Neighbours favourite Carla Bonner has swapped Erinsborough for a new address and a new life with a handsome new man.
The sound of a classical trumpet wafting from her inner Melbourne home is a giveaway that free-spirited Carla now lives happily with French/Italian musician Julien Piazzon.
‘He’s a younger man, naughty 40, and he’s amazing,’ laughs the 45-year-old star, who first shot to fame playing tom boy Steph Scully back in 1999.
‘We’ve been together for around 15 months, and we make a really great team.
‘Julien is so cultured, not only with his music but also the beautiful life he has lived, playing with orchestras all around the world. But he’s not just a musician – he’s also a great renovator and tiler, so he’s very, very handy to have around,’ she laughs.
The couple, who met at a hip Brunswick Street bar called Naked For Satan, have already travelled to Europe together on Carla’s first trip to France. Julien played tour guide in his native Alsace, France, and also in his father’s tiny ancestral village in the mountains north of Venice, Italy.
‘It was like being a local, not a tourist, just mind-blowing,’ smiles single mum Carla, who has devoted most of her adult life to raising sons Harley, 27, and Jhye, 20.
‘I think I should have been born over there. It suits me.
‘Julien’s home in Alsace is in a gorgeous village called Eguisheim voted France’s most beautiful village back in 2013. It’s the most picturesque village I’ve ever seen, something that looks like it’s from the pages of Beauty And The Beast,’ she says.
Today Carla is recreating a little corner of Europe at her new home in Northcote in Melbourne, where she swaps recipes and stories with the street’s ‘last remaining nonna’ who lives next door.
It’s a warm and peaceful haven from Steph’s many dramas – dumped at the altar, a lesbian affair, breast cancer, psychotic episodes, baby theft and jail time – she’s endured on three stints in the long-running soap Neighbours.
Perhaps the biggest acting challenge of all was pretending not to know her own son, Harley, when they co-starred on Ramsay Street from July 2015 until April 2016.
‘It was a pretty amazing situation,’ she laughs. ‘That doesn’t happen. Mother and son working on the same show, having scenes together where they’re “complete strangers?” I wondered how I was actually going to look at him and not have that motherly instinct!’
With actor Harley now trying his luck in Hollywood and younger son Jhye working as a builder, Carla is finally free to spread her wings – and her love for Julien is just part of her latter-day empty-nest lifestyle.
Steph Scully has once again been written out of Neighbours – to the despair of fans who took to social media in protest – and her off-screen alter-ego has big plans.
‘I’ve been working on a hilarious YouTube, new to ABC, series comedy Superwog – a very clever show developed by brothers Theo and Nathan Saidden – very funny stuff. Andrew Blackman played my husband. We all had a fantastic time!’
While she wants to continue acting, Carla sees a more vital role elsewhere.
‘What I really see as the next chapter in my life and career, is speaking to the sisterhood, to groups of women, about feminine leadership and empowerment.’
For the full story see this weeks issue of New Idea, on sale now.