Maria Yousif was minding her own business in the powder room at a Sydney hotel when she heard someone singing a Christmas carol at the basins. “I heard this beautiful voice and I started shaking,” the 32-year-old gasped in the minutes afterwards, still flushed with excitement. “I knew the voice was Delta’s, I knew straightaway. That voice is distinctive. And when I walked out, I thought, ‘It’s her, it’s her!’”
The two women chatted and laughed as they headed into the lobby. It was one of countless daily conversations Delta Goodrem has with strangers who feel like friends, while she’s in a bathroom, getting a coffee, or, as in this case, navigating the folds of an enormous Vera Wang gown during a break from Stellar’s photo shoot. “People talk to me like I’m at a barbecue,” she says. “I’ll have my baseball cap on and order a coffee, and the barista will say, ‘Hey Delta, your coffee’s ready.’ Every few metres I hear a cool story about someone’s family, or someone who’s been in music for so long, or has gone through cancer. I treasure that, and I am incredibly grateful.”
Goodrem is part of the Australian entertainment furniture these days. Over 16 years in the public eye, she has survived the many phases of being famous in Australia — she’s been adored, dismissed as daggy, trolled, gossiped about, and taken down a peg or two. Despite all that, Goodrem is still here and still making music, so she’s earned that honour bequeathed only to the most resilient of celebrities: our respect.
Now she’s simply Delta, a survivor, a talent, an old mate; the kind of woman you can approach in the ladies’ loo. Both personally and professionally, she is beginning to see a new wave of rewards for her hard work and persistence, and is entering what she calls the second phase of her career. “I know who I am, what I stand for, my heart, and I don’t let anyone else rock it,” she says. “I know my own mind, I am proud of my space and the lane I stay in. That’s mine.”
Perhaps because of this, 2016 has been one of the singer’s most successful years yet. She began it with her musical theatre debut as Grizabella in Cats, then won as coach on The Voice, returned to acting, and released a number-one album. She finished it with a sold-out national tour. As Stellar goes to press, rumours abound that she will be playing Olivia Newton-John in a biopic. “It’s been one of the best years ever,” she says. “It has been magical.”
In Cats, Grizabella is a lonely cat, clinging to the memories of her youth when she was beautiful and adored. Over the musical’s 35-year history, the role has been played by heavyweights such as Elaine Paige and Debbie Byrne. Its most popular song, “Memory”, steeped in wistfulness and regret, was made famous by Barbra Streisand.
Not just any old singer can pull off Grizabella. The role needs someone who understands heartache. Goodrem might only be 32, but she’s been in the spotlight for what feels like a lifetime, and has had her joys and tragedies played out in public. She’s battled cancer. She’s had her heart broken. She’s had career disappointments. So Goodrem brought her own poignancy to “Memory”, and audiences were in raptures. “I love all the women who’ve sung the song before, and this was my version, my story to bring,” she says. “There’s beauty in having different colours to the rainbow of life. The more chapters I’ve had in my life, the deeper the openings that you go to in your heart. I think that’s beautiