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Comment > Love Thy Neighbour: Terese Willis by Carol Ann Wood

When diminutive Terese Willis strode into Ramsay Street in her wrap-dresses and high heels, her husband Brad and teenage twins in tow, viewers could tell tell that this was a woman with a big personality, who would become central to future story lines. My first impression of Terese was that she didnít seem over-motherly, given that she had three children. She was very career-focused, perfectly groomed, and businesslike in manner. Some long-time viewers compared her personality unfavourably to that of Lauren Turner, whom we all knew was Bradís old flame. They remarked that they had always felt Brad and Lauren belonged together, and had been disappointed when he eventually chose to marry Beth. After Tereseís introduction to the show, we learnt that Terese had been the Ďother womaní who had broken up Brad and Bethís marriage (albeit all off-screen) so perhaps this was another reason people didnít warm to her. How could she be justified in feeling insecure about Lauren and Bradís history, when she had been involved in a marriage break-up herself, some fans reasoned?

But, maybe thatís too harsh an opinion of Terese. This was not a black and white, right and wrong situation. Brad could have been partly to blame for the demise of his first marriage, and if we look back at the 1990s love-triangle between Brad, Beth and Lauren, we can see that he dithered considerably over which of them he wanted to be with. We were first introduced to Terese when Lucy Robinson invited her to Erinsborough and offered her the job of hotel manager, unbeknown to Lucyís brother Paul. Terese had been working at another branch of the Lassitersís chain, and was the family breadwinner whilst Brad was busy coaching Josh in his promising swimming career. Once she had got the measure of Paul, Terese decided the job offer was too good to turn down. Paul was angry about his sisterís underhand dealings, but Terese was hired as it was immediately apparent that she would be a valuable asset to the hotel. Viewers knew that Paul had met his professional match; Terese was not one to be patronised or put down. This was going to be an interesting work dynamic.

Terese had to accept that the move to Erinsborough meant she would be living across the street from Lauren, a fact of which she was initially Ė albeit reluctantly Ė accepting. If Terese had reservations, she probably told herself not to be silly, that Lauren and Brad split up over twenty years ago, and besides, Lauren was seemingly happily married to Matt. Brad had been a loyal husband up until now, so why should Terese get hot under the collar about someone he dated long ago? Determined that things would work out in Erinsborough, Terese made a point of being openly friendly towards Lauren. However, you couldnít help but wonder, was she trying too hard, and was she really as okay with things as she made out?

Terese had not bargained for all that was to occur after the family relocation. Letís think about what she has had to contend with. First came the revelation that Lauren had a baby by Brad over twenty years ago, something which also came as a shock to Brad. Then, news that the baby had not died as Lauren had always been led to believe by her mother Kathy, but adopted out, illegally. Brad and Lauren decided they wanted to search for their long-lost daughter. Itís easy to say that Terese should have been fully supportive of this decision, but if if we were in her situation, would we be generous of heart and unreservedly accepting of it? Iím not sure it would be that straightforward. Understandably, Terese was concerned, not only for the impact it might have on her marriage, but on her and Bradís children: Imogen, Josh and Piper already had one half-sibling, Ned, and now another might be introduced to the clan. How might this alter the family dynamics?

We realise now that Terese had good reason to be concerned, certainly with regards her marriage. When Brad and Lauren shared a kiss during their search for Paige (then known as Lily, Laurenís intended name for her) you could guess the tryst wouldnít be secret for long. Next up was Paigeís arrival and, after she eventually revealed her true identity, her birth parents started bonding over her. Itís little wonder that Terese felt put out. Brad and Lauren spent their time being smitten with the daughter they wanted to get to know. Meanwhile, Terese and Matt both have felt sidelined in their respective marriages. Then there was Josh, who had a great chance of getting to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, until he was injured in an accident which started as a stupid dare. And who was the one who encouraged him in this dare? Mason Turner. Wherever Terese turned, there was always some underlying connection to the Turners that inextricably linked the families together and brought further conflicting emotions to the fore. No wonder that the as-yet-unseen Piper is still in Canada on the longest school exchange programme in soap history. If the poor girl is aware of all the familial events of the last two years, she probably isnít in a hurry to return to the fold!

Terese watched as Amber and Josh began a romance; yet another link to the Turners. Sheís seen Josh broken-hearted as Amber cheated on him with Daniel Robinson, and then in another twist, Josh was revealed to be the father of Amberís unborn baby when he Ďcomforted herí on the night of Amber and Danielís non-wedding. Added to that, we now learn the baby has a potentially serous medical condition. Another terse two-family debate about expensive medical treatment ensued. And letís not forget Joshís alcohol intolerance storyline, culminating in the punch that almost killed Chris Pappas. We had Imogenís eating disorder and Tereseís vicious assault at the hands of Ezra Hanley. Oh, and Tereseís brother, Doctor Nick Petrides, whom sheíd idolised all her life, turning out to be a despicable conman. She found it difficult to accept the lengths Nick would go in order to get his cancer treatment centre funded. Well, I think I might have had difficulty with that one too! And to cap it all, Matt Turner had to go and get himself killed whilst saving Brad from the path of a speeding car. Poor Terese felt torn between being glad that Bradís life was saved, and sorry about Matt. But when Brad revealed Mattís last words had been to ask him to Ďlook after Laurení it could only spell one thing: Trouble. All in all, then, quite a lot for Terese to brood on.

