Kate Ritchie’s destiny was sealed when she earned the part of Sally Fletcher in Home And Away when she was just eight years old.
From then on, the actress would be eternally associated with her on-screen persona, whom she would portray to critical acclaim for almost two decades.
Kate, 43, tells TV WEEK, “I will always feel linked to Home And Away.”
“I mean, how could I not? It educated and nourished me. It provided me with some of the most memorable years of my life and helped to define who I was for a long time.”
Between 1988 and 2008, Kate and Sally both came of age in front of the camera. Fame and media attention came swiftly, and Kate recalls speaking to periodicals like TV WEEK on a daily basis at the time.
“There was always something to speak about, whether it was about my own life or Sally’s,” Kate adds, adding that she particularly enjoyed the opportunity to discuss Sally’s life milestones, such as her several journeys down the aisle.
“Everyone likes a wedding, and Sally had a lot of them,” Kate recalls, smiling. “They weren’t all a hit, but TV WEEK handled them all with care.”
However, the actress recalls feeling like the odd girl out among the group in the early days, especially when she was left off the guest list for the industry’s night of nights, the TV WEEK Logie Awards.
“In 1991, I finally got to go to the Logies for the first time,” she explains.
“I was upset a few years ago since I was too young to travel. I felt so isolated. I only wanted to put on a nice gown and attend the party with all the important guests.”
Kate, on the other hand, didn’t have to be concerned. The actress became a regular on the red carpet at the annual awards after flawlessly transitioning from child entertainer to bona fide TV star. She was the recipient of multiple awards, including two prestigious Gold Logies in 2007 and 2008.
It was recognition for Kate for a work that was inextricably linked to her entire identity.
“There was a nice feeling of pleasure and appreciation,” she adds, “that you can show up and perform your work because you enjoy it, not because you’re chasing accolades – and that others will notice, slowly but surely.”
A Gold Logie triumph may be considered the pinnacle of achievement, but Kate recalls that her 2008 was tinged with “turmoil” since she gave her acceptance speech knowing that her time on Home And Away was coming to an end. Kate was ready to discover what life held for her outside of Summer Bay after 20 years as Sally.
She remembers, “It was more about letting go of a small part of myself that made me feel comfortable.”
An emotive tone pervaded her words. “I hope this isn’t the last you’ll ever see of me,” Kate told the audience and watchers at home as she recognised her shift.
Kate says it was a big – but painful – time in her life.
“I pity the person accepting the honour up there,” Kate comments.
“I can see the chaos. It’s good to be a little further along in my emotional journey and realise how far I’ve progressed.”
Kate’s career took off when she left Home And Away, with the actress going on to become a radio broadcaster on NOVA and writing two children’s novels.
But, as fans now know, she wasn’t permanently lost to the Bay. In 2013, Kate made one final, brief appearance, when Sally arrived in town with a “near to home” family mystery. The news set off a cascade of events that culminated in Sally’s eventual departure — again again.
Reprising the part gave Kate one last chance to immerse herself in something she enjoyed.
“I know I come out as this sentimental old sad,” she says of her first day back on set, “but I wasn’t that horrible on the day.” “I was well aware that I had a task ahead of me.”
Kate’s fans are always wondering if she’ll return to Home And Away, and she herself says she misses the show.
“Even today, with some distance from those days and the opportunity to develop into my own person without Sally’s comfort blanket, I still miss it terribly,” she adds.
“But I also realise I’ll never be able to, nor do I need to, replicate that period.”
Kate, on the other hand, hasn’t completely ruled out television.
“It will be a very happy day when I walk back onto a film set,” she says. “I hope to be a part of a group again in the future. Finding the right role is crucial. Don’t worry – I’m still searching!”
And, for the time being, Kate is content to show her six-year-old daughter Mae footage from the glory days while the door to H&A remains closed (but ever so slightly ajar).
“I’ve told her about working on a television show, and that I even won some awards,” she says.
“She was thrilled with my gorgeous princess outfits when we watched the Logie Awards footage on YouTube. But if Mummy shows her previous episodes on tape, she’ll be bored to death!”