When Rebecca Gibney was asked to go on Celebrity MasterChef Australia, the Kiwi actress said no. Then her 17-year-old son Zac found out about it.
"He was absolutely ropeable because he loves the show so much," Rebecca laughs, speaking from their family home in Dunedin. "He was like, 'Mum, if you're going to do a reality show, that's the only one you can do… Seriously!' And I wanted him to be proud of me."
So the Back To The Rafters and Halifax: Retribution star rang back to say yes. "While he's still at home, for the little while that he's got left, I thought, 'I want to do it for him.'"
Rebecca, who has been married to TV producer Richard Bell for almost 20 years, admits she doesn't really cook because she doesn't have the time.
"I can cook basic things, but particularly in the past few years, I've been so busy that I just haven't been in the kitchen," she explains. "I'm very lucky that I'm married to a man who is an excellent cook, so he tends to do a lot of the cooking in the house."
As if her lack of culinary experience wasn't enough to make her nervous, Rebecca, 56, has never been on a reality show before. It hit her when she first walked into the MasterChef kitchen.
"All of a sudden, I felt like I'd been stripped naked because it's like, 'Oh, now it's just me. I don't have a script, the cameras are on the whole time and I have no control over this.' And then the clock starts ticking down."
Viewers can expect to see a lot of tears from Rebecca. "I cry every episode!" she laughs. "You'll probably get sick to death of seeing me cry." She also introduces Australians to Kiwi delicacies such as feijoa and Southland speciality cheese rolls.
Rebecca adds that she's made "friends for life" out of the other celebrities, including former Big Brother star Chrissie Swan ("I adore her"), Offspring actor Matt Le Nevez ("he had us all in stitches") and chef Gordon Ramsay's daughter Tilly. She admits, "Before we started this interview, I was texting with Tilly in the UK. I've become another mother, I think!"
As talk returns to parenting, Rebecca reveals that Zac – who acted alongside her in Winter and Wanted – will attend drama school next year.
"Both my husband and I were like, 'Really? You're so smart, you could do anything. Do you really want to be an actor?' It's a tough profession because you do get rejected. I was very fortunate, and I've had a very blessed and amazing career, but that's not the case for a lot of people. I don't want him to suffer. But you know what? He's actually really good – and he's gorgeous!"
Border closures dashed Rebecca and Richard's plans to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary last month by renewing their vows in tropical Port Douglas, Queensland, where they got married.
However, the actress enthuses, "Just going out for dinner with him is really lovely because he's awesome. Twenty years has gone very quickly."
Rebecca had a ball playing a Sydney socialite who inherits a Central Otago vineyard in the upcoming TVNZ series Under The Vines and she's now planning a return to Australia for another show she can't talk about just yet.
She hopes to spend Christmas with her 86-year-old mother Shirley, who lives in Brisbane. "I haven't seen my mum now for nearly two years. I'm really missing her and I know she's really missing us. Zoom's not the same."
Meanwhile, next year is shaping up to be a very busy one for Rebecca, with several TV shows in the works, including a couple she's developing with Richard. But no doubt, at some point, she'll find the time to use the skills she's learnt on MasterChef and "cut my husband some slack".
"He's been cooking for so long," she grins. "It's time I stepped up to the plate."
Celebrity MasterChef Australia premieres Monday, December 27, 7pm on TVNZ 2
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