Despite it being possible to empathise with Terese, itís also true to say that she doesnít always deal with situations appropriately. She has hidden behind trees and around corners to eavesdrop on Brad and Lauren, she has read Laurenís journal and Paigeís text message. Contacting Paigeís adopted mother and telling her where Paige was living wasn't really a good move, either. Terese was hoping, of course, for their reconciliation so that Paige might leave town with her mother. By Tereseís reckoning, this would give Brad less reason to be continually popping into the kitchen of Haroldís for secret chats and demonstrative hugs with Lauren. The reconciliation plan worked, but Paige has remained in Erinsborough, loyal to Lauren and her collective half-siblings. It doesnít matter how much Terese tries to manipulate a situation, there always seems to be another problem to solve in order to keep her husband and Lauren at a distance. And Terese suspects that Paige isnít the only one to romanticise about the two reuniting.

Terese might seem outwardly feisty and controlling at times, but if we look beyond that tough exterior, we can see a more fragile individual who just wants to feel secure and be the centre of her family. She doesnít always endear herself to others in Ramsay Street, sometimes appearing a little brisk and frosty. I believe itís just a front. Terese doesnít let her guard down and would hate anyone to think she wasnít in control of every aspect of her life. (Who else comes downstairs from an afternoon nap wearing heels?) Sheís used to organising, making decisions, and given the relatively poor background sheís come from, sheís had to work extra hard to make something of herself. She probably doesnít want to reveal any vulnerabilities, either in business or personal life. We know, for instance, that she has always felt that Doug and Pam preferred their first daughter-in-law Beth, to her. On a brief visit, Doug made a flippant remark about Tereseís lack of culinary activity, and you could see that it hurt her, but she wasnít about to let Doug know it. Terese, for all her outward capabilities, seeks approval in every compartment of her life. And if she canít find the time to produce the freshly-cooked suppers that Pam and Doug would approve of, she makes breakfasts for her brood that would feed an average family for a week.

Unlike other characters about whom I have written recently for Perfect Blend, there are no classic comic moments which spring to mind when I think of Terese. She hasnít been seen in the hot tub, and she hasnít been locked in a portable toilet, or wrapped in cling film with Paul Robinson. I have, at times, longed to see a more light-hearted side to her, but given her heavy story lines, itís unlikely that sheís going to be running across Ramsay Street partially clothed any time soon. There was, however, one moment where her authoritative manner made me chuckle. It was a scene of a very serious nature: Terese was in the Lassiterís corridor, when she saw Matt kissing Sharon Canning. She went into action in typical Terese-fashion, commanding a drunk Matt to open the bedroom door while Sharon was in the shower, and then ushering him firmly out of the room. She may have only come up to Mattís waist in height, but her strong words brought him to his senses as well as his feet. It was wonderfully acted; Matt looking ashamed, Terese reprimanding him like a naughty schoolboy. True, Terese had probably acted so quickly because she didnít want Lauren to end up single and available to Brad, but we could also see that she had an affinity with Matt and cared about him as a friend; the two had both shared the painful revelation of their respective spouses indiscretion. Terese had almost succumbed to revengeful temptation with Ezra Hanley but thankfully chose not to go through with it. She wasnít about to let Matt make an awful mistake with Sharon which she knew heíd regret later.

Tereseís facial expressions convey her true emotions at every turn, and thatís because sheís wonderfully acted by Rebekah Elmaloglou. The words that come out of Tereseís mouth are not always whatís on her mind, but viewers have no difficulty in second-guessing whether sheís feeling angry, vengeful, insecure, hopeful or smug. Her facial expressions say it all. And that pout is priceless. As I write this, those of us watching at UK pace already know sheís hitting the bottle a bit. And now, Sheila has seen her stealing from the Lassiterís wine store on CCTV. Whether this storyline develops into a full-blown portrayal of alcoholism remains to be seen. If so, I donít doubt that Rebekah will play the role brilliantly. I can see endless potential for this multi-faceted character and I look forward to whatever the writers next have in store for Terese; although, I do implore them to give her a bit of respite now and then. She may not deal with situations in the best way, but she doesnít deserve all that has been thrown at her. Terese Willis, is, arguably, a woman more sinned against than sinning.

This article originally appeared on Carol's blog, Levelling The Playing Field.

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