Shortland Street’s Rebekah Palmer on life after loss and finding happiness in the small things

''I realised that if I'm happy with my life as it is… I'm going to be happier as a person.''
Rebekah Palmer

It’s said that we make up our mind about a person within three seconds of meeting them. Three seconds with Rebekah Palmer, who plays delightful, ditsy nurse Dawn Robinson on Shortland Street, and you’re hers.

Warm, bubbly and friendly, she arrives at our Auckland office dressed simply in black with a huge smile on her face. She extends her hand to grip mine firmly in a handshake and tells me she’s happy to have saved me the trouble of driving out to South Pacific Pictures in West Auckland to interview her.

She is cute as a button – and not dissimilar in disposition to her sunny-side-up TV character.

In fact, the 26-year-old actress says that when she first read the brief for Dawn before auditioning for the role, she felt like she was reading about herself.

“Farming background, bubbly personality, all these things,” she recalls.

“I read the brief and thought ‘This is me.'”

But while Dawn, who has an element of the comedic about her, often finds herself in “ridiculous” situations, Rebekah says she likes to play life a little straighter.

“I’m more boring than Dawn,” the former Whangamata Area School head girl reveals with a mischievous grin.

‘Boring’ is definitely not the right word, but Rebekah is disciplined when it comes to her morning routine. “Every morning I like to get up and go to the gym,” she reveals. (For a 6.20am class!)

“I’m on the F45 band wagon,” she says with enthusiasm.

“F45 is high-intensity training. It changes every day, which is great for someone like me, who gets bored easily.”

Not the ‘yoga or meditation type’, she says she has always gravitated towards high-intensity exercise because it helps to clear her mind and achieve clarity.

“It’s great for my mental health. I’m quite high energy and I don’t switch off easily, however if something [physically] challenging is put in front of me that’s the way I can switch off, by physically exerting energy.

“When I exercise I feel like I can let go and disperse some energy so when I go in to work I’m free and ready to work as the character.”

A day on the Shortland Street set typically lasts around 10 hours, then evenings are often spent in front of the TV going over lines for the next day.

“Work is quite a big part of my life,” she admits. “And I do like to eat very clean because it helps me with my job and feeling good about being on camera.

“I love my nuts and seeds and oats and eggs, and we eat really healthy dinners – meat and vegetables; in the summer it’s barbecued meat and salad. However, I am about balance. I have a horrific sweet tooth and I’m a baker. I like to go 80/20, so on the weekends I’m all about the chocolate and the cheese and crackers.”

She says she also has a penchant for red wine and coffee.

“They’re my vices. And I love Italian foods, like rich risottos, pizza, pasta, that kind of thing. I’m a chocolate desserty girl at heart, I would eat dessert before dinner any day.

“For me, food is about spending time with people so it’s an important element of my life,” she explains.

“I think that’s how I was brought up. Around birthdays and Christmas and special occasions, food and what was on the menu was a massive part of that. My family always catered for an army.”

Rebekah grew up on a dairy farm in Whangamata with her parents, an older brother and a younger sister.

While many kids in the area skipped school to help out on the farm, Rebekah and her siblings were always encouraged to prioritise their education.

“Mum and Dad always said the farm was their dream, so now it was up to us kids to go and do what we wanted. A lot of kids in the area would get up and milk cows and not go to school, but we were always at school; that was our priority.

“We were expected to help out, but we’d come home and Mum had written a list of what needed to be put on for dinner, the fire had to be lit, our homework had to have been done…”

Rebekah’s cherished nana, Anne, lived next door, and Rebekah benefitted greatly from the extended family arrangement.

“In a way I felt like we had three parents,” she muses

“We were always like ‘Bye, we’re going to see Nana’ and we’d run out of the house and go see what Nana was up to.

“I had a really special relationship with her and I think that’s where the baking and homeliness [in me] comes from. We baked so much together.”

Rebekah’s eyes well up with tears when she says, “Nana passed away eight years ago and she never got to see this chapter of my life, which really upsets me. I know she would have been the proudest person in the world. She would have been holding a coffee group every week just to talk about what was going on in Shortland Street.”

Rebekah’s nana inspired her love of baking.

Rebekah is newly engaged and it also breaks her heart that her nana never got to meet her fiancé, builder Bevan Randell – the brother of The Edge’s Clint Randell.

“I know she would have absolutely adored Bevan – and she would have had a list of things for him to fix around the house for her!”

Rebekah and Bevan met three and a half years ago after Rebekah was introduced to Clint at work. While Rebekah thought Clint was “pretty good-looking”, Clint immediately took to his phone to text Bevan, saying, “I’ve just met your future wife.”

Both brothers friended Rebekah on Facebook so that Bevan would be able to ask her out, and then his entire family gathered round the dinner table to compose Bevan’s first message to Rebekah.

“So I was like a part of their life before I ever met them,” Rebekah beams.

She jokes that the first message was “pretty lame”, but she was intrigued enough to reply.

The couple “got messaging” and that soon led to their first date. Rebekah admits that from the get-go she felt comfortable with Bevan.

“I’m a little bit spiritual, I feel like our souls just know each other,” she says.

Both fans of the ocean, you’ll often find the active couple water skiing, fishing or wakeboarding on the weekends – it was Rebekah’s dad and granddad who taught her how to fish.

Bevan was especially impressed when Rebekah reeled in a 90kg striped marlin during a game fishing date.

“I was the only person on the boat who hadn’t caught a marlin so the boys were like ‘If you hook up you have to reel it in.’

“It took just under an hour to pull in; you’ve got to wind it in, then let it run, so all that work you just did you’ve got to do again. Apparently, after 30 minutes I changed. The boys said, ‘You just gritted your teeth and you were going for it.’

“I think that’s the farm girl in me.”

But while she proudly shows me the photo of herself with her catch, she also divulges that she’ll never go game fishing again.

“Afterwards I just felt sad. It was so majestic.”

Rebekah reels in a real catch.

In February Rebekah and Bevan will marry and Becks, as she’s known to her friends, is in the thick of planning her wedding.

With her dream guy and job – “I still pinch myself that I get to be an actor five days a week” – Rebekah says she never takes life for granted.

“There was a time in my life where I was unemployed and really struggling to pay the bills. The one thing I kept up was my Les Mills membership; that was my thing for me.

“I remember driving to work one day and saying, ‘I’m grateful I have a bed, I’m grateful I have a car, I’m grateful I have petrol, I’m grateful I have food in my cupboard.’ Even at our worst we’re so well off compared to a lot of others.”

What Rebekah also realised that day is that she had been relying on external factors that were out of her control to make her happy.

She explains, “I’d been auditioning for about four years and was just getting little bitsy roles here. I’d done everything from supermarket sampling to kids’ birthday parties, post production, nannying, then I went into doing ‘extras’ casting on the big American shows.

“I realised that I was trying to find happiness in something where it was actually not up to me [whether I got the role]. If you don’t get a role it’s not necessarily because you can’t act.

“You might not be the right energy, the right look; maybe they’ve cast the parents and you don’t look like them. There are so many variables. I realised that if I’m happy with my life as it is… I’m going to be happier as a person.”

Ironically, it was after “letting go” that her luck began to change.

“Today I’m so grateful for my life, my partner, my home, everything. You always have to be grateful for what you have in whatever moment you’re in.”

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