After more than a decade away, Madeleine West, the actress and mum of six, makes a dramatic comeback to the Aussie soap as Dee Bliss
It was 13 years ago that millions of fans tuned in to watch a Ramsay Street wedding end in tragedy.
Erinsbourough favourite Toadie and his new wife, Dee, had only just tied the knot when their car plunged over a cliff and into the sea. While Toadie survived, Dee’s body was never recovered. But surprise... Dee’s back!
Here in our exclusive interview, actress Madeleine West, 36, who played the kookie but loveable girl-next-door, reveals why she’s returning to Ramsay Street after more than a decade away, how she juggles life with her six children and why Spanx are her lifesavers!
We haven’t seen Dee for 13 years and presumed she was dead! How did this miraculous comeback come about? “I was approached about seven years ago to return and a few times since then, but I’ve always been either working on different projects or having children! The timing’s never been right. But last year I got involved with Neighbours' 30th anniversary and there was such an overwhelming response from viewers it reminded me just how loved Dee was.”
Gone but not forgotten. There’s still a lot of affection for Dee then? “Yes, definitely. As part of the anniversary celebrations there was a poll asking viewers to vote for their all-time favourite moment. Dee and Toadie’s wedding day crash came second, only beaten by Scott and Charlene’s wedding.”
What on earth has Dee been doing for 13 years and how is she going to reappear? “She shows up towards the end of the year in Erinsborough, comes face to face with Toadie and says I’m back! Of course there are going to be huge repercussions, not just for Toadie, who’s now married to Sonya, but for everyone.
"It’s all very juicy but I’ve been sworn to secrecy for now. Suffice to say it’s a very mysterious storyline and raises lots of questions, which in the fullness of time will all be answered, but in the interim it’s all very cloak and dagger!”
You started filming this week. What was it like being back on set after 13 years? “It’s all a bit twilight zone! I had a brief visit to the producers’ offices a couple of weeks ago, but this week is the first time I’ve been back on set and in make-up and the costume department. It was all very surreal, but terrific and such a blast from the past. There are so many people I’ve never met before, but it’s lovely that some of the stalwarts are still there... Ryan Maloney of course, (Toadie), Jackie Woodburne (Susan) and Alan Fletcher (Carl).”
So is Dee going to stick around? “I’m definitely back for a few months and after that…who knows? I tend not to commit myself to any more because of having small children to look after, but the door will be left very much open for Dee.”
You’ve got six children – Phoenix, 10, Hendrix, eight, Xascha, six, Xanthe, four and twins Margaux and Xhalia, 21-months. You’re a working mum, how do you manage everything? We’re in awe! “You have to accept your life is going to be chaos, but you just have to find some kind or order in the chaos. For me that means being über organised. Lunch boxes need to be packed the day before and uniforms are laid out at bedtime for the next day. I get the breakfast stuff on the table before I wake them up and schoolbags are lined up by the door and ready to go!
"It’s all done with military precision and the same when they get home, we have very definite routines. Bedtime can take up to two and a half hours and you just have to accept you’re not going to be sitting on the sofa with a glass of wine, but on the rare occasions that does happen, you appreciate it all the more.”
Five daughters and one son! How does your eight-year-old son Hendrix feel about that? “Poor little boy! He’s surrounded by oestrogen. He’s my number one son and I can tell you he’s very much in touch with his feminine side. He’s going to be a huge hit with the ladies when he grows up!”
You met your partner, Australian celebrity chef Shannon Bennett, 40, at a dinner organised for fellow chef Jamie Oliver, 16 years ago. Tell us about that… “Shannon worked with Jamie for many years so when Jamie was over in Melbourne there was a special dinner event organised. He was a big Neighbours fan at the time, so I got invited along with Daniel MacPherson, who played Joel in Neighbours, and I was seated next to Shannon. The rest is history.”
Madeleine with husband Shannon (courtesy: Instagram)
Does Shannon muck in with looking after the kids? “Definitely. He’s very busy with his restaurants and doing Australian MasterChef, but he’s a wonderful hands-on dad and makes a huge effort to be part of their lives. He’s the epitome of a tickle monster. He comes home from work, plays with them and gets them wild and excited. He’s the good cop, I’m the bad cop…but it works.”
Mealtimes in your house must be a challenge. What’s your failsafe option that’s easy to do and everyone in the family likes? “It’s got to be roast chicken. We have to cook three chickens to feed everyone, but the beauty is you can use the leftovers at least three more times during the week. Chicken soup, stock, chicken pie, shredded chicken on a salad.”
Going into work must seem like a rest in comparison to looking after the kids! “Yes, you definitely appreciate it more! It’s the little things – the chance to drink your coffee when it’s hot, or wear white clothes without getting fingerprints on them from small hands!
"I think it’s really important for children to know that not everything revolves around them otherwise they go out into the world with this sense of entitlement. I want my kids to know that yes, I’m their mum, but that’s just a part of me, there’s also mummy who’s an actor, mummy who’s a writer, mummy who’s daddy’s partner.
"For me, it’s important for kids to see parents doing their own thing, whether that’s returning to work, taking up a hobby or just finding time to exercise by themselves There’s no point in us saying to our children, you can do anything you choose, reach for the skies, if we don’t try and do that ourselves.”
How, if you ever find the time, do you chill out and relax? “I love yoga. I get up very early to do it, sometimes 5am so the house is calm and silent. On the days that I haven’t had the chance to do any I feel a bit scattered. It really just calms me, but also energises me. I don’t like running or cardio gym type exercise, I find it throws me out of whack!”
What wardrobe items do you have that you swear by? “My tummy has been stretched six times during pregnancy and my twins were full term when they were born, they were absolutely huge. So if I didn’t have my Spanx to roll everything up in into, and a decent push-up bra to lift my breasts that have fed six children, I certainly wouldn’t be the image that you get to see on the screen!
"My skin is like a road map of where I’ve been and where I plan to go and I’d never do anything to change that.
"I have good days and days when I want to leave the house with a paper bag over my head. If we all woke up feeling perfect every day, then my God, the world would be a boring place!’
Madeleine will be on screen as Dee towards the end of year.
Neighbours screens weekdays at 1.45 and 5.30pm on Channel 5.
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Tess is a senior writer for What’s On TV, TV Times, TV & Satellite and WhattoWatch.com She's been writing about TV for over 25 years and worked on some of the UK’s biggest and best-selling publications including the Daily Mirror where she was assistant editor on the weekend TV magazine, The Look, and Closer magazine where she was TV editor. She has freelanced for a whole range of websites and publications including We Love TV, The Sun’s TV Mag, Woman, Woman’s Own, Fabulous, Good Living, Prima and Woman and Home.