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Westside actress Lily Powell on how her broadcaster mum, Anna Thomas, inspired her

New Zealand Woman’s Weekly logo New Zealand Woman’s Weekly 1/07/2019 Amy Prebble
a man and a woman posing for a photo: Veteran broadcaster Anne Thomas speaks about her passion for charity work and her pride in her daughter, Westside actress Lily Powell. © Provided by Bauer Media Pty Ltd Veteran broadcaster Anne Thomas speaks about her passion for charity work and her pride in her daughter, Westside actress Lily Powell.

When actress Lily Powell dons a boob tube and denim miniskirt to play Westside character Mandy, her mum, broadcaster Anna Thomas, gets a strong sense of déjà vu.

"I'm taken straight back to Ashburton in the '80s!" laughs Anna.

"I grew up there, with Robyn Malcolm [who played the matriarch Cheryl West in connected show Outrageous Fortune]. When I see Lily with her hair done in a banana clip and those outfits, I think she looks exactly like I did!

Lily (19) plays Cheryl's trouble-making sister in the hit TV prequel and Anna (51) assures the Weekly that her daughter is nothing like the conniving party-girl character.

"She's a real natural in front of the camera. She has the ability to get into character, like in Step Dave as the wayward teenager – which she never was – and now in Westside as this outrageous Westie chick. She couldn't be farther from either character!"

a man and a woman posing for a photo: Anna (right) says her daughter's work ethic has always been extraordinary. © Provided by Bauer Media Pty Ltd Anna (right) says her daughter's work ethic has always been extraordinary.

In reality, Lily is squeezing in acting roles around studying for a degree in psychology and doing a course in personal training, so she doesn't have a lot of time to hang around in bars, sinking shots, like her alter ego.

She's having a ball on Westside and has even found love with her co-star Jordan Mooney (29), who plays larrikin Eric, but she doesn't plan to head to Los Angeles to carve out a career in Hollywood.

"I love, absolutely love, acting," says Lily, "but there are a lot of things I want to do with my life. Like Mum, I'm most happy when I'm making other people happy and helping people."

She studied psychology at high school and fell in love with the subject. Ultimately, she'd like to follow her father Chris into the defence force, possibly as an army psychologist. If that does happen, she won't have trouble passing any military fitness requirements – she's passionate about staying in shape.

"I've been going to the gym seriously – like it's become an actual lifestyle – for about two years now. The personal training course is easy because I love it and I feel like, while I'm studying, also being a personal trainer would be awesome."

Anna, who left Fair Go in 2002 to travel to Bosnia with Chris and a then two-year-old Lily, couldn't be prouder of her daughter.

"Right from day one, when she was starting Step Dave, she would have these early call times and I never had to wake her up. Her work ethic is extraordinary. Certainly at that age, I didn't have that."

However, the presenter is no slouch either. She works as a freelance public relations specialist and a casual broadcaster with Radio New Zealand and Country TV, and is a passionate advocate for the charity Heart Kids.

"My dad passed away and then exactly a month later, my mother died," tells Anna.

"It was a bit of a watershed moment for me. You start questioning what is really important in life. I wanted to be able to give back. I thought, 'I can't save lives, I can't do anything practical like that,' but started looking at how I could use my skills as a journalist to help a charity."

Anna picked Heart Kids to work for as they're a small organisation that can really benefit from her expertise.

"Twelve babies a week are born with a congenital heart condition. Anyone can be affected, no-one has any control and there is no prevention. I feel really privileged to be able to help these families. What they go through is extraordinary. It's a very small thing I can do, but it does feel really good."

a woman sitting on a table: Lily channels an '80s teen rebel in Westside, but off-screen, the 19-year-old is a very different woman. © Provided by Bauer Media Pty Ltd Lily channels an '80s teen rebel in Westside, but off-screen, the 19-year-old is a very different woman.

With their children growing up, Anna and Chris (57), director of operations at the Defence Technology Agency, are eager to devote more time to charity.

Their son Rupert (15) is a keen sportsman who also has the acting bug.

"He's grown up watching Lily, and seeing the fun she has on set and the stories she comes back with. I think it might be something he'll pursue."

Lily's future definitely holds more acting. She has just landed a part in the upcoming series of The Brokenwood Mysteries, which is a departure from her usual troubled teenager roles.

"I get typecast a lot," she says. "But this is totally different. I love murder-mystery shows – they're the best. And to be in one that's filmed in New Zealand is a dream come true."

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