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British soap actress has close ties to Malta

Nicola Duffett. Picture: Joe Camenzuli

Nicola Duffett. Picture: Joe Camenzuli

Nicola Duffett, best known for the part she played in the British soap Family Affairs, has a close connection with Malta: her father Jack was posted here between 1977 and 1979 as commander of the British Navy, at a time when the British base was closing down for good after 180 years of colonial rule.

Ms Duffett is on a 10-day visit to Malta as guest of the Fortina Spa Resort in Tigné, and said she still has friends in Kalkara from her days here as a 16-year-old.

She said she would be talking to her TV company in the UK to see whether they would consider shooting a number of episodes of Family Affairs in Malta, and in particular at the Fortina Spa Resort.

The resort is offering visitors a package that offers clients a health boost by allowing them to relax and get rid of toxins in spas in their own rooms.

A bubbly, no-holds-barred character brimming with joie de vivre, Ms Duffett had a field day yesterday talking to reporters and posing for cameras at the Fortina during a Japanese lunch, at which the Japanese cooks surpassed themselves in the manner they prepared the meal.

Ms Duffett is here accompanied by her 30-year old partner, Shane Williams. Chain-smoking her way through the media event, she explained that while her late father was posted in Malta she was a boarder in Bournemouth, England, but used to spend her summer holidays here, often making undercover use of her father's launch in St Angelo to escape to Valletta to do her shopping.

She said her father used to reside in Wharf House which today, she said, is the Casinò di Venezia.

Acting did not run in the family - the Duffetts were men of the sea - but she had acted in school plays since she was "this high". She once wore her father's uniform to a party, infuriating her dad who said it was "the Queen's uniform".

Her father died of Alzheimers aged 58 and she set up a lobby group to raise money to study and help control this terminal disease which was affecting more and more young people.

Between 1993 and 1995 she played the part of Debbie Tyler in Eastenders, which focuses on the ups and downs of the close-knit community in the east end of London. The character was that of a shy person, which did not fit her persona at all, and she asked the script writers to "kill" the character, which they did.

She played Jacky Bast in one of the more famous films she starred in, Howards End (1992), which netted three Oscars.

In Family Affairs she plays Cat, who, according to the soap's website is "totally paranoid and can't even take a compliment without assuming you're insulting her".

She doesn't think, however, that she is being typecast although she admits her fuller figure and good looks put her way past the competition when the producers are looking for somebody like her and the other contestants are mostly wafer-thin models.

Working in TV soaps can be quite gruelling, with work starting at 7 a.m. and four to five episodes being shot every day - a break in the story line could perhaps allow a number of episodes to be shot here.

Ms Duffett likes her drink, loves Malta and would like to have a house here, although "actors and actresses never retire".

She enjoys meeting people who identify with the part she plays in soap operas. As I left the Fortina, she was sitting down by the pool talking to a couple from Scotland who had recognised her and came up to her to have a chat.

Michael Zammit Tabona, a director of the Fortina Spa Resort, said he would shortly be meeting officials from the health ministry in the UK to work out an arrangement whereby British patients could convalesce in Malta after surgical interventions.

"Bringing celebrities to Malta would help the country to attract more visitors to these shores.

"The Fortina is carrying out an intensive marketing campaign in the UK. Malta enjoys a temperate climate and people speak English here which is an added benefit," Mr Zammit Tabona added.

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