The person who got me through 2021: Dr Karl Kennedy in Neighbours was strangely reassuring

He became a stand-in for the family I couldn’t see – a paternal character who comforted me amid the loneliness and uncertainty

For the past 20 years there have been a handful of constants in my life: my family, my best friend and Neighbours. Not neighbours like the people you borrow a cup of sugar from, but rather that sunshine-filled Australian soap you probably stopped watching once you left university.

When I graduated, I carried on. First, out of habit (I needed to know the fate of Toadie’s mullet), but later for its nostalgic continuity and reassurance.

As my personal life began to get busier and more complicated, this saccharine and simple soap provided me with a 30-minute retreat every weekday, where my mind could empty as familiar faces filled the screen, offering up plotlines in which the moral good always prevails and the sun always shines.

I hadn’t realised how committed I was to the show until we were thrust into lockdown. With my dad self-isolating on the other side of London and my brother in his own flat, I was alone. As the world outside spiralled, I turned to the TV for normality.

Alan Fletcher, who plays Dr Karl Kennedy, began his stint on Neighbours only seven months after I was born. As I have grown up with the show, he has been a constant patriarchal presence, albeit one with multiple affairs, divorces and galahs. And throughout 2021, whether I was in lockdown or adapting to the uncertainty of London reopening, Dr Karl was a parasocial stand-in for the family I wasn’t able to see – and a man playing a character that got me through the loneliness and anxiety of 2021.

“Neighbours is my happy place,” Fletcher says on a video call from his home in Melbourne in October, only hours before the city is due to come out of the world’s longest Covid-19 lockdown. “No matter what’s going on in my life, the minute I arrive at Neighbours I’m back in my bubble.”

Neighbours only took a month off production in 2020 due to Covid and was one of the first shows to resume filming with a new Covid safety plan. It has been onscreen ever since. Such consistency has been as much a saving grace for Fletcher as it has been for viewers like me. “We know it’s really bad out there, but when we get to Neighbours, I’ve got my old friends in the cast and crew, and we focus on making joy and good drama because we know that people out there want to see it,” he says.

Chuckling through his lockdown goatee, Fletcher seems genuinely honoured that he is the person that got me through this year. It turns out I’m not the only fan. “A lot of people have gotten in touch over the course of the pandemic to find out how I’ve been getting on,” he says. “They’ve also said how Neighbours helped to sustain them, which is really flattering.”

As well as having Neighbours and his family to comfort him through 2021, Fletcher turned to another of his loves: music. A country and Americana aficionado, he was spurred on by the recent death of the singer-songwriter John Prine to take his craft more seriously. Under the tutelage of the musicians Lachlan Bryan and Damian Cafarella, he spent the year recording an album, due for release in 2022.

“I think Covid has helped a lot of people to focus more on what’s important to them,” he says. “Those two guys really helped me and got me through 2021.”

Country stardom notwithstanding, Neighbours is, thankfully, still Fletcher’s priority. “I have a lot of contact with my fans and it’s very sustaining to know that you’re part of a community,” he says. “Shows like Neighbours will always be there – it’s not like other dramas that come and go. I know that, at the end of the day, I can turn on the telly and that theme will play and we’ll be there for everyone.”

As we continue to live in the flux of Covid, I will keep watching the show for its hammy storylines and soapy performances. After all, Neighbours should be there for one another.


Ammar Kalia

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The person who got me through 2021: Fleabag helped me survive my mother’s death
I rewatched Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s monstrous and lovable creation after my mother died in lockdown. The show gave me space to live and grieve

Chitra Ramaswamy

20, Dec, 2021 @3:00 PM

Article image
The person who got me through 2021: Monty Don inspired my new, obsessive love of gardening
My admiration for the Gardeners’ World presenter took seed in lockdown and kept growing, thanks to his calming aura amid the mayhem

Hayley Campbell

27, Dec, 2021 @3:00 PM

Article image
The person who got me through 2021: Larry David helped me embrace life as a bald man
I have finally admitted that my hair has gone for ever, and taken great comfort from the reigning king of baldness

Stuart Heritage

21, Dec, 2021 @3:00 PM

Article image
The person who got me through 2021: Huey Morgan comforted me amid a deluge of human waste
I had plumbing problems and his radio show transported me from the faecal hellscape in my garden. It became the ideal soundtrack for my pandemic reality

Sam Diss

22, Dec, 2021 @3:00 PM

Article image
The person who got me through 2021: Sofie Gråbøl as Sarah Lund felt like a brilliant old friend
In The Killing, Lund’s incredible brain inspired me when mine felt like mushroom soup. She was a solace and an inspiration

Eleanor Morgan

26, Dec, 2021 @3:00 PM

Article image
The person who got me through 2021: Miss J and America’s Next Top Model transported me to carefree times
Three years after it ended, scandal surrounds the show, but its familiarity and formula provided a comfort blanket. I really hope they bring it back

Juno Dawson

01, Jan, 2022 @3:00 PM

Article image
Reader, I married one – and moved there. How Neighbours gave me a deep Australian kink
To a teenager in Lincolnshire, Erinsborough seemed like a wonderful, bright and sexy place – and it opened up the world to me

Rae Earl

28, Jul, 2022 @9:00 AM

Article image
The person who got me through 2021: Heather Phillipson’s sculpture brightened my trips to hospital
On my way to have painful medical tests, I felt dejected. Then I saw a giant dollop of whipped cream with a cherry on top in Trafalgar Square

Tim Jonze

25, Dec, 2021 @3:00 PM

Article image
The person who got me through 2021: Awkwafina made me hopeful for success in dark days
In Nora from Queens, Awkwafina’s adorable loser alter ego was inspiring. Faced with constant failure, she kept going, with wit and warmth


24, Dec, 2021 @3:00 PM

Article image
The person who got me through 2021: LayedBakDFR captured the perfect joy of discovering a great song
I was shaken out of my musical apathy by the rapper, whose video channel shows him listening to others’ tracks for the first time

Hussein Kesvani

30, Dec, 2021 @3:00 PM