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Emily Symons: I'm not meant to be a mum

Guest Mishyy

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HOME and Away star Emily Symons is the original bubbly blonde, but the actor has had her share of heartache.

Sometimes it can be hard to make the distinction between an actor and the character they play. When someone has inhabited a character for many years, it’s easy to assume that somehow they might share attributes or attitudes.

As I head off to meet Emily Symons at a Sydney studio, I can’t help but expect a little bit of Marilyn Chambers to turn up.

I’m wrong. There’s no hair piled high on her head, no kooky outfit and no Marilyn-esque giggle. Symons is wearing a simple black summer dress, flat shoes and no jewellery. Her face is free from make-up, her voice is lower than it is onscreen and she’s considerably calmer than her alter ego.

"I think people do confuse me (with Marilyn)," says the 42-year-old. "I meet people in the supermarket and they say, 'Oh, you’re very different.' Hopefully I’m a bit less silly," she smiles. "But there are worse people to be like."

However, like the character she plays, Symons has had her fair share of difficulties in life. Along with grieving for her mother, Glenn, who died of breast cancer in May 2010, she’s spent the past couple of years coming to terms with not having a family of her own.

In 2005 she split from second husband Lorenzo Smith after two unsuccessful IVF attempts. "I spent a lot of my 30s being so anguished about not having a baby," she says.

"Then you realise life is really too short. When you spend a lot of time on a cancer ward, it makes the baby thing seem irrelevant. There’s a longing and a biological need to have a baby that I don't think men have. But the flip side is that IVF can take over your life. It gets to the point where you’re so desperate to have a baby, everything else falls by the wayside."

She hesitates, before adding, "There was a phase when I thought, if I had a baby, my mum might stay alive longer. It was crazy; your hormones [go mad]. But I'm at peace with that now. I understand it wasn’t meant for me."

She admits she'd consider adoption, but for the moment is content being a proud aunty to her 15-month-old niece, Eva. "I think we have to enjoy what we’ve been given - and now there’s a beautiful baby in our family. I adore her," she smiles.

After first appearing as Marilyn on Home and Away in 1989, when she was 18, Symons was a Summer Bay staple until 1999. Then, after starring in several pantomimes in the UK, she moved to England, where she lived for 10 years, playing Aussie barmaid and B&B owner Louise Appleton in the British soap Emmerdale for eight of them.

She reprised her role as Marilyn after returning to Australia in 2009. Being asked to resume the part after all those years was an unexpected surprise; Symons had initially returned home to look after her mum, who'd been diagnosed with endometrial cancer, before discovering she also had breast cancer.

"She'd been sick for a long time," says Symons. "But the gaps between treatments were getting shorter and shorter. I was starting to spend two months here and [Emmerdale] were writing me out, then back in again.

"That was difficult, but the trauma of leaving her and not knowing what was going to happen became unbearable. We had to weigh up the situation - and that was that whatever time she had left, I wanted to be there for it. The decision made itself."

Living in Australia again after establishing a life for herself in Northern England was harder than she’d expected. 'Suddenly I left my job and my friends," she says. "Overnight, I was standing in Sydney. Of course, it’s my home, but I hadn't lived here for 10 years. There's an adjustment period. You have to reconnect with your family and your old friends. I felt like a fish out of water."

But she has no regrets. Moving home meant she was able to spend two years with her mum before she died. "When I came back, she’d finished a round of treatment and was OK," Symons recalls.

"We decided to do her bucket list. She was a real foodie, so we went through the food guide and she put a sticker on every restaurant she’d like to go to. We [symons and her younger brother, Ben] took her to lots of food festivals and went to the theatre. We saw musicals and shows. We had lovely lunches with extended family and lots of my friends from school. I’m so pleased we did all that."

Coming to terms with her mum’s death has been tough. "It's just a level of acceptance," she says quietly. "You always miss them, but it gets to a point where their suffering can't continue."

Symons credits work and colleagues with helping her through some of the darkest hours. 'The thing about working on TV is that no matter what's happening in your life, you have to go in,' she says. 'Otherwise, I don’t think I would have left the house.

"I didn’t feel brilliant, but I had incredible support from my friends. Ray (Meagher who plays Alf Stewart) is such a lovely man. He's been like a dad to me.' Meagher is clearly extremely fond of her, too. 'It's so good to have Emily settled back in The Bay," he says. "I really missed her during her stint in the UK - and the show really missed her comedic contribution."

Symons' grief manifested physically as well. "I put on a huge amount of weight (10kg) after mum died," she says. "I didn't want to exercise; I didn't want to do anything. I ate rubbish and drank too much. It was a sad time, a very difficult time. Grief is so all-consuming. It can really drag you under."

She pauses. "I woke up one day, looked in the mirror and went, 'Oh my God'. I had to sit down and take stock. I thought, I feel sad, but now I feel worse because I look so fat."

She decided something had to change. 'I had to get my head in the right place and think, I know Mum wouldn't want me to be like this.' In May 2011, she started looking into healthy eating. 'Because there's cancer in our family, I read about anti-cancer diets. Research shows that keeping your body in an alkaline state can either prevent secondary cancers from forming or returning."

So, she gave up sugar. 'It was hard," she admits. "I was a massive sugar junkie - particularly as there's a lot (of sugar) in alcohol. Then I gave up gluten and all refined foods and processed foods. Now I eat lots of vegetables and protein. I'm healthier and all the niggling aches and pains have gone. I feel lighter and clearer in myself."

Going sugar-free has helped her lose the weight she put on, and also feel happier in herself. "I was very uncomfortable in my own skin," she says.

"My weight does yo-yo a lot, but now I’m at an age where I can't get away with it. I have to be on it every day. I walk as well - and even run up hills occasionally!" She points to the skinny cappuccino she's drinking. "Coffee is my only treat. And the occasional glass of champagne.

"I'm feeling better and I have a more positive outlook - that’s something I've worked hard on," she says. "I'm very grateful for what I have."


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This was such a great article! And it was done with respect. I wish that every interview with a home and away actor could have been done with respect. Because I think that whenever there are some interview with the newer cast, they are done with some sentationalism vibe.

I loved that she was so honest in this! And this is coming from a woman in her early 40's who is in the same position as her when it comes to kids and I have also lost a parent because of cancer a few years ago. I was thinking that in May 2010 she must have been in the middle of the Mitzy/I am going to die storyline. It lasted for more than 6 months... It started straight away when she returned to the bay in March on screen and lasted to late November. We are in the middle of that storyline up here, but I've seen it before so I know how it ends. I find the storyline quite offensive, but maybe she has other thoughts about it. But it must have been really tough to act that out, all the talk about dying and cancer when her mother was dying of cancer.

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