She might be a soap diva now, but ex-EastEnders star Nicola Duffett was brought up on the island of Malta.
She spent her teenage years shuttling back and forth from the Med and school in Bournemouth, Hants, when her father was in the Royal Navy.
«My life was different back then,» says Nicola, 40. «I lived in a huge home with staff and all our friends were wealthy and lived a privileged lifestyle.» It’s been 24 years since the Family Affairs actress has been back and her father, Commander Jack Duffett, has since died.
So Nicola decided to have a family holiday/reunion and revisit her childhood home, with her 75-year-old mum, Susie, sister, Kim, 43, daughter, Poppy, who turned eight during the holiday, and her partner of three years, 29- year-old Shane Williams.
After a two and a half hour flight, Nicola said: «The first thing that hit me was the heat. I know it’s been hot in Britain but wow! 40 degrees is normal here.»
When Nicola was young, her mother would meet her at the airport in a chauffeur-driven car, but now the 20-minute journey to the Hotel Inter- Continental is by minibus.
Nicola’s life here as a child was one long social event. Her parents took her to cocktail parties and she was expected to behave like the perfect lady.
«It was like royalty. If I wasn’t water-skiing or swimming, I’d be off to orphanages or to see handicapped kids and give out gifts.»
Once a British colony, Malta is the only island to receive a George Cross for the bravery of its people during World War II. And British influence is everywhere. Pubs, as well as British cars, are a common sight around the island.
Nicola and her mum and sister were eager to visit old haunts. Their old home, Wharf House, is in Vittoriosa in the Fort St Angelo, which is the old naval base. But to their surprise it’s being turned into a casino and maritime museum.
They also loved the capital city Valletta. «It’s built above a grand harbour, which is fronted by the Fort St Elmo and contains the St John’s Co-Cathedral. It’s the jewel in the crown of the island. Its marble tombstones, carvings and Caravaggio masterpieces make it a must see’. But then Kim and I were just as excited to visit our favourite coffee bar, Gambrinus.
«It was our hang-out as teenagers and they still do the best cappuccinos on the island.
«We also made the most of the restaurants. Eating out in Malta is great and reasonably priced,» says Nicola. «Food has an Italian flair and, being an island, fish plays a big part on the menu. Rabbit is also a local favourite. Shane ordered it several times and thought it yummy! One of the best restaurants is Medina, which is hidden among the catacombs of the island’s medieval capital, Medina. We met our old friends, Mandy Gwynafryn Evans and my former dressmaker Teresa, who threw a surprise birthday party for Poppy. It was wonderful.»
Another bonus was more celebrity guests on the island while visiting, the Hollywood film crew for Troy were there, with star Brad Pitt. Nicola was delighted to discover they were staying at her hotel, and joined them for a few of the local beers, called Cisk, and a gossip although, sadly, Brad wasn’t there!
They rounded off the holiday with a trip to the Blue Grotto, the spectacular caves which take their name from the watery reflection of the colourful limestone, coral and minerals.
«The boat trip takes 30 minutes and the grotto is one of the island’s highlights,» says Nicola. «It’s absolutely beautiful.
«All in all, I had a wonderful trip, and it was great to get back to the laid-back atmosphere of Malta time’.»
The Sunday People October 5, 2003