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Journalism - Spiked

The great lost Aussie pop star

27 March 2003

It's not normally the mind of a young female soap star you want to get into. But why on earth is Kym Valentine - aka Libby Kennedy - still in Neighbours after nine years, when by all rights she should be bouncing up and down on the Top of the Pops stage in hot-pants and appearing semi-naked in a lad's mag?

The route from Erinsborough to UK pop stardom is possibly the most well-trodden path in showbiz history, and it seems incredible that Kym hasn't given it a stroll. It doesn't matter if you can't sing or dance - if you're good looking and in Neighbours, it's instantly exchangeable for a one-album deal at your nearest UK music company.

In fact, so close is the tie-in that the Neighbours producers actually picked the latest wannabe pop star Delta Goodrem (Nina Tucker, 2002-present) to act in the soap because she was about to launch a pop career. And with the cynical marketing that has reached its pinnacle over the past year, her character in the show will embark on a pop career at the same time that Delta does it for real. Think cross-promotional, think easy feature articles in women's magazines, think money, money, lots of money.

With the exception (that proves the rule) of Guy Pierce (Mike Young, 1986-1990) - one of exactly 150 Neighbours regulars since the soap began in 1986 - it is pointless trying to forge out an acting career from the spotlight of Britain's favourite daytime soap. Even if you buck the trend and can actually act. Singing pop songs is the only way forward and then, depending on the length of your career, the low-grade but lucrative Xmas panto market.

Panto is something that the original trail-blazer, Kylie Minogue (Charlene Mitchell, 1986-89) hasn't had to resort to - and possibly never will if The Buttocks hold out long enough - but it is the landing mat extended to all those antipodean soap stars willing to take the risk.

The lovely Kym Valentine has, however, tried to bypass this singing stopping-off post - even though she's the lead singer of some local band in Oz - and instead follow the startling career success of Ann Charleston (Madge Bishop, nee Mitchell, 1986-2001). Ann was the longest-enduring star of Neighbours, and yet for years each Christmas she brought her special type of magic to UK stages in a mind-blowing soap/panto double-whammy. Still does today.

As such, Kym is still starring in Neighbours but has three pantos under her belt - Cinderella 1996 (Wales), Snow White 1998 (Hayes) and Peter Pan 2002 (Crawley). However, Ann Charleston still followed the rules and created the genre-defying 'An Old Fashioned Christmas' in 1989 with Ian Smith (Harold Bishop 1987-1991: 1997-present) before she embarked on the heady rollercoaster ride that is British seasonal entertainment.

Ann was smart enough to realise, however, that for her to aim for a glittering pop career would be to invite disaster, mostly because she looks like the back end of a bus. Kym has no such excuse. And if for a second you review the facts, it is impossible to see how she could fail.

First of all, she's a woman.

The soap-to-pop move can be tough for a bloke. Jason Donovan (Scott Robinson, 1986-89) was the first to try and he did well - four albums, 10 Top Ten hits, three Top 20, three Top 40. Such was his early success that he made the jump and quit Neighbours.

It didn't work for long but made him a mint while it did. While still young he opted for high-class panto Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. Unfortunately, his decision to sue The Face for 200,000 for accusing him of being gay may have been financially rewarding but effectively ended his singing career, and he was dropped in 1992 after two Number 26 singles. For the next six years, he then did very little except - interesting, considering The Face debacle - take on the role of Frank N Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show tour of the UK and Oz. Rumours of a revived pop career have fortunately never come to fruition.

Next up was long-haired lank Craig McLachlan (Henry Ramsay, 1986-89) who subtly blended acting skills with regular exposure of his torso. Craig made the stunning leap from Neighbours to Home and Away and almost ruined his pop career overnight (only Dannii Minogue has managed it from Oz's lesser sibling show, mostly for being the lesser sibling of Kylie).

Craig went for the 'proper musician' angle and had initial success with his band Check 1-2 (clever name that). He had a hit single straight away with 'Mona' going to Number Two. The band got out an album and one more single in the Top 20 before Craig went solo on 'On My Own' (more clever wordplay). That flopped and Craig was out on his ear with his big floppy hair in tow. However, he again went for a young man's panto - Grease - and, well, that was it.

But the greatest collapse was Stefan Dennis (Paul Robinson, 1985-1993). Stefan decided that he wanted a piece of pop glory and in 1989 released the remarkable 'Don't It Make You Feel Good'. It made Number 16, but the sight of the old and not-very-attractive Stefan in a leather jacket only helped the follow-up single 'This Love Affair' make the 67 spot and the career was over. Just four years later he quit Neighbours and - of course - immediately proceeded to the panto period of his life (Peter Pan in 1994, Aladdin in 1998).

