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Soaps Interview

Kym Valentine (Libby Kennedy, 'Neighbours')

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Kym Valentine (Libby Kennedy, 'Neighbours')
Since joining Neighbours in 1994, 31-year-old actress Kym Valentine quickly became a worldwide soap icon for her portrayal of Libby Kennedy. After a three-year break in 2004, she returned to Erinsborough with her screen son Ben (Blake O'Leary) for what was initially intended as a brief reprisal. However, in August last year, she was forced to take a month's break from filming when her lung collapsed from pneumonia, resulting in her close friend Michala Banas taking the reins. Here, DS chats to Kym about her recent illness, Ian Smith's departure and a potential Kennedy reunion.

You recently went off our screens due to illness. Are you now fully recovered?
"Yeah, 100%. I had pneumonia and my right lung collapsed. I had no idea I was so sick! I had a sore back and that was what turned out to be - my lung had collapsed but having danced for such a long time I thought I'd pulled a muscle and I would be okay. I just didn't get it."

Has it given you a new outlook on life?
"Definitely, yeah. Little things happen like I can't increase my life insurance now. Things like that happen and you go 'Jeez! I've got a daughter I have to make sure I'm 100% - for her'.”

What was your daughter's reaction to it all?
"She came to the hospital and it was a bit upsetting for her so I did my best to explain to her what was going on. She thinks my lung broke! When I left to come here she said 'I hope your other lung doesn't break!' Kids compartmentalise it and in her head my lung broke."

What was it like watching Michala Banas play Libby during that time?
"I haven't seen a minute."

Do you want to?
"No. I love Michala but I just couldn't watch it. It'd be very upsetting. I'm so glad it was her, though. Could you imagine if it was someone I didn't like who had to do it? When they first told me, I was so devastated that I didn't talk to anyone. For two days I locked myself in the house and cried hysterically. It's only now in hindsight that I think 'What was I thinking? How did I even think I could keep going?' It was so ridiculous and the producers and the doctors did the best thing for me. I was like a naughty schoolkid and I was told 'No, you're not coming back to work for five weeks!'. They really looked after me. I couldn't see it at the time, though. I couldn't see how sick I was but luckily they could and they did the best thing for me and grounded me! I was under house arrest! I couldn't leave the house, it was hilarious!"

Ian Smith has recently finished filming with Neighbours. How big a loss will he be to the show?
"It's very strange. It's a bit surreal to not have him out there, and Tom Oliver who plays Lou is doing time on/time off, so it is quite weird losing the presence of both of them. It's odd."

Could fans ever hope to see a Kennedy reunion with Mal and Billy?
"I hope so! Well, Mal will come back any time - Benji [McNair]'s just in Melbourne doing theatre so he's readily available. Jesse [Spencer]'s in the US but he was here for Christmas and I spoke to him about it and I asked him if he'd come back and he said 'Of course I would - we're the Kennedys!'"

What's stopping them?
"Well, with Jesse I don't know if his agent wants him to! But Jesse has said to me face-to-face that if he has the time off he would do it because we're family - we'll always be family! We made a pact early on that we would never turn into those people who leave the show and then think they're too good for it. That's bulls**t and people who do that are idiots. I hate it when I see that. Be grateful, you learn so much from it and it's such a great opportunity and we've always been like that. If the opportunity comes and we're all available then yeah, we will. I'll have to talk to him - I'm his big sister so I could make him do it!"

It's good to see that you're back to full strength.
"Yes, I'm better - it's scary though. Every now and then if I feel a bit sick, I panic and I go into lockdown and don't leave the house! I rest for two days and have vitamin C. I'm scared of getting sick again. Hopefully that will never happen again."

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