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Lust for Success

Date: 24/06/1995
Words: 766
          Publication: Sun Herald
Page: 4
MELISSA George throws back her blonde mane and pouts prettily with lips painted a deep, shiny plum. It's a pout she's been getting a lot of practice at lately: whether it's been vamping it up at the latest opening, modelling the hottest new look or merely having guest spots on TV shows. In fact, sitting there in her crocodile-skin patterned boots and her tight, hip-hugging, ankle-length skirt, she looks a world away from the sweet, demure girl-next-door who made her first appearance in Home And Away just over two years ago.

Today, there's no denying she's blossomed into a beautiful young woman - and she doesn't mind who knows. She's happy these days to show off her new girly cleavage, the navel pierced with a gold ring and, even, on one occasion with an arty magazine, her complete naked body.

"I'm not a little girl any more," says the 18-year-old, those fulsome lips twitching. "I now have heaps on my chest that I didn't have before and I don't mind showing how much I've grown up. There are so many people who want to see it.

"But I'm happy to say this is the way I am. I am happy to be a woman. I'm discovering my sexuality most definitely and I'm loving it. My image has changed to be more grown up and raunchy but, at the same time, I feel I'm a better person."

That's not to say, however, that in this new sultry, sex-kittenish Melissa, hormones have crowded out good sense.

After all, it was never simply good fortune that saw her, at 12, become a junior roller-skating champion, at 16 become a soap actor and by 18 end up as one of the most popular figures on television, both in Australia and in Britain. It was also the kind of capacity for hard work that saw her parents fear she'd be burnt out by 13. What keeps Melissa going is a passion for whatever she's doing at the moment and an unerring belief in herself and her future.

Already she's looking forward to a career she's confident will embrace feature films, Hollywood and happiness. And Home And Away? Despite speculation that she's leaving at the end of her contract early ne"t year, she just isn't telling.

"I'm not going to be in it forever, but I'm going to be there for a while," says Melissa. "I've given my whole heart and soul to the character to make her work. But as for when I'll leave, who knows? I'm a person who wants to move on sometime because I'm very ambitious but it could be three years time ... I'm not telling."

As for five years' time, though, her image of herself is clear. "I would like to be a property mogul," she says with a smile, "in love, travelling the world, catching up with friends, doing film, having a damned good time."

It's no idle whimsy, either. She's made property investments, has taken on a personal manager, writes advice columns for two English teen mags ("One 15-year-old girl wrote in to say she'd had sex for the first time, had got pregnant and contracted the AIDS virus; what can you say?") and plans to look around on a trip to London in July at what work options there might be away, rather than home.

She's also full of schemes to expand her business producing a range of nightwear decorated with the name of her soap character, Angel, from its start through her worldwide fan club to distribution into major stores. "It might look as if it's all come easy to her, but she's put a lot of hard work into getting where she is," says Cara Mitchinson, 18, her best friend in Perth where her family still lives.

"Everything she's got, she really deserves. She's always put everything into it, whether it was at schoolwork, at roller-skating or doing well in Home And Away."

Certainly, Melissa put in some very early practice for the role in the top-rating soap. After being banned from watching it at the dinner table, at the age of just 15 she and Cara borrowed a video camera and made an episode of their own, Melissa playing Bobby and Cara as Sophie. When the offer of a role came her parents encouraged her to come to Sydney to take it.

She's been lodging with families in Sydney ever since, as her popularity just grows and grows. In her first year, she was nominated for a Silver Logie. In her second, she won it, only just being nudged out for a Gold Logie by veteran Ray Martin. At the People's Choice Awards she moved the audience with an emotional speech about how Kylie Minogue had always inspired her - at which the two women fell into each other's arms.

But now she's facing the big test: whether she'll make the big time when she finally decides to quit Home And Away. Acting within the confines of TV soap, knocking out up to 22 scenes a day, is, of course, no guarantee of star quality transferring to a wider screen altogether.

"Oh, but she's a good kid and she's got a good head on her shoulders," says Russ Webb, the series producer of Home And Away. "I thought from day one she had it. She stepped into shot and she was terrific. She's always been clever and knows exactly what's required. She's got both that girl-next-door quality and that quality that's almost untouchable; that's a lot going for her all at once."

And now, of course, that Melissa's so much more grown-up, she'll be even better able to sizzle up her image with her newfound sexuality.

"She seems to have grown up all of a sudden," says friend Tania Remalino, 28. "She has a maturity well beyond her years." And a sexiness? "Yes, but underneath she's still quite innocent. That's half her appeal."

You can just see it in the pout.

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