Australians grew up watching them on Home And Away as Pippa and Michael Ross, and while their on-screen romance was short-lived, Debra Lawrance and Dennis Coard’s real-life romance has lasted long after the program ended.
This year, the pair celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary!
“It doesn’t feel like 30 years at all,” Dennis, 71, confesses to Woman’s Day.
“I think the only way we can tell is because of our daughter Grace, who is 29. She was a wedding baby,” Debra, 65, laughs.
Dennis was auditioning to play Pippa’s new love interest when the two met at a “chemistry test” for Home And Away in 1990.
“I still remember it clearly,” Debra recalls.
“We auditioned some of the finest actors in the country, and there wasn’t much chemistry and then right at the end, this guy in a leather jacket and black jeans came in, and I thought, ‘Oh hello, you’re interesting!’
“So we did the scene and I raced up to the casting office and said, ‘You’ve got to book him,’ and our producer said, ‘It’s alright – we’ve already sent the contract out because casting said the chemistry was undeniable.'”
Dennis came away from the part unsure of himself, but Debra had made an indelible impression.
“She was so personable and kind. I remember she put me right at ease in that audition,” he says.
Dennis admits that after Debra began to tease him, he wasn’t sure he’d make it through filming.
He soon realised that her jibes were because she had a crush on him, just like in other “schoolyard romances,” and that they would be married just 18 months later.
Their fictional wedding on Home And Away had already wowed audiences across the country, but their co-stars had no idea that they had married in secret on February 29, 1992.
“We got married at Avalon Beach in Sydney, where I was staying at the time, just with my mum, our best friend David and the celebrant present,” Deb remembers.
“It was just very special to us [keeping it a secret]. But when we got back [on set] and eventually told everyone, all hell broke loose. Rehearsals stopped, and Judy Nunn went and got champagne.
“I remember Mat Stevenson saying, ‘I didn’t even know you guys were dating!'” she laughs.
Even though the two sprightly actors who fell in love on the soap all those years ago have had great careers, won awards, and given birth to two children, Grace and William, 22, they still consider themselves the two sprightly actors who fell in love on the soap all those years ago.
“We’re still very much the same as we were back then. It’s just about looking out for each other, loving and guiding each other,” Dennis enthuses.
“People always ask, ‘How did you survive?’ but we’ve just enjoyed each other’s company,” says Deb.
“We still fancy each other – I was rewatching [movie] Return Home the other day and when Dennis popped up, I had exactly the same feeling of attraction as I did back then.
“But it’s about someone being your best friend and we seem to have combined the two.”
There’s no disputing that the highly gifted couple owes their real-life love story to Home And Away, but don’t expect a repeat of their onscreen romance.
“It’s a different show now,” says Debra.
“I was asked to go back as a ghost – and when I went back with a figure I had in mind, I never heard back,” Dennis laughs.
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