A WELL-KNOWN and much-loved local lady from Helensburgh is preparing to bid farewell to her hometown of 79 years as she sets off for pastures new in Australia.

Catherine McRae, who celebrated her 80th birthday on Sunday, July 14, has taken the bold decision to up sticks and move ‘down under’ later this month.

A popular figure in the town, Catherine was a permanent friend and work colleague at the ‘Famous Coffee House’ back in the day, with Maureen and Jim Macguire.

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She ran London’s Playhouse Theatre for nearly 30 years and met many stars including Liam Neeson and Sir Cliff Richard, among others, while she has also enjoyed her own time in the limelight, starring as the ‘tweedy old crow’ librarian in the comical 2006 Irn Bru advert.

Catherine’s daughter Melanie Andrews, who runs the Craigard Tearoom in Sinclair Street, says she has mixed emotions ahead of her mum’s departure to the other side of the globe.

Melanie said: “My mother has lost two very close friends in Helensburgh recently and all my family are in Australia now, so they put some pressure on her to go out there and join them.

“It’s only me left here in Helensburgh. She is better to be in amongst somewhere where she is needed.

“She only really made the decision in the last 10 days and she’s leaving on July 22. So, I have mixed emotions at the moment.

“She’s lived here all her life, never really moved away and there’s not a person in this town who doesn’t know her.”

Melanie, who was awarded an MBE in 2017 for her services to baking and to the community in Helensburgh, said her mum has led a very colourful life and will be well missed in her beloved Helensburgh.

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She said: “She’s a bit of a character, quite flamboyant. She’s been in River City, been in a few films as well and she was invited to cut the ribbon at the opening of the Santander branch. She was a bit of a local celebrity for a wee while!

“I’m happy that she is going to be with all my family, my two sisters and my brother, and I can take comfort from that.

“Right now, she sits on her own at home with no company and it just seems madness that there’s all that life happening over there which she’s missing out on.

“She’s got so much life left in her.”

Catherine’s family and friends held an 80th birthday party celebration at the Rosslea Hall Hotel in Rhu on Friday, but the cat has not completely been let out the bag on her Australian adventure.

Melanie added: “Everyone who knows already has said it’s the best decision she could make and a very brave thing to do at her age.

“It would be lovely for all her many friends to know she’s leaving for good and get a chance to say goodbye.

“It’s exciting for her, but she’ll be sadly missed.

“My mother is not just my mother – she is my best friend and the inspiration for everything I have done.”