The end of this month marks a significant event in the life of Neighbours star Alan Fletcher. On March 30 2017, the veteran actor turns 60.
Not that he has any big celebrations planned, save for a small dinner with family and closest friends, and then a round of golf with mates.
There is, Fletcher admits, just no time to make a fuss over the occasion.
“If I had to have a philosophy for this time of my life, it would be, ‘the man is not slowing down’,” he laughs. “Or maybe, ‘keep believing you are 20 by pretending someone made a mistake on the birth certificate’. I stay busy as it’s how I like to live. It keeps me inspired.”
For the past 23 years, he’s been a headline star as Ramsay Street’s resident doctor, Karl Kennedy. The five days a week rehearsal and filming schedule is enough to keep most cast flat out, but not Fletcher.
He’s also filming a new TV travel show to air later in the year, as well as performing gigs around Melbourne with his band, The Waiting Room, where he sings lead vocals. He’s recently finished filming a short film that he hopes will play on the festival circuit in the coming months.
The Kennedy family has changed a lot over the past 23 years on Ramsay Street
To round it out, Fletcher is also an ambassador for Bowel Cancer Australia and an advocate for mental health care within the entertainment industry.
“I do all of that as it keeps the home fires burning and keeps the creative juices flowing,” he says.
“I think if you have the benefit of being known through your TV work, then it’s foolish and a little selfish not to lend that weight to issues you care about.”
Recent advances in cancer research and treatment is one topic that gets him fired up. “Prostate and bowel cancer are concerns that touch all our lives, but research shows almost 90 per cent of people can be cured if they get diagnosed and treated early,” he says.
He’s just as passionate about mental health. “We recently started a wellness committee in the MEAA union, following research about how mental illness and suicide is rife within the entertainment industry. If I can bring a little awareness to these issues, that’s great.”
All this medical talk sounds like a little of Ramsay Street’s Dr Karl Kennedy has rubbed off on Fletcher over the past 23 years, but he just shakes his head.
“My family call me ‘Dr Dad’ – they’ll come to me with a rash or a mark and ask what I think it is,” he says. “That’s when I feel like I need to call our writers and ask them how a doctor would deal with it, as I have absolutely no idea!”
The TV marriage of Karl and Susan Kennedy has been a turbulent time
Fletcher has been married for 27 years to former TV anchor and radio Smooth FM host, Jennifer Hansen. The pair has two adult children, Tom and Veronica.
His real-life marriage to Jennifer is four years longer, and a world away, from the battlefield that has been his TV marriage to Susan Kennedy (Jackie Woodburne) on Neighbours.
“Jennifer and I have been a part of each other’s lives for a very long time, and she truly is the love of my life,” he says.
“In my work, I’m so lucky as Jackie Woodburne is one of the finest actors in this country, and the chance to work alongside her is of the reasons why I have stayed with Neighbours for so long.”
Neighbours has enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent years, with a range of cast changes and script developments under the direction of a new production team. As a result, the soapie that was a bit tired a few years ago is now back in fighting shape, with the spike in ratings as a result.
“The Karl-Susan journey is one viewers have followed for such a long time, and we have always had such great material – affairs, health crises, family showdowns and the like.
“We have both been here for so long that we now find ourselves as the elders of Ramsay Street. I like that – it’s a good place to be.”
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