Keeping it in the family
The Australian Women's Weekly|March 2020
As a starry-eyed teen, Jason Donovan became famous for his role on Neighbours. Now history appears to be repeating itself for his daughter Jemma. The pair tell Tiffany Dunk why the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Jason Donovan was looking for a birthday card for a friend near his London home recently when he stumbled across one that made him chuckle. Picking it up, he took it to the counter and placed it face up. “Can I buy this,” he asked the nonplussed clerk.

“He sort of looked at me and I looked at the card,” Jason recalls gleefully at the baffled look he received in return. “And I felt like saying, ‘Do you want to give me that one for free? I didn’t get paid. I’m not getting a royalty on this!’”

Emblazoned with the title of their hit duet, Especially For You, the card featured the iconic wedding picture of a young Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue, taken at the 1987 nuptials of their Neighbours’ characters Scott and Charlene.

“I thought it would be a bit tonguein-cheek if I bought it,” the 51-year-old chuckles of the real life-meets-reel life moment. “You know, we were part of popular culture, it’s insane. When that show hit off in 1986, for four years it was just an incredible experience. And then that experience becomes not just incredible for you, but for the rest of the world.

“You don’t realise when you’re in it what’s actually happening. You never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory. Memories are what we live for.”

Jason’s entire world shifted when, aged 17, he was cast in the role of Scott Robinson in the series which celebrates 35 years on air this month. Fresh out of high school and eager to follow in his father Terence Donovan’s acting footsteps, not only did Neighbours become a huge hit, but Jason, with his puppy dog blue eyes, toothy grin and resplendent blonde locks, became the boy next door every teenage girl dreamed about. His on and off air romance with Kylie Minogue captivated fans around the world and would springboard huge UK pop careers for both, along with all the trappings of fame that came with it.

His coming of age was a heady time, one he describes as “magic”. “When you are that young and the air is fresh, the sunshine bright and the sea blue and you don’t have credit card issues or school fees ... It’s a new experience and those things are very galvanising.”

Today, another Donovan is fresh out of school and starting their own giddy adventure. Jason’s daughter Jemma has recently made the move across the ditch to call Ramsay Street home. His eldest child with stage manager wife Angela Malloch (the pair are also parents to Zac, 18 and Molly, 8), Jemma caught the acting bug early. Not only that, she’d always dreamed of moving to Australia. So during a short trip to test the waters early last year she went on several auditions, set up by Jason’s Australian agent. The final one was for Neighbours.

“I remember getting the phone call from my agent saying, ‘I’ve got some news,’ and I cried,” the 19-year-old newcomer’s proud dad says with tears brimming again now in his eyes. “It just made me so happy that she has an opportunity, that there is a foundation and a good reason for it. Neighbours is the perfect home for Jemma.”

On air, Jemma plays Harlow Robinson, the granddaughter of series original Paul Robinson (played by Jason’s former on-screen brother, Stefan Dennis). She was nervous to take the role, she admits. Would people perceive her hiring as nepotism, despite her dad having left the show 30 years earlier?

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