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Home and Away

EXCLUSIVE: Sophie Dillman celebrates the importance of playing an “incredibly strong” woman and how finding love with Patrick O’Connor changed her life

''It’s made our relationship stronger.''

By Tamara Cullen
Growing up as a teenager, Sophie Dillman was enamoured by the characters she saw on screen.
From reciting quotes and exploring new fashion trends, she, like most girls her age, tried to emulate their actions into her own life. Today, women around the world are doing the same to her – and she hopes it will deliver a sense of purpose and pride within.
"I watched a lot of The OC and Home and Away when I was young and mimicked what I saw the characters do," Sophie, who plays Ziggy on Home and Away, recalls.
"It's so important for our stories to say something. I hope young girls see this character and say: 'Hell yes, I'll be a mechanic', or 'I'd love to learn how to surf', because Ziggy lives life to the fullest and is such an incredibly strong woman."
Sophie hopes Ziggy can be a role model. (Channel Seven)
With a pause, she laughs, before adding that Ziggy doesn't always make the best choices. In 2020, her character made some reckless choices and Sophie is very aware there are stark differences between herself and the loved character, especially when it comes to relationships.
Unlike her counterpart, Sophie is in a long-term relationship with co-star Patrick O'Connor and has never been happier.
"Ziggy makes terrible relationship choices when it comes to boys and she's only 23 – there's a five-year age difference between us and I've got a s*load more experience when it comes to dumb boys than she does!" She exclaims with a hearty laugh.
"But I hope that when girls watch Ziggy on TV that they say can distinguish between the good and bad choices. Thankfully, Ziggy and Dean are very different to Patty and Sophie! [laughs]"
Sophie couldn't be happier with Paddy. (Phillip Castleton)
The couple, who have known each other for eight years and live together in Sydney, have managed to strike a happy balance between their professional and personal lives. The pair not only attended the same acting school in Queensland but have watched each other grow up – a unique chapter Sophie is thankful for.
"We were work buddies first, and it's helped us work well together now, so we're lucky in that regard," Sophie, who was a former nurse, says.
"It's nice to have a relationship built on friendship. At the core we are best mates first and we treat each other like that, but it's also made our relationship stronger starting out that way."
Patrick adds that he loves the energy they share together.
"It's pretty chilled," he says casually. "If we go out as a couple, we get spotted by fans but it [fame as a couple] hasn't changed us too much. The UK fans are hectic [laughs] and they love to chat about everything and us, too. But I think Sophie's an amazing actress and it's a good feeling on set to know you're comfortable with each other."
Starting out as friends has only solidified the couples relationship. (Phillip Castleton)
While discussing work is easy to do, they make the conscious decision to leave it at the studio and focus on what's more important – date nights.
"Our home is our sanctuary. I love our apartment. The heathy thing is to leave work at work, and while we do talk about when we need too because we support each other, we try to come home and get on with our life. We'd much prefer a date night!"
Patrick chimes in at this point and adds that "burgers fix any long day of filming".
"Its true!" Sophie says with a laugh. "UberEats is a very big thing in our household."
For Patrick, the thought of how far they've come seems to strike him with surprise when he realises their full-circle moment from walking the halls of acting school as friends to the Channel Seven Studios as partners.
"It's pretty crazy when you think about it," he says. "It wasn't on my radar at the time for sure [laughs] and I never could've predicted it [they'd end up together]."
Sophie knows she can count on Patrick. (Phillip Castleton)
Now, it's as if they've never been apart. Sophie has not only found the love of her life but knows that she can count on Patrick for the big picture stuff – including her ongoing battle with endometriosis.
According to Endometriosis Australia, endometriosis is a chronic condition that can affect the whole body. Endometriosis is often found in and around the pelvis but has been found in the lungs and as far away as the brain. It happens when the cells similar to the lining of the uterus (called the endometrium) grow outside of it.
It is a condition that also affects one in 10 people across the world, but is often left undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.
As a long-term sufferer and vocal advocate for the cause, having a strong network has been a "life-saver" in her courageous fight.
"Living with endometriosis day-to-day is one of the greatest struggles a woman will face; it's debilitating," she says.
"I've suffered from it for a long time – and my sister does too. I have both bad bouts and not-so bad bouts of it, but it's very common to walk around work with a hot water bottle strapped to my stomach all day. Or I may need to spend the entire day at home sleeping. I have a team that I use to manage my pain from doctors, physios, a gynaecologist and a surgical team – and that will be the case for the rest of my life."
Having her family to lean on is priceless, as is Patrick, who has gone above and beyond to be there for his girlfriend and learn more about the disease which affects 10 percent of Australian women.
"I don't know where I would be without them," she says. "Patty is incredibly supportive – I can't press enough how good he is with me. But as a woman, you have to push on, otherwise you don't have a life."

For some, endometriosis can increase complications during pregnancy or severely decrease the chances of conceiving. Sophie says that while she's not ready to have children currently, it's a big conversation many women, like herself, will need to face.
"When I first found out, I wasn't in a position to think about children and I'm still not now," she explains.
"But at a base level, a woman's bodily function is to reproduce. Being unable to do that is huge pain or trauma that a lot of women have to deal with, and then to also to have a massive conversation with your partner that you may not be able to bear children or may have great difficulty doing so. There's a huge stigma and fear attached to it."
Never one to back down from a fight, Sophie knows she will face whatever comes.
"It's not like a panic switch goes off but you have no choice; it's your life. And this is also why women are superheroes. They just deal with it and keep going," she says.
And that's precisely what Sophie intends to do. As she aims to use her public profile "for good", the star hopes to champion the causes that are important, while also embracing the joys of life – because after all, that's what Ziggy would do.
"I'm unbelievably lucky and I count my blessing everyday," she says. "People may see me as a confident and happy person, and my mood is a reflection of those I'm surrounded by. I just want to be a good person and do the right thing."

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