Everyone, or at least everyone for the past 37 years, requires excellent neighbours.
So it came as a shock to Craig McLachlan, who played dungaree-loving Henry Ramsay and has been a part of the show since the beginning.
“I responded back and said, ‘Are you sure?'” Craig tells the Sunday People, even singing the Neighbours theme music down the phone.
“These rumours have been going about for a long time. I’m filled with emotion because I was fortunate enough to be a part of the show’s golden era.
“This small show we all loved so much had grown so successful, and it was truly a magical time for all of us.”
Craig, 56, remembers when Princess Diana was a fan – and an interesting conversation with the late Queen Mother, another royal viewer.
After appearing at the Royal Variety Performance in the late 1980s, he and his film sister Charlene – Kylie Minogue – met the Queen Mum.
Craig is speaking from his home in Victoria, Australia, with long-term partner Vanessa Scammell, a pianist and conductor.
“She had a bazillion questions,” he recalls about the queen. ‘Why does Henry call his car Bertha?’ she inquired. I had no idea. I had to think quickly.
“Wasn’t it a disaster when Henry glued all the plaster gnomes on Madge’s carpet!” she exclaimed.
“She thought it was a hoot!” ‘Was it really you that pushed Henry into the water, or was it a stunt Henry?’ she said. ‘Is this a stunt, Henry?’ I burst out laughing. ‘Ma’am, that was me!’
Craig went from a 21-year-old plumber’s pal to a global darling thanks to the show Neighbours.
He got his first of several Gold Logie Awards for Most Popular Personality on Australian Television in 1990.
In the 1990s, he jumped ship to feature in rival drama Home And Away, and pop stardom beckoned with tunes like Mona.
His three-year spell on Neighbours, though, cemented his reputation.
He and Kylie were Madge Bishop’s children, portrayed by Anne Charleston, and Madge’s stepchildren, played by actor Ian Smith. When Channel 5 revealed that the show’s producers, Fremantle Australia, would not be extending their contract, Craig was stunned.
The show became a mainstay for workers on lunch breaks and kids racing home from school after debuting in 1985 and initially airing on BBC1 a year later.
In November 1988, 19.6 million British viewers saw episode 523, in which Charlene – who had been given away by Henry – married Scott Robinson, who was played by Craig’s friend Jason Donovan. “I recall having arguably the most spectacular mullet in the history of Australian television,” Craig chuckles.
“There were a lot of rumours that I had a perm,” she says. But it was all me — God’s own perm. Military planes may crash on my suit jacket because of its enormous shoulder pads.”
Craig still smiles when he recalls his Neighbours audition, which came after a few little roles on TV, most notably in Sons And Daughters.
“I told my agency I’d never even heard of Neighbours,” he explains.
“‘Are you kidding me?’ she exclaimed. It’s only the most well-known soap! ‘Do you have no idea who Kylie and Jason are?’ I told her I couldn’t even watch the show because I was working a terrible double shift in a pub to pay for band gigs. She left a letter under my door the next day, explaining all of the characters. Who were The Robinsons, The Mitchells, and that pesky Nell Mangel?
“When I went to see the producers, I thought to myself, ‘This is going to be a disaster!’ “I’m just going to flirt,” I reasoned, “but I’m not going to get this part in a million years.”
He was cast in the role of Madge’s renegade son three days later.
“I can tell you Kylie was everything you’d expect from a true sister,” Craig says. We were filming on location in Pin Oak Court, a cul-de-sac, and we hit it off right away.
“I felt extremely safe in the company of my TV kid sister by the time we arrived to the studio sequences.” After filming, Kylie and Jason treated me to dinner at a local fast food joint. When some local youngsters observed them heading from Pin Oak Court to the costume and wardrobe bus, they went bananas and demanded autographs. ‘Brace yourself, Craigy, they’re going to love you, and you’re going to be dealing with this in a few weeks,’ Kylie warned.
Six weeks later, on his way to buy guitar strings in Melbourne, he was surrounded by admirers
He smiles as he recalls urging some of the females to stop sobbing. “Those strings were never mine. We’d get faxes from our public relations department informing us that Neighbours had surpassed the 15 million viewer threshold in the United Kingdom. It was incredible to think that we’d grown up on a diet of everything from Dad’s Army to Corrie, and here our small programme was out-rating some of those fantastic British shows.
“I went from unblocking sinks, toilets, and grease traps at a Kentucky Fried Chicken to being on set with Kylie, where I’d shower and get in my tiny station waggon to do gigs with my guitar.”
“I went from being a dunnie unblocker to being on the front of publications in six weeks.” It was completely ridiculous.”
One fan showered Craig with gifts, but he got the better of her when he respectfully told her mother that she didn’t need to spend money on him.
She sent Craig a rotten birthday cake after a few months, then tossed an egg at a public appearance.
He first appeared on Home And Away in 1990, portraying instructor Grant Mitchell with Kylie’s sister Dannii. “However, I’ve always preferred Neighbours,” he giggles as he sings the theme song into the phone. Craig went on to star in a number of successful productions in the United Kingdom and Australia, as well as act in the West End.