Featured on scores of magazine covers and in demand for fashion shoots, she even recorded an album of songs for children – Frizzle, Frazzle, Frozzle – which came with a free colouring-in book.
Yet, behind the scenes, Victoria’s heart was breaking. Her adored father, a decorated Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) veteran, was dying of cancer aged just 58. “I had to put on this big act for the show while I got sadder and sadder,” she recalls.
“My dad was in the Vietnam War, all that stuff, atomic testing at Woomera [SA]. Anyone who’s a pilot and flies through that rubbish is going to be in trouble. It was tough … I still can’t really talk about it.”
Around the same time, network pay negotiations turned toxic. Victoria only discovered she had been dropped from her Sale gig when a reporter broke the news on her doorstep.
“I’d asked for a bit more money because Tony was earning a lot more than me,” she explains, noting the similarity to Lisa Wilkinson and Karl Stefanovic’s salary drama 35 years later.
“I was humiliated in the press and got it chucked at me that I’d been replaced by Delvene Delaney. But it didn’t matter because Sale wasn’t where I wanted to be. I was out of my comfort zone. I loved acting and it’s what I’d trained to do.”
Born in Malta, where her father was stationed, Victoria grew up performance mad. “I don’t know where it came from,” she says while walking her dog, Nellie, near her home on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.
“I did ballet all my life. I was a bit gangly, so Mum put me into classes and I would dance around the house, making her laugh.”
Clowning around also helped Victoria make new friends when the Nicolls clan moved every two years to new RAAF postings.
Always writing, directing and starring in school plays, Victoria studied dramatic arts at Flinders University in Adelaide. After graduation, she scored her big TV break as Raeleen Archer on The Restless Years.
“I think that was the happiest I’ve ever been in the industry – I absolutely adored it … but by the time I’d done two and a half years, I started to panic. I was 25, halfway to 50, nearly dead! I thought I’d better get going, like a mad woman.”
Next came Sale of the Century – but despite its messy finale, Victoria sees one upside to her stint as a “barrel girl”.
“The good thing was that it gave me back my name, Victoria Nicolls, instead of being known forever as Raeleen Archer. You know, there are limited opportunities and you can’t be that fussy, because there’s not enough work around.”
After roles on Prisoner and Echo Point, Victoria virtually disappeared from the small screen, preferring to concentrate on stage and teaching work.
Left “broken” by the breast cancer death of her beloved sister Edwina, aged 42, she was focused on being a single parent to her two daughters.
“You only get one go at it, and it was no skin off my nose to put my children first,” she smiles. “I just had to reinvent myself for a while, but because I grew up in an RAAF household, I’m skilled in survival.”
Today, however, the star hopes to revive her acting career.
“Something like Miss Marple would go down well,” she chuckles, revealing that she still receives fan mail. “It wouldn’t have to be a big part, something dry and fun and light. And I can play a granny now.”