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Jesse Spencer article

Billy Whizzkid

Meet the soap hunk with talent to spare

'On The Box' - By Sarah Westcott

Manchester Evening News Tuesday February 23rd, 1999

NEIGHBOURS star Jesse Spencer is the latest dream boy to grace many a teenager's bedroom wall. One magazine has even suggested he could be the next Leonardo DiCaprio. Yet Spencer himself, who plays Billy Kennedy in the Aussie soap, is bemused about the attentions of adoring fans.

"I am nothing like Billy," he insists. "He really sits on the fence and is a mummy's boy. I certainly didn't expect to become a heart-throb, if that's what I am. But I really get on with the Kennedy family. As soon as I step on set there is a psychological shift and Susan becomes my mum.

"Al Fletcher, who plays Karl, is hilarious and Ian Smith, who plays Harold, is really wry, dry and sarcastic, unlike his bumbling screen persona.

"To be honest, they are almost like a real family, except the Kennedy home is really small and cardboard and the whole of Ramsay Street wobbles if you close the door too hard!"

Spencer has become one of the most popular characters in the long-running soap since he joined in 1995. "I haven't always been a performer. In fact, I still cringe when I see myself on television. I never like it. It's like hearing your voice on a tape recorder! I also forget my lines sometimes as we don't get a lot of time to learn them."

He grew up in a 19th century-style home in Melbourne with his two older brothers and little sister and spent seven years with the Australian Boys Choir as a chorister. He claims he hated every minute of it. On a whim one day when he was 14, he auditioned for the part of Brett Stark in Neighbours and, to his surprise, reached the last three. His talents were spotted by the eagle-eyed Neighbours producers - who were so impressed they created the role of Billy Kennedy just for him.

"I was too young for the part, as Brett was meant to be 18. But the producers must have liked me because they asked me to come back in a year and wrote a part specially for me.

Jesse could have been a doctor as he comes from a strong medical background and was a straight A grades student who was offered a place at university. Despite his gruelling schedule, he still finds time to read, go surfing, study French, music and kung fu. The teenage star also has a strong love of all things musical, playing the violin and fronting his very own rock band Splayd. So is he the next Jason Donovan? "I don't have any ideas of becoming another Neighbours star turned pop singer." But Spencer is quite clear about the path his life would have taken, had he not been talent spotted. "Like Billy, my dad is a GP and my two eldest brothers are too. If I wasn't acting I would have definitely gone into medicine, too. It's totally fascinating.

"I see myself as an actor now, which is a little weird because it's only a year since I left school. I'm ambitious, and I'd love to do Shakespeare and maybe a TV series and film with lots of action and drama.

"At Neighbours, we get our scripts two weeks in advance and read them while we are learning the present ones. Some scenes are written really well and you can learn them the night before, but I'm looking for something more challenging."

And despite his picture adorning thousands of bedroom walls, Spencer admits he doesn't have a girlfriend. "I am into self-confident girls. I was seeing someone but we just agreed to be friends.

"I haven't got a girlfriend and I'm not actively looking for love, but if it came along I suppose I wouldn't say no!"