the dynamic of an older woman and a younger man works for me

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Kip Gamblin Actor and ballet dancer, 41, married.

My maternal grandmother, Edna, was a member of the Tivoli Theatre. She was adventurous in spirit. When my grandfather, Mac, went off to war for four years, it was a tough time for her. My mother, Maxine, still recalls seeing him return from war and how strange it was because she’d almost forgotten what he looked like. 

Edna once chained herself to the Parliament House steps in the 1960s to protest against conscription and war. Her son Mac, my uncle, was a conscientious objector and my grandparents supported his decision to hide from authorities. She marched and was arrested – I am quite proud of that. She felt the war was unjust and was left-wing in her views.

My mum followed in the footsteps of her own mother. She loved theatre and dance and worked as an actor and dancer from 17, touring with J.C. Williamson theatre shows including The Sentimental Bloke, My Fair Lady, Sail Away and Camelot. 

Mum married Paul Beaumont, the “catch of Wollongong”, and they had a child together, my half-sister Martine. They were young when they married and Mum wanted to do more in life. Paul was popular and good-looking but he played around. My grandfather told Mum to try and make it work. She said, “No way, it’s over.” 

When they split, she got into NIDA as a single mum in her early 20s. She was an original cast member of Hair, the ’70s musical. My dad, Jeffrey, was a £10 Pom and they met at a wedding in Sydney while she was doing Hair. He was very persistent. They were like two hippies who never really dropped out because they had such a good work ethic.

Mum had three children in four years. She went back to university to study teaching when we were young. My earliest memory of her is as a four-year-old, seeing her walk up the hill after catching the bus home with groceries in hands, a broken ankle and a determination to get it all done, despite her injury. She is always putting others before herself. 

I remember Martine going to Germany as an exchange student when she was 16. We missed having her around. She and my other sisters, Skye and Sacha, were into ballet. But it was their baby brother, who’d only done ballet for six months, who got into the Australian Ballet School at 14. I kind of stole their thunder. That was weird.

My first kiss was with a girl at primary school. She told Sacha, who I often clashed with, that she had a crush on me and arranged for us to hang out. We were playing in her backyard and she called me over and laid one on me. I felt ambushed but I didn’t complain.

I dropped out of school in year 9 to attend the Australian Ballet School. That’s where I started dating Felicia. We were 14 and I wanted to be a dancer to win her heart. I was besotted but was terrible at making advances. One day she pulled me in for a big pash. We lived in a boarding house and dated for two years.

I have always wanted to be in relationships. My next girlfriend and I dated for five years – some of it was long distance. I should have been smarter to realise the long distance was a crazy idea. When you’re young, you hold on to every moment, even if it is destructive. 

My wife Linda is nine years older than me. When we met, she was nearly 30, from the ballet-dancing generation before me. We became dance partners and toured together. I was a 21-year-old, and smitten before I even met her – she took a big risk on me. A lot of our peers felt that we were never going to last. Our first son, Kelly, was born in 2000 and our other son, Marlon, in 2004, the year we got married. 

The dynamic of an older woman and a younger man works for me. I have someone who is a few steps ahead, but never traps me in. Linda was married before and I think with that comes amazing personal growth.

Our marriage hasn’t always been easy, but she has been nurturing and understanding, which is essential in making it work.

Actress Kerry Armstrong was a huge inspiration. She was once married to my uncle Mac. She’s the one who told me to keep believing in myself and don’t let the bastards put you down. She knew I wanted to be an actor – she was good at building me up.

Mac’s current wife, Deborah Russell, is a famous painter. She taught me the value of patience and that it’s okay to follow your dreams. It’s okay to be different and to not conform.

My wife finished chemotherapy for breast cancer last December. She was diagnosed in 2014 and she kept working throughout her treatment – it was her choice. She never wanted us to worry about her. To see a dancer lose her hair and eyebrows was a big deal, but she did so graciously and handled it better than I ever could. She is much like my mother, always putting others first. 

Kip Gamblin plays Frank Farmer in The Bodyguard, which opens at the Sydney Lyric Theatre on April 21.

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