Australians grew up watching them on Home And Away as Pippa and Michael Ross, and while their on-screen romance was short-lived, Debra Lawrance and Dennis Coard’s real-life romance has lasted long after the programme ended.
This year marks the couple’s 30th wedding anniversary!
Dennis, 71, confesses to Woman’s Day, “It doesn’t feel like 30 years at all.”
“I believe the only way we can tell is because of our 29-year-old daughter Grace.” Debra, 65, laughs, “She was a wedding baby.”
Dennis was auditioning to play Pippa’s new love interest when the two met at a “chemistry test” for Home And Away in 1990.
Debra says, “I still remember it perfectly.”
“We auditioned some of the country’s best actors, and there wasn’t much chemistry, until this man with a leather jacket and black pants came in right at the end, and I thought, ‘Oh hello, you’re fascinating!’
“So we shot the sequence, and I dashed in to the casting office and said, ‘You’ve got to book him,’ and our producer said, ‘It’s alright – we’ve already sent out the contract because casting said the chemistry was obvious.’
Dennis came away from the part unsure of himself, but Debra had made an indelible impression.
“She was very friendly and personable. “I recall her putting me at ease during the audition,” he recalls.
Dennis admits that after Debra began to tease him, he wasn’t sure he’d make it through filming.
He soon realised that her jibes were because she had a crush on him, just like in other “schoolyard romances,” and that they would be married just 18 months later.
Their fictional wedding on Home And Away had already wowed audiences across the country, but their co-stars had no idea that they had married in secret on February 29, 1992.
Deb recalls, “We got married at Avalon Beach in Sydney, where I was staying at the time, with just my mother, our best friend David, and the celebrant present.”
“It [keeping it a secret] was just incredibly precious to us.” When we returned [to set] and told everyone, though, all hell broke loose. Judy Nunn took a break from rehearsals to go get some champagne.
She giggles as she recalls Mat Stevenson stating, “I didn’t even realise you guys were dating!”
Even though the two sprightly actors who fell in love on the soap all those years ago have had great careers, won awards, and given birth to two children, Grace and William, 22, they still consider themselves the two sprightly actors who fell in love on the soap all those years ago.
“We’re still the same people we were back then.” Dennis exclaims, “It’s all about watching out for each other, caring and guiding each other.”
“People usually ask how we survived,” Deb recalls, “but we’ve just enjoyed each other’s company.”
“We still have feelings for one other — I was rewatching [movie] Return Home the other day, and when Dennis appeared, I felt precisely the same way I did back then.”
“However, it’s about having a best buddy, and we appear to have blended the two.”
There’s no disputing that the highly gifted couple owes their real-life love story to Home And Away, but don’t expect a repeat of their onscreen romance.
“It’s a whole different programme now,” Debra explains.
“I was requested to return as a ghost – and when I returned with a figure in mind, I never got a response,” Dennis jokes.