Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland) – July 18th 1999

Dickens of a job as Isla takes A NEW TWIST.

Scots stunner Isla Fisher was once voted high in a glossy magazine’s list of the world top 100 sexiest women. She came out ahead of supermodels Caprice and Claudia Schiffer.

But right now, the 23-year-old redhead, who starred as Shannon in the Aussie TV soap Home and Away, isn’t relying on her sex appeal or her glam image.

Instead Isla, who finished 11th in that poll of the hottest babes, is busy doing the unthinkable… looking ugly and undesirable. She’s in Prague filming ITV’s version of the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist and playing the most unglamorous role of her career.

“It’s only a small role but I feel honoured to be doing Dickens,” says Isla, who joins an all-star cast, which includes Robert Lindsay and Julie Walters in an Alan Bleasdale adaptation of the literary classic.

“I spend my time on set head to toe in dirt, with make-up to make my teeth look rotten.”

You can’t argue that the young actress, who this week ended her much- publicised engagement to entertainer Darren Day, can’t resist a challenge.

Which underlines why she is thrilled to have filmed another series of her BAFTA-award-winning action-girl, series, The Scoop, which returns to ITV on Tuesday.

“I’m enjoying my creative freedom and space,” says Isla about being able to mix quality television drama like Oliver Twist, with the high-spirited fun and games that she has on The Scoop.

The last series of The Scoop was the first time that she had tackled the role of television presenter.

“I was more relaxed this time because I knew I couldn’t have been that bad last year, or they wouldn’t have wanted me back,” she jokes.

The actress jetted to Japan and California to file her telly reports on everything from Ninja warriors to windsurfing. She especially got a kick out of the surf scene because it reminded her of her Australian home – Isla left East Kilbride to live Down Under when she was only six.

“My four brothers back home in Australia were seriously impressed that I met Jim Drake, the man who invented windsurfing,” says Isla.

Out in California she really lived up to the label of roving reporter when she got much closer to a lion than she ever imagined possible.

While filming the work of the animal actors’ studio in Los Angeles, Isla was invited to stroke the mane of a full-grown lion. To her astonishment, instead of running very quickly in the other direction, she actually touched the beast.

“I was scared the lion would eat me, because I am so little,” says Isla, who is 5ft 3in. “But I overcame my fear and felt great!”

She was also very taken with her first taste of life in the Orient when she filmed in the Japanese city of Kyoto.

“That was an amazing experience! The people there are so polite and Kyoto was so clean and traditional. I felt really safe in the city. People leave their bikes on the street and they don’t get stolen!”

At first though, Isla was a bit concerned when she saw Japanese women bowing all the time. This modern miss reckoned this tradition was sexist, and didn’t approve.

“Then I found that it’s the woman who handles the family’s financial affairs and gives her husband pocket money. Cool, huh!”

Another cool aspect of Isla’s visit to the Far East was her encounter with Samurai experts and a genuine Ninja.

“Being a fan of the old Ninja movies I was really excited. I got to fight them and win! Plus I got to be very aggressive and pull Ninja faces.”

Isla’s Scottish connections couldn’t be stronger. Her mum comes from Stranraer and her dad hails from Bathgate. And she loves visiting Scotland. But she regards Australia as her home.

Amazingly, when she was growing up in Oz, Isla never thought of herself as a beauty. Her brothers teased her by saying that she was like a slug. And she was even going to have her ears pinned back because people called her Dumbo.

But Isla needn’t have worried. Early in her career, her talent and looks were recognised. But what really made her career take off was Isla’s amazing drive to get on. Her mother still says she’s the most ambitious person she’s ever met!

Isla’s also not afraid of hard work or taking risks. She has got stuck into her chosen profession since she was a raw 12- year-old in Perth, Western Australia. Four years on, she left the family home to appear in a TV series called Paradise Beach, which was filmed in Queensland.

By the time she was 19, Isla was on the move again, to Sydney and a starring role in Home and Away.

This time last year Isla had taken another of her daring decisions. She had quit the soap and uprooted herself to live in Paris and study at the renowned Jacques Lecoq International School of Theatre.

At first, she could barely speak a word of French, but she soon became fluent and now reckons that the theatre school experience has given career a huge boost.

“Being at Jacques Lecoq was inspiring. Next month, I’m doing a play in Hampstead, so all the stage work that I did in Paris will be very useful,” she says.

“But I do miss Paris. I miss chocolate croissants, going about without being recognised and those mad buskers doing their puppet shows on the Metro. I also miss my best friend, who lives in Paris, and the Seine at night.”

Isla’s decision to live in Paris came at a traumatic time. She had just split up with her then boyfriend – Anthony de Rothschild, the son of a merchant banker.

She returned to Britain to appear in the stage musical Summer Holiday in Blackpool. And it was there she met and fell for the show’s star Darren Day, ex-boyfriend of former Brookside favourite Anna Friel and Coronation Street’s Tracy Shaw.

The couple – who starred together in the panto Cinderella – got engaged on a romantic holiday in the Maldives. But it was not to last, and Isla called the whole thing off this week.

“It was very amicable,” she said, ” We hope to remain good friends.”

One thing is for sure, now that she has reached the top, Isla is set to stay there.

Perhaps she will be one Cinders whose dreams really do come true.