelligent. But as we get older we sometimes wear out and even the most intelligent person can start to find that they can’t remember things.
I think what we’ve got to understand about alzheimers is that it’s not the end of the world, we can help ourselves by stimulating our mental processes. If you just watch television all the time it’s not going to help you. You’ve got to be able to do things, like crossword puzzles and mentally use what’s between your ears. It’s also been good to highlight how the younger generation are informed of this, whether it be through their father, mother, grandfather or grandmother. It’s lovely to show that younger people have the compassion and the love for these people and can help them through the bad times.