In 1987 on Neighbours, Scott and Charlene tied the knot in arguably the most famous soap wedding of all time.
Today on Ramsay Street, history of a different kind will be made when David Tanaka and Aaron Brennan walk down the aisle. And we think it’s cause for just as much celebration.
David and Aaron – or ‘Daaron’ as they are affectionately known to fans – will be married in the first same-sex wedding on Australian TV since marriage equality was legalised last December. The path to LGBTQ representation on the small screen has been long and still continues, but at Neighbours, we treat diversity as a priority. Having a couple like David and Aaron pronounced ‘husband and husband’ – and having it legal in real life – is a defining moment in how far we’ve come, even if there is a way to go.
Those of us who work in television have experienced the evolution from a unique standpoint. It’s no secret that the arts are filled with members of the LGBTQ community. As storytellers, we have played a strong hand in creating love stories like Scott and Charlene’s for the masses to enjoy. But until recently, our own love stories haven’t been told, out of fear of offending some of the viewing audience. The UK soaps were first to prove that television has the power to overcome prejudice and promote love and acceptance. When Beth Jordache kissed a girl on Emmerdale in 1994, it was a scandal. But since then, all the major soaps have introduced gay characters and shown everyone is the same regardless of who you love. Nowadays it’s no big deal to see a gay couple in the Woolpack or the Rovers Return – just as it shouldn’t be to see them in your local pub in real life.
At Neighbours, we’ve had gay and bisexual characters in our regular cast consistently since 2010. In recent years we’ve had at least three among our regular cast of twenty-two, will full support from our broadcasters. We treat them exactly the same as we do every other character – they love, they lust, they kiss and they betray each other (no gay identical twins yet but give us time). We have portrayed the ‘coming out’ experience as a teenager (Chris Pappas) and later in life (David, Steph Scully). Yet equally, we have characters like Aaron and Chloe Brennan who came into the show out and proud with their sexuality and nobody bats an eyelid. There is more to be done and further LGBTQ representation to be made, along with other diversity. But we are committed to getting there.
Our characters experiences might at times seem idealistic compared to the experiences of some viewers but there is power in the portrayal. Like most soaps, Neighbours does regular audience research and this has been a great barometer when it comes to shifting community attitudes. Three years ago, we did focus groups where our viewers made comments like “it’s good to have a gay character because that’s real life”. Three months ago, we again did focus groups across Britain and this didn’t come up at all. Viewers happily talked about looking forward to David and Aaron’s wedding and their gender didn’t rate a mention. But Karl Kennedy doing nude gardening in his backyard greenhouse – now that was a talking point!
I’m keenly aware that even though there is much to be done on an industry level and indeed our society, a show like Neighbours can have a positive impact. The actors who play David and Aaron – Takaya Honda and Matt Wilson – have certainly spoken of the moving feedback they’ve received, especially from young viewers struggling with their sexuality. A quick glance at their social media accounts will tell you they both have girlfriends in real life but when it comes to ‘Daaron’ they have shown nothing but full commitment to making the relationship appear as authentic as possible on the show.
Just as there is plenty of drama on screen, it was an emotional time behind-the-scenes when we began planning the engagement and wedding. At the time, marriage equality wasn’t yet passed in Australia. In an ugly chapter for our nations history, the rights of the LGBTQ community was put up for debate in homes, workplaces and daily talkback radio as the government deferred the issue to a public vote. One of the shining lights during this period was beloved actress Magda Szubanski, best known in the UK for her iconic role as Sharon in the comedy series Kath & Kim. Fortunately the public overwhelmingly voted yes to love – and we voted that Magda simply must come to Ramsay Street and marry the grooms. And she said YES!
And marry them she does. As celebrant Jemima Smythe-Davis, Magda will have viewers in stitches one minute and reaching for the tissues the next. She was keen to ensure the significance of the occasion was not overlooked and I believe the episode strikes the perfect balance. We filmed it on a cold, raining Melbourne day (yes Brits, it gets cold!) but the atmosphere on set couldn’t have been better. Everyone on the production felt the emotion of the event and wanted to make it as special as possible. During filming I had many cast and crew come up to me and tell me how meaningful it was for them, as it was for myself.
Just as many viewers watched Scott and Charlene back in the day and dreamed ‘one day that might be me’, I hope viewers will today watch and see David and Aaron as an example of the way two people of the same gender can live happily ever after too.
Well, as much as anyone can in the world of soap, especially with Paul Robinson as a father-in-law…