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Home body - Why Kate Ritchie has never strayed from Summer Bay - When Kate Met Sally

Daily Telegraph

11 January 2006

The world's watched her grow from a young girl into a confident woman. Bring on the next 18 years, says Kate Ritchie

For anyone to have been committed to a single job for 18 years is a remarkable achievement. To have done just that and yet be only 27-years-old is extraordinary.

But Home And Away veteran Kate Ritchie finds it totally normal.

"For me it's the norm and I don't have anything to compare it with," she says. "Everybody has much more fascination about it than I do.

"If I sat down and thought about it too much I'd probably send myself crazy: what would have been had I not got the part all those years ago? What if I left and went to university?

I think everybody in life has 'what ifs' and 'what may have been' questions. But if I thought too much about it I'd go crazy.

"But look, I don't regret a single day.

I'm happy with the choices I've made and I'm proud of being here after all these years. And I'll be happy if I'm here in another 18 years too."

Quite a statement for a woman who is in the Guinness Book Of Records for being the longest serving actor on an Australian drama series - an accolade she shares with Ray Meagher, who plays Alf Stewart.

She laughs when asked if she's the complicated and emotionally twisted person many actors are proud of being. "You'd have to ask someone else," she says with genuine humour.

For the past 18 years, Ritchie has been better known as Sally Fletcher, perhaps the most troubled young person to walk the Earth. Sally's been put through every emotional wringer scriptwriters could come up with, including a failed engagement and being made unable to have children.

She's survived through a series which has had murders, stalkers, plane crashes, ferries blown up, houses burnt down, landslides, fatal car crashes, marriages, divorces, love triangles, property developers - and even the death of pets.

"We've had just about everything," Ritchie says. "Really, you wouldn't want to move to a place like Summer Bay because the chances are you're going to have trauma in your life.

"But look, if we all had relatively safe and boring lives as characters then I'm guessing people wouldn't tune in like they do - so that's what keeps the viewers coming back after all these years."

Therefore the formula demands a cranking and ripper storyline to kick the new season off on Monday. And that would be where last year's season left off.

In 2005, Bec Cartwright's Hayley became Ella Scott Lynch's Hayley when the former fell pregnant and married Lleyton Hewitt. The storyline - Hayley pregnant, but to which of two men? - was carried through to a natural (and happy) ending.

But the other plot was Sally and her husband Flynn (Joel McIlroy). He has terminal cancer and for six months Sally has been overseeing the painful demise of the man she loves.

"The story has been challenging, but in a completely different way to others," Ritchie says. "You emotionally invest in it, and I found the last six months working on the show that as awful as the story is, I've had a wonderful time as an actor because it has been a journey and was not over in a couple of weeks.

"You know the viewers are taking the journey with you.

People stop in the street and say they hope Flynn will get better and how awful it is.

"So there are days you do go home and think about a lot of these things. Personally I've never lost anybody close to me, touch wood, and it does make you realise the strength people must have who are going through it as we speak."

But in typical Summer Bay style all will be literally turned on its head next week. A cyclone (curiously unnamed) sweeps through town, destroys homes, possibly lives and a whole lot more to set up another year of plot possibilities for the five-night-a-week series.

"It was pretty exciting to work on," Ritchie says.

"It actually brought back memories from before I did Home And Away. When I was a six-year-old child I worked on the miniseries Cyclone Tracy, so all the wind and rain effects bought all these memories back I haven't thought of for a long time.

"Everyone was really happy with the result [in Home And Away] - it looks fantastic when you watch it on screen and we're all very proud of it. It was a very physical shoot."

After this interview, Ritchie flew off to New York, then Las Vegas and Los Angeles with her NRL boyfriend Chris Flannery for a welldeserved seven-week holiday.

"I usually only have a month off but I negotiated for a longer break," she says.

"I'll be on screen from the first episodes of the new series, but then Sally will be off somewhere else for a while."

* Home And Away, returns Monday, Seven, 7pm

Copyright 2006 News Ltd. All Rights Reserved

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