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STAR BEGINNINGS: Met the; Neighbours?; It's Neighbours' 18th birthday this year, and it's still pulling in millions of viewers. So in honour of the soap, we look at the megastars who started out on Ramsay Street...

Byline: Lucille Howe

Do you remember watching Scott and Charlene tie the knot? Whether you were huddled round a TV during your lunch break or letting your fish fingers go cold after John Craven's Newsround, nobody can forget it.

Depite being a low-budget soap, Neighbours has always made TV history and has produced some of the world's biggest stars, including Kylie Minogue and Russell Crowe.

So like the Coldplay boys, who visited the Neighbours set a few months ago, and Olivier Martinez, who Kylie took to visit her old haunts over Christmas, M Celebs went on location to get the lowdown on the stars who started their careers on Ramsay Street. We asked the show's talentspotter, Jan Russ, and Ian Smith (who plays Harold Bishop) to spill the beans...

Russell Crowe

`I had a call from Russell Crowe's agent saying he was in town and could I watch him at work,' Jan says. `He was playing the professor in The Rocky Horror Show and I said to the producers, "He's something exceptional. You've got to get him in, even if it's only for a short stint." He was only in it for a few weeks but he had a great brooding, intense quality. He was very ambitious. He would never had stayed. He wanted to do everything.'

Hugh Jackman

`I had Hugh Jackman (Wolverine in the X-Men films) signed up for the show when he won a place at Performing Arts School,' says Jan. `I said, "I understand, go do it," and that was it for three years. When he finished, I got him back in and he arrived with his head down, saying he hoped I wouldn't remember him. He rejected the part again and was embarrassed about it. He was looking at Hollywood and feature films by then, but he's a gentleman. I occasionally see him and his wife in the park and we have a coffee.'

Guy Pearce

`Guy Pearce (of Memento and LA Confidential) lived nearby in Ocean Grove,' Jan recalls. `He'd only done a confectionery commercial before Neighbours, but he was a dark horse - a surprise to us. When he works he's totally focused and I respect him as he manages to keep his private life separate.'

Kylie and Jason

`Kylie had done a couple of things before I saw her, but she was only 18 and as shy as a mouse,' says Jan. `She really hadn't evolved into anything at that stage, but the camera loved her and I knew I had my Charlene. Jason was still at school at the time, so I waited till he finished and we had the pair.' Ian Smith remembers, `My first scene on the show was with Charlene. I opened the door to find her in a clown costume. She was wonderful to watch. I'd be relaxing between scenes, but she'd constantly be on the phone doing business deals. I just listened and learned. She was an exceptional business woman.'

About Jason, Ian recalls, `He was another nice kid. I remember the day we filmed Scott and Charlene's wedding. The cast hate weddings and funerals - for most people it's a lot of sitting around doing nothing, but on this occasion there was a real buzz. We had journalists trying to get on set, and flashlights from paparazzi going off. I think it gave Kylie and Jason a taste of things to come...'

Delta Goodrem

Nina Tucker She scooped seven trophies at the Australian Record Industry Awards (the Aussie equivalent of the Brits), but sadly, she's also been in the news due to her cancer battle. She's currently at home in Australia resting and undergoing treatment.

Natalie Imbruglia

Beth Brennan Natalie married Aussie rocker Daniel Johns on New Year's Eve, at a secret ceremony in Queensland. Sixty family and close friends attended, including Kylie and her beau, Olivier. Kylie caught the bouquet - could this mean wedding bells in 2004 for the tiny one?

Holly Valance &

Scott Michaelson (Brad the surfer) In November, Scott won a court case against the ex-Neighbours babe. He was her manager, but claimed she dumped him by fax 15 months before his contract was due to expire. He won pounds 300,000 damages.

CAPTION(S):

Circled: Guy Pearce, Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue all went on to greater things
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 25, 2004
Words:715
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