Play School's Simon Burke quit acting to be a carer. Then a new job led him to the love of his life.

When we think about the children's shows that shaped us, many stand out. But perhaps none have had the impact quite like ABC's Play School.

The kids' variety show has been on air since 1966 and in that time we've seen wonderful presenters shine on screen, and take kids of all ages on adventures with Jemima, Big and Little Ted, and Humpty Dumpty in tow.

For young viewers across each generation, the Play School presenters became familiar faces — and while the name Simon Burke might not immediately jog your memory, his picture probably will.

Simon Burke on Play School. Image: ABC.


A regular presenter on the program from 1988, Burke was a cheeky, affable host who clearly had a knack for shining in front of the camera. By 1996 he was ready to spread his wings in search of a big time career on the stage and so he headed for London's West End.

His dreams were coming true when he was cast in A Little Night Music at the National Theatre starring opposite the great Dame Judi Dench. Everything was falling into place when tragedy struck in the form of a call from home: his father had been diagnosed with cancer and had been given a few months to live.

His dreams would have to wait; his family needed him.

Upon his return, Burke was itching to get back to the stage, to the work that he loved so much. But in the end he decided to stay put in Australia.

"It sounds harsh, but when I saw him I remember saying that I had to get back to London," he said in an interview with Stellar. "Then I realised, no, you can't do that. We weren't terribly close, but I let the opportunity go to spend time with him. As it turned out, he lived another three or four years. But life took a very different turn because of that."

Watch: Play School at 50. Story continues below.

Video via Mamamia.

His promising career in London's West End left behind, Burke was faced with starting all over again in Australia.

He took on various roles in local productions and on-screen in shows like Blue Heelers and Water Rats. But it was a job he took with the Melbourne Theatre Company in 2004 that led him to romance.

After the disappointment of letting go of his dreams of an international acting career, a man named Peter Citroni brought a spark back into Burke's life, the pair meeting after a performance Burke was in.


They eventually got engaged — though they kept their romance private.

Burke never publically came out as gay, saying he simply always preferred to keep his private life out of the spotlight. "I didn't hide [being gay] so much as I didn't talk about it," he told Stellar.

After meeting the love of his life, Burke landed what he calls a role of a lifetime after being cast in the 2022 musical production of Moulin Rouge.

"Every step of the way here has been joyous and full of love," he said in an Instagram post at the time. "I just love this playing this role and doing this show. It's as if my nearly 50 years of being onstage has led to this magical time."

When reflecting on how his life has turned out, Burke said there was "a period in my 30s and early 40s I really thought I would have been a great dad".

But even though that never eventuated, he knows how much of an impact he has had through his work, which holds a special place in his heart.

"Word on the street is that I've brought up a couple of million Australian kids, anyway," he said.

Burke's story is a reminder that life doesn't always following the path we may imagine for ourselves — but that doesn't make it any less special.

Feature Image: ABC.

Calling all Australians aged 16+ years! Take our survey now to go in the running to win a $50 gift voucher.