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Amanda Billing on life after Shortland Street

Creative projects are injecting joy into the former Shortland Street star’s life.
Amanda Billing

After playing Shortland Street‘s much-loved doctor Sarah Potts for 10 years, actress Amanda Billing was understandably feeling a bit overwhelmed and anxious about the future after the shock death of her character on the show.

Speaking to the Weekly in July – just a few weeks after filming her final scenes – Amanda was coming to terms with the surprise exit and going through the grieving process. But while she was fearful of what the future would hold, she was also a little bit excited.

Six months on, Amanda says it’s now mostly excitement she’s feeling. She’s learned to embrace change and has plenty of projects on the go – including a crafty wee business, a ukulele tour and new acting roles!

“There’s this saying I’ve been going back to a lot lately – ‘Everything is always working out, especially if it doesn’t feel like it!'” she says with a laugh. “I have projects on, I’m in my next phase and I’m feeling much less anxious about the future now.”

Amanda says it was very, very sad saying goodbye to her character Sarah Potts.

But it did take a while to come to terms with the situation, especially after her final episode prompted an unprecedented public outpouring of grief that was both unexpected and flattering.

“It made it all a bit harder,” she admits, “because my feelings were intensified. I mean, it was really good to get that validation and see that love people had for Sarah, but it made it very, very sad saying goodbye.”

Shortly after leaving the show, Amanda enjoyed a number of performances with the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra, which toured Asia last month. The experience with the tight-knit group, she says, was “a bit of a culture shock at times, but just incredible”.

One of the things she’s most thrilled about is her T-shirt and jewellery collection. It started as a hobby but has slowly evolved into a little business, which Amanda is using to give back to the community. “It began as this creative project a few years ago,” she explains. “I set this goal for myself where I would be creative for 100 days.”

Amanda’s beautiful handmade jewellery collection.

She says it came along during a time when she was looking for ways to beat the depression she was experiencing. “I give myself credit for doing that at the time, because I wasn’t feeling happy. This wise part of myself stepped in and said, ‘I don’t know why, but trust me, I think this idea might just work, although you do have to get out of bed to do it!’

“I was thinking back to a time when I was happy as a kid, and it was when I was playing and drawing and not worrying. So I decided to give that a go again. I really feel that mental health and getting out there and doing things are related.

“My experience was that sending myself out to play, almost distracting myself until I could think through problems a bit better, was what worked.”

So she made artworks, floral headpieces and jewellery every day. She’d begun taking te reo Maori language classes and, suddenly, her two new passions merged. “I’ve always been fascinated by the language and wanted to understand more about it and the culture.

“If I hadn’t been going to those classes, I wouldn’t be making the things I am now. It was a happy collision!”

Amanda’s tees are worn by her former onscreen daughter Leila Eketone (right) and her pal Dylan.

Amanda had heard the term Ngati Arty Farty and loved it, so tried spelling it the way she imagined it might read in Maori – Ngati Ati Whaati – for an artwork. “I showed it to my flatmate, who is fluent in te reo and he said it looked good! I loved the idea that this saying was now a bit like a tribe – it’s one we can all belong to, no matter where we’re from. If you are a bit creative, you can join!”

Soon people were requesting prints or T-shirts and she started making shirts, hoodies and onesies for babies, emblazoned with the play-on-words slogan. Then, a few months ago, she met the owner of the Mums on Top website, Kylie Power, and realised the site was the perfect place to sell her lines, with all the proceeds going to charity.

“I felt like something had been missing until then. As soon as I talked to Kylie, I knew this is what I wanted to do – give away a good chunk of this money to help children and their parents.”

Amanda has 100 adult-sized, limited-edition, numbered T-shirts on the site mumsontop.co.nz. Proceeds go to Plunket, the Child Cancer Foundation and KidsCan. She’s also made bracelets and necklaces with words such as “aroha”.

“There’s something beautiful about words like ‘love’, ‘unity’

or ‘joy’ when you read them in another language.”

Amanda intends juggling her business with acting. Next year, she stars in Lysistrata, an Auckland Theatre Company production by Michael Hurst. And although the show doesn’t begin until July, several nights have already sold out – something she hopes will happen with her T-shirts.

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