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Perspective: I don't see myself as a sex symbol; When Roz Golds heard the soap star of her dreams was coming to town, there was only one person going to interview him.

Byline: Roz Golds

As I am walking home, pulling my scarf tightly around me, my head is swimming with the questions I am about to ask Alan Fletcher - the actor who plays Neighbours' Karl Kennedy during a telephone interview.

It begins to snow.

I'm a little nervous. Alan, who Jo Whiley recently described as a 'silver fox', has been a hero of mine since he first appeared as the soap's delectable Dr Karl, ten years ago.

This week, Alan played in Birmingham with his band The Waiting Room. It's the band's second UK tour - the first was met with mass hysteria as thousands of students besieged venues across the country in a bid to see their idol.

I catch Alan, or Fletch as his manager affectionately calls him, on the hop between his tour bus and his hotel and I needn't have worried, he makes for the perfect phone companion.

He has arrived in Sheffield, one of his favourite cities he enthuses, and a few large snowflakes are beginning to fall.

Brrrr - surely he must be missing the Australian sun I enquire?

He's not really - he's too caught up in the buzz of his tour and in between the endless sound checks, moving of equipment, setting up and dashing between cities, he's simply too busy.

And he really loves being in Blighty - last year he enjoyed a white Christmas in Malvern.

It's a testament to Alan's popularity as Dr Karl that the show is perfectly happy to let him take lengthy sabbaticals from filming to pursue his musical interests.

But viewers can rest assured that they will be enjoying Alan's on-screen antics for some time to come. He has no plans to abandon his acting career for his music.

As one of the show's most treasured characters Alan Fletcher enjoys the juiciest of storylines.

The viewers obviously think so.

A staggering 120 million viewers across the globe have been glued to storylines, such as when Karl left his other half Susan for the much younger scarlet woman Isobel. Not bad for a soap that was created by producer Reg Watson who was also responsible bringing the twice axed Crossroads to our screens.

Returning to Oz after an extensive career based in Birmingham and London, Watson decided to create a show based round the neighbourly values he felt characterised his home town Brisbane, values that were absent from the huge British cities.

Speaking during the recent 20th anniversary celebrations of the show, Watson said: 'When I went back to Brisbane to visit my relatives I was reminded how different life was to London and Birmingham.

'Over there, and also in Sydney, it was possible to live in the same street for years and years and never meet your neighbour.

'In Brisbane, twenty years ago, you knew almost everyone in your street and what a diverse, friendly lot they were!

'I thought how interesting it would be to have a family where the children could ask their parents anything and get an honest answer,' he added.

Thus, the Neighbours family Robinson - the original heart of the show - were born.

Gulp, could it really be that the world's most famous street is so popular because...it's not set in Birmingham?

Alan however puts the popularity of the show down to the fact that it's not actually set anywhere real. Phew.

Erinsborough is a fictitious place and that helps to explain the show's success,' he said.

'It's an amazing place which has every facility imaginable from an international airport to a large hospital.'

Which of course, is the haunt of the lovely Dr Karl, who seems to be the town's one and only doctor.

It's actually quite difficult not to call Alan, Karl, because heard apart from the host of other Australian voices on the show, he sounds larger than fictional life.

I am thus surprised when Alan assures me he is nothing like his alter-ego.

'Me and Karl are almost the antithesis of each other. Karl is very much of his age and can be very uptight whereas I'm much more laid back.'

Indeed, Alan has lived his life more unconventionally than that of the Erinsborough family doctor.

Unlike his father and brother, Alan declined to take a path in the sciences, and instead went to university to study the arts.

It was not meant to be.

The man who is now a student icon, cut short his own university career to pursue his dreams of becoming an actor.

But academia's loss was the acting world's gain.

Alan made a string of successful TV and film appearances before becoming a father later on in life to his 'darling' son and daughter.

Where Dr Karl's head is turned by the flattery of the beautiful young Isobel, Alan finds the notion of being viewed as a sex symbol hilarious.

I suggest that where people used to fancy characters like the blonde-haired Scott (who was played by the young '80's pin-up Jason Donovan), it is now his character and that of the middle-aged Stefan Dennis, who plays the deliciously dastardly Paul Robinson, have taken over the eye-candy mantle.

'I never, never see myself in that way,' he guffawed.

'It's very flattering though.

'People enjoy seeing the older characters and it is the characters they are reacting to.'

And no, he laughed, he doesn't have any sort of beauty routine apart from trying to keep fit, which, as he earnestly informs me, is very important for an actor.

Naturally gorgeous then - and he's generous too.

Alan is full of enthusiastic praise for his fellow actors and band members and is under no illusions as to why his band has proved so popular.

'Our student following is extraordinary and this is down to the Neighbours phenomenon.'

But he is adamant: 'People come to see Dr Karl but then they leave talking about the band.'

Indeed, Alan Fletcher is now massively popular in his own right, he has his own website and his recent Radio One chat with Jo Whiley was voted the station's most popular interview.

Alan is also full of admiration for ex-Neighbours star Alan Dale, who shot to international fame with a role in US hit series, The OC in a move Alan describes as 'brave for a man in his fifties.'

But the lights of Hollywood are not for Alan - he much prefers the UK. He has relatives dotted around the country and he loves the British film industry.

Sheffield's 'biggie', is, of course The Full Monty, so would he like to star in a Monty-esque gritty Brit-flick?

Yes, he says he certainly would, in fact, they actually did a comedy full monty scene in Neighbours in which the cast members stripped off.

What's more, he does a mean Brummie accent.

Alan Fletcher, starring in Birmingham's very own Full Monty?

That I'd love to see.

Visit www.alanfletcher.net

CAPTION(S):

A dramatic moment for Neighbours' actor Alan Fletcher as his character Karl Kennedy suffers a heart attack and (below) the cover of The Waiting Room's album Alan Fletcher as Karl and Natalie Bassingthwaighte as Izzy share a tender moment in Neighbours
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Dec 3, 2005
Words:1187
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