Do you remember fan mail? I mean, actual letters sent to people you loved – not just tweets or status updates? Here’s the story of a wonderful letter I once received from entertainer Justine Clarke…
In 1988, Bicentennial celebrations played out across Australia, and Expo breathed life into my home town of Brisbane. I was at high school spending too much time on ‘Speech and Drama’ classes. I wanted to be an actor, more than anything. My teen angst was expended on writing epic poems, formulating elaborate scripts for classmates to perform, and interpretative dance (anywhere, any time). I wrote letters to one or two performers whose work I really admired, asking for advice about getting started in the biz – never really expecting a reply. Justine Clarke was one of them.
In the end, the actor’s life was never truly for me. Another career found me instead, and I’m fine. Honest. But to this day, I owe Justine Clarke for giving me a little confidence boost when it mattered! Back in the days when letters came to your actual letter box, Justine WROTE BACK.
You’ll Roo The Day
In 1988, Australian actor Justine Clarke became a household name playing a young Roo Stewart on soap Home and Away. Roo was a love-hate figure, willfully messing with others’ lives, as any good tearaway teen should do. Most heinously of all, she tricked lovable fop Frank (Alex Papps) into marrying her by pretending she was carrying his baby! Just another day in soapie land, really, but I was starstruck by Justine. She was close to my age, not so different in appearance (at the time!) and doing what I really wanted to do.
Years later, of course, I understand that Justine Clarke had one major thing that I didn’t: talent. Nonetheless, the delightful, hand-written letter I retrieved from my parents’ garage awhile back was most respectful to this young wannabe. She thanked me for my letter, she chatted about her agent and her career, and she expressed her relief at receiving fan mail from someone who can “ask about something other than what it’s like kissing Alex Papps” and who “can spell”. To a kid whose only real life skill at the time was the ability to construct a decent sentence, there was truly no greater compliment.
Playschool and parenthood
Beyond Home and Away, Justine Clarke proved her chops as an actor, author, TV presenter and singer. Her young fans (and their carers!) love her for making Playschool so charming; whilst others will remember her accomplished performances in films like look Both Ways or TV gems like The Time Of Our Lives.
When it comes to Playschool – that old favourite, so fondly remembered from my own youth – the likes of Justine and Alex Papps (there he is again!) seem a lot more comfortable amidst the cardboard trees and weathered stuffed toys than some of the new kids on the block. Playschool presenting is deceptively simple, in my opinion. Preschoolers are egocentric with short attention spans! To keep kids engaged, presenters need to address the camera in a way that makes each individual child feel like the most important person on earth.
And that’s how Justine makes my children feel. The same way I felt when I recieved that letter back in 1988. In truth, I don’t even know whether Justine herself wrote the letter! Did Home and Away stars have ‘people’ in 1988? What mattered most at the time was that the letter didn’t mock my aspirations. I felt important, as though she and I had a bit of a connection, being just a little bit superior to those for whom spelling was less of a priority.
I love the fact that I found this letter all these years later when she is very much a part of my current life: her music is part of our family soundtrack and my children know and love her work. And, as they get older, I can show them some of the edgy and poignant performances she continues to produce for grownups (see Woodley, for example) and Justine will be a part of the developing appreciation of the arts that I have always wanted to encourage in my little ones.