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Ailsa's novel way to end soap career; WEEKEND TV.

THE tears flowing were 100 per cent real when Ailsa Piper filmed her final farewell scene in Neighbours.

In fact, she sobbed so much she could barely say her lines in front of the television cameras.

Ailsa, who plays super-mum Ruth Martin in the Aussie soap, says: "I thought I'd be fine, but literally every time, I'd just turn and look at my screen kids and I would be gone.

"When we came to film it for real, I was crying absolutely uncontrollably."

Viewers can see Ailsa's big departure on BBC 1 this week and during her three years on the popular show from Down Under she has certainly been through the mill. Her character has gone through a messy divorce, a cancer scare, a resentful rebellious daughter and the reappearance of a long-lost son that she'd given up for adoption when he was just a baby.

Ailsa's meaty storylines have meant a lot of work with learning lines and busy filming schedules, but she still found time to finish an MA and is now in the middle of writing her first novel.

"I handed in my thesis a few weeks ago," she says with a broad smile.

"I think the days when I was a basket case on set were because I was trying to do too much. But it was a great thing. I didn't tell the university how many hours I worked, so I did it as though I was a full-time student.

"I was worried my attention span is such that if I did it over three years, as they were suggesting, I would've lost interest.

"That was always the challenge for me with Neighbours- to maintain interest over a long period of time."

Ailsa was an established theatre actress in Australia before she joined Neighbours and the soap marked her first big TV break. It led to her working five days a week, 13 hours a day, but says playing everybody's favourite mum has been a great experience.

The 40-year-old actress says she goes bush-walking when the pressure's too great and laughingly insists: "I'm really happy when I'm filthy dirty and my muscles are aching and I've walked 20 kilometres.

"It's funny. Everyone else on the trip was horrified that we couldn't shower for five days and all I could think was 'no make-up, no hairdryers, nothing - fantastic.'

"It may sound glamorous, but when you've got someone doing that to you every day at 5.30am, five days of no showering was great. The stinkier I got, the happier I got."

One person who doesn't share Ailsa's passion is her 55-year-old actor husband Peter.

"He was quite happy to wave me goodbye on that one," she agrees. "He likes to know that at the end of the day there's a Chardonnay."

Ailsa is now looking forward to doing more TV and theatre work and is looking forward to playing some villainous characters. "I wouldn't mind doing more bitchy roles - the odd witch," she smiles. "It'd be fun to come in and rip people to shreds."

One role that eluded Ailsa was a fellow Neighbours character. "Mrs Mangle - I'd love to have played her, she was really nasty."
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:McMULLEN, MARION
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Jan 8, 2000
Words:532
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