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EXCLUSIVE: Jason Donovan on daughter Jemma following in her father's footsteps and starring on Neighbours

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. They tell The Weekly why the apple hasn't fallen too far.

By Tiffany Dunk
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 tongue-in-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."
Jason pictured with his daughter Jemma, who is a star on Neighbours herself. Image: Alana Landsberry
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?
Jason (centre) pictured with his two children on the red carpet. Image: Getty
"I love that people associate us together but I want to show people I'm not just on Neighbours for my last name," Jemma says.
"I need to prove to people that I can do this. That was also great because it gave me a lot of drive."
"I'm very proud of her," Jason adds. "She's very passionate about what she does. She loves the work and at the end of the day it's what's on the screen that's the most important thing."
"I just keep saying keep your mind on the acting, that's all that matters – the rest will fall into place. As long as that inspires you to get out of bed every day, which it does.
Genuinely she says, "I can't believe I got this job, I love what I do.' And isn't that amazing? To love your work? That's a gift and I got that gift at a young age, too."
Jason got his first working gig with a small guest role on Australian series Skyways at the age of 11. His daughter is threatening already to outdo his track record. At 10 she started attending regular Saturday drama classes.
Two years later she debuted professionally in BBC film Mr Stink, starring David Walliams and Hugh Bonneville. At 15 her second job came in the form of Netflix crime drama Spotless.
"I loved doing that TV series so much and for six months I got to miss school," she reminisces now.
"I didn't want to go back when it finished but obviously my parents had a different opinion."
"So I went back to school and I loved it. But acting was a passion I knew I had. I was always going to end up doing it at some point."
WATCH BELOW: Still friends after so many years - Jason joins Kylie Minogue for their duet 'Especially For You'.
While Terence had originally discouraged his son from picking up the craft, Jason knew better than to try doing that with his own child.
"As long as she's passionate about it, and happy, that's all that matters to me," he says now.
"Because my dad knows the industry really well, asking him for advice has been really helpful," Jemma reflects.
"A lot of people my age are thrown into it with no idea what goes on and no help."
"And Dad works so hard. When he gets a script he won't put it down, his work ethic is mad. He's always said to me, 'Fail to prepare, prepare to fail'. If you don't put the work in, there's not much point. My work ethic has come from seeing just how much it means to him, how in every performance he gives his all."
That certainly seems to be the case in Jason's latest gig. He's about to wrap up the Melbourne run of Chicago, alongside fellow Neighbours alumni Natalie Bassingthwaighte – a show he admits has pushed him to the brink of exhaustion.
"It's a bigger beast than I thought it would be: eight shows a week is an incredibly intense thing to do," he says.
"But I've always been ambitious because I love what I do. I've never considered giving up [performing] because I don't know what else I'd do. And I do love the buzz."
The Australian production has also allowed him some precious one-on-one time with his daughter, something he realised he'd missed once she flew their Notting Hill nest.
"There was a four or five month stretch when she was away from home and hadn't seen anyone. There was a lot of FaceTime where she was pretty vulnerable and missing home, and fair enough," he says.
"We're a close family. Now, maybe because I've been away from home for three months, I feel a little bit vulnerable too and she is there for me."
The duo is clearly close, the banter and laughter constant during our photo shoot. Jemma mocks her dad for owning an artwork made up of multiple photos of himself.
He counters by reminding her it's the one thing she told him she wanted to keep when he died.
He gives her humorous tips on how to pose for our photos, she corrals him into line when he fails to follow our photographer's directions. In between takes, they make plans to have an Aperol Spritz to celebrate once the shoot is done.
They are a lot alike, Jemma tells us, and she's been making the most of having her dad in the same town.
"I do call him my partner in crime," she chuckles, her deep dimples flashing.
"We have the same interests, same personalities. We do a lot of trips to the beach, we love swimming in the sea. He's been meeting all my friends here, which is really cool."
Jason and Jemma at our exclusive photoshoot. Image: Alana Landsberry
"And I literally move in with him every night. It's just nice knowing there is someone I can go to after work and just chill with. Even if I'm sitting in my room in his house and he's sitting in his. It's been lovely to have him here."
The picture of a domesticated dad is one which for a while many people didn't believe Jason would achieve.
He notoriously went off the rails in the '90s, working hard but partying far harder, cocaine his drug of choice.
It came, he would reflect later, from a desire to be cool, to break out of the cheesy pop and musical theatre actor role he'd found himself drifting into. It would lead to him collapsing publicly multiple times, first in Melbourne in 1994.
By far the most notorious incident, however, came in 1995 when he suffered drug-induced convulsions at a 21st party for model Kate Moss at LA's Viper Room.
"I loved being on cocaine," he told the Times Weekend magazine in 2016.
"I was the most interesting person I know and it gave me a terrific buzz. Unfortunately, it went on three years too long."
Enter his now-wife Angela. The pair met working on The Rocky Horror Show and had a short-lived romance before splitting.
When she later told him she was pregnant, he realised it was "time to move on". And he's never looked back since.
"Ange is a very strong woman and I had options. The option I took was about being a dad. And I got it right. The kids are genuinely my best achievement by far."
Jason and Jemma sharing a sweet moment together on set. Image: Alana Landsberry
Also right was his decision to marry Angela, which he did in an intimate Bali ceremony in 2008.
"She's my best friend, you know," he says of the woman who changed his life.
"She's a unique woman. She's a strong person, a loyal person. And we are a great team. She respects me and I respect her."
Despite his life having played out so publicly in both the Australian and UK press, Jemma has remained for the most part blissfully ignorant of her father's infamy.
While other children with famous parents can struggle, "not many people my age know who he is, to be honest," she laughs.
The first time she figured out he wasn't like her friends' dads came in 2006, when he took part in UK reality series I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!
The series filmed in Australia and the whole family came out to see him battle it out in the finale.
"That was my earliest memory of that sort of realisation," she says.
"We got to run on when he came third – it was a lot of fun."
She had never watched Neighbours before auditioning and is only now seeing those early scenes that are so ingrained in the psyche of millions who tuned in, back in the late 1980s.
They pop up on Facebook, much to her amusement.
Working with her dad is not "on my to-do list" she says, adding she likes to keep her family and work life separate.
"It crosses some weird kind of line," she says.
"I kind of enjoy the fact that we do our own thing. It's nice to have those moments of just being dad and daughter rather than working together."
However, if that opportunity were to come about, it almost certainly won't be on Neighbours.
"That show has changed my life, there's not a day that goes by probably where I don't refer back to that," Jason says, choosing his words with care when asked if he would ever return to reprise his character.
"I'm very grateful for it. But with respect to the show and for myself, with something like that the publicity becomes bigger than the moment itself. But you don't know what is around the corner in life. You don't know."
Read this story and more in the March issue of The Australian Women's Weekly, on sale now.
Magda Szubanski stars on the cover of the April issue of The Australian Women's Weekly. Image: The Australian Women's Weekly

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