Who doesn’t love Susan Kennedy? Even if you don’t watch Neighbours these days, you must still love her: the longest female resident, having arrived in Ramsay Street 17 years ago this October.
She has endured divorce, widowhood, the coming and going of children (her own, her stepchildren and various teenage tearaways), a plane crash, a multiple sclerosis diagnosis, an affair with a priest, miscarrying the surrogate baby she was having for daughter Libby, remarriage to cheating husband Karl, and being cyber-bullied.
And then there was the time she slipped on spilt milk, suffered retrograde amnesia and believed it was 1972 again and she was 16. For almost a year. As ever, such traumas are endearing and therefore meeting Jackie Woodburne, who plays her, is exciting.
Woodburne, born in Northern Ireland and whose family emigrated to Australia when she was three, has a theory about Susan’s popularity (“She’s something of an Everywoman, but she always triumphs and, like those of most women in soap, those triumphs are writ large”), but is in awe of her time-management skills.
“She either has a very close relationship with amphetamines or she’s someone who gets by on two hours’ sleep a night,” she smiles.
Over the years Woodburne has developed a great affection for Susan, her British fans and her soap colleagues. “The family environment that develops is a good thing and a bad thing,” she says. “There’s crap you take from your family that you wouldn’t take from anyone else, but they do put up with your bad moods.”
The years have given Woodburne a special perspective . She acknowledges the more dubious aspects of the show’s history, not least “the recent period when every middle-aged man had a 20-something girlfriend and middle-aged women were disposable. Funnily enough, there were a couple of middle-aged men steering the ship at that time. Maybe that had something to do with it, I don’t know.”
She’s well aware of the soap’s role in people’s lives, though – not least her own. “Your life runs parallel with the character’s. The things you go through, you go through in front of millions. You lose weight, you gain weight. The kids go through puberty. I’m going through the menopause.”
So is Erinsborough’s grande dame, now 55, staying put? “A couple of years ago, I’d have said yes, but I don’t know… If the show were to end or the character had lived her life, I’d miss her, the work and the people, but life goes on.”
Of all Susan has endured, she’s never suffered from itchy feet – another way Woodburne says she differs from her, as Susan is really sociable. “You’re more likely to find me at home with a box set than out at opening nights,” she says.
And what are her favourite box sets? “The Sopranos, The West Wing and Deadwood. It’s epic and Shakespearean,” she enthuses. “Ooh, and The Wire. I love The Wire.” The Wire, eh? A dark horse in a coral cardie, that Jackie Woodburne.