So, the blokes may have had a hard time, but pop has always loved its princesses more than its princes. Ironically, the one female act that did fail did a cover of Prince's 'Wanna be your lover'. Yes, the Alessi sisters, Caroline and Christina (Gillian and Gayle Blakeney, 1991-93). In fact, the two sisters actually produced two singles after they quit Neighbours. 'Mad If Ya Don't' showed just how crazy the British record-buying public was when it shot to the coveted Number 75 spot. The next, and last single did better, reaching 62, but the career was over in less than a year.

Why did the sisters fail? Well, they were getting a bit long in the tooth. And it smacked of a novelty record and not some determined young star trying to make her way. Twins don't cut it. And, of course, the songs were unlistenable.

What else then but panto? Dick Whittington in 1992 (Stoke-on-Trent) and Cinderella in 1993 (Wales). Just Gillian managed one more year of Dick Whittington (1994, Northampton) before even panto turned out the sultry sisters on to the soap scrapheap.

And so we move to the stars: the lovely ladies of Kym Valentine's ilk. They are all young, good-looking, ex-Neighbours lasses and they have all done well. Welcome Kylie Minogue (Charlene Mitchell, 1986-89), Natalie Imbruglia (Beth Brennan, 1991-94), Holly Valance (Felicity Scully, 1999-present?) and new girl Delta Goodrem (Nina Tucker, 2002-present) who released her first single at the start of this month.

Admittedly, the female Neighbours pop star's success has diminished over the years, but there is still plenty of it still to be had, especially for someone who actually possesses a personality like our Kym. Kylie's done 12 albums, with 41 singles - most of them hits - over 15 years and she's still going strong.

Natalie Imbruglia has managed two hit albums and seven hit singles in five years and has a new album in the offing. Holly Valance is just starting off, but already has one album and three hit singles to her name after just a year. We'll just have to wait and see what happens with Delta Goodrem - her debut single made Number Three on Comic Relief week, which is certainly a good start.

Plus, of course, there are the countless photo-shoots, interviews, offers of poor-quality movies, a string of unsuitable boyfriends and the usual accoutrements of fame.

So what is Kym Valentine's problem? She first appeared in Neighbours in 1994, aged just 17. While she was at first outshone by her onscreen mother Jackie Woodburn (Susan Kennedy, 1995-present), she quickly developed - and not just her character. Since then, she has held her own against a slew of fresh young things dragged into the show to capture the horny student market.

The show's producers eventually allowed Libby's heaving bosom to break free from her teenager role and she was given a serious boyfriend, then a job, then a baby. Maybe she believes the sexy edge has been rubbed off her persona and so a pop career would be doomed.

But not at all - Kym remains intelligent, sensual and curvaceous. Compared to the vacuous clothes-horse that is Holly Valance, she is a star in the making. She may have to hold off while Delta Goodrem rides the PR train to success, but that gives plenty of time to prepare.

The answer as to why Kym may never do it, though, is on the Neighbours website. 'Have you ever had to do anything on set that you really didn't want to do?', asks someone in the Libby FAQ. Kym replies: 'I'm never happy to wear a bikini, so I try to avoid that!' It shouldn't be a problem since most pics of pop stars appear to feature them trying to take bikinis off. Usually while kneeling on a beach.

No, Kym is uncomfortable with her body - which would explain those thousands of baggy pastel jumpers she has worn over the years. But there is a glint of light. In November 2001 - aged 24 and after seven years in Neighbours - Ms Valentine may have realised it was time for a break and appeared in Aussie lad's mag Ralph, in saucy leather gear and lingerie.

She had never done anything like it before. Why, asked the magazine? 'Because I always wanted to be an actress and be taken seriously as an actress and there's this big stereotype that serious actresses don't do sexy mags.'

Well, for God's sake Kym, you've been in six ads - one for speed cameras - you were Reporter #1 in 1987 for My Demon Lover, you were in TV series My Two Wives briefly in 1992 and you've spent the past nine years in bloody Neighbours - at what point did you think you'd become a serious actress?

Kym, Kym, Kym, when are you going to realise that your acting's not that good and maybe you should start using your looks while you still can? You can even dance and sing, which puts you ahead of those that have been before you. So what if you are married, you only have to give a good-looking actor a peck on the cheek outside The Ivy and you can ride the storm of adultery tabloid protests.

Please, Kym, for our sakes as much as yours, quit Neighbours and squeeze into some Top of the Pops hot pants. For you are the great lost sexy Aussie pop star.

Kieren McCarthy doesn't normally write about soaps and hopefully he never will again. He is a freelance journalist and lives at http://www.kierenmccarthy.me.uk

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