CELEBRITY

EXCLUSIVE: Skippy star Ken James engaged for 22 years… and counting

Where are they now?
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Much-loved TV favourite Ken James dissolves into a gale of laughter when asked if he’s giving Oprah Winfrey a run for her money in the long engagement stakes.

“I think Oprah and Stedman [Graham, her partner] have been engaged for just over 30 years, so we’ve got a bit of catching up to do,” a beaming Ken tells us as he snuggles in close to his beautiful fiancée, Rosemarie Stuhlener.

WATCH NOW: Ken James in Skippy. Article continues after video. 

Ken and retired business executive Rosemarie have now been engaged for 22 years.

They met at a glitzy Melbourne charity event in 2000, and it was love at first sight.

“I thought Rosemarie was so classy and elegant,” Ken says.

“Turns out we’d both been married before, we both have kids, and I loved that she had no clue I was an actor.”

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Smitten Ken proposed to Rosemarie a year after they first met. (Credit: Supplied)

Ken intended their first date to be a romantic picnic. But in true Melbourne style, it poured with rain so they had to settle for fish and chips, which they washed down with a bottle of champagne.

“It was bliss,” Ken recalls.

Rosemarie says, Ken got her “from the get-go” with his ability to make her laugh.

“And 23 years on, he still has me in stitches,” she tells us with a warm smile.

“He’s such a happy person and always such a gentleman. Plus, you could set your watch by his punctuality.”

A year after that first date, in January 2001, Ken and Rosemarie got engaged during a family dinner she was hosting.

“The time seemed right, we were so in love, and I spontaneously turned to her father and asked for Rosemarie’s hand in marriage. It was a beautiful moment,” Ken shares.

Fast forward to today and the couple are still madly in love and still engaged, but admit they have no idea when or if they’ll wed.

“We are genuinely happy and deeply committed, so we both agree, why change a winning formula,” Ken confesses, with a twinkle in his eye.

“We live between homes in Melbourne and Geelong, travel as often as we can, and our love is undimmed. But we never say never. Who knows, one day the confetti might flutter.”

Ken says he and Rosemarie became each other’s rock after they both endured harrowing cancer ordeals.

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Ken says Skippy fans still stop him to talk about the show. (Credit: Supplied)

In 2009, Ken was diagnosed with stage four non-Hodgkin lymphoma that spread to the bone.

After gruelling rounds of chemotherapy, Ken says he “came through it OK” and is now in remission.

Rosemarie barely left his side during that time and he says her “dedication was absolute”.

Their world was turned upside once again when Rosemarie was diagnosed with an extremely rare cancer of the appendix.

Tumours were found on her stomach, bowel and liver and Ken says she was told it was so dire she needed to get her affairs in order.

“Following a nine-hour operation, she was five days in intensive care. When she opened her eyes and smiled, I was in tears. I think we both have angels on our shoulders. I know for sure mine is my late sister Elaine, who died of melanoma,” shares Ken.

As the lucky lovebirds clink champagne flutes to celebrate Ken’s 75th birthday at a friend’s Gold Coast home, he also reveals a career milestone.

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Ken invited New Idea along to celebrate his milestone birthday. (Credit: Supplied)

“I’ve been in showbiz 63 years during which time I’ve rarely been out of work. I landed my first gig when I was 12, in a meat pie TV commercial,” he says.

In 1967 along bounced the role of eldest son Mark in Skippy.

Ken says that “all these years on, I still get mountains of fan letters from around the world.”

After Skippy, Ken starred in Barrier Reef, then the raunchy ’70s series The Box, followed by plum roles in hit shows like Skyways, Glenview High and Sons and Daughters, where he reunited with his Barrier Reef co-star, Rowena Wallace.

In the ’90s Ken reinvented himself as a TV chef, whipping up a decade’s worth of culinary creations on Bert Newton’s Good Morning Australia.

“I’m semi-retired, but if a great gig came along I wouldn’t say no,” Ken confesses.

“The secret to happiness is to smile and have fun. I love life. I’m thrilled I’ve made it to 75.”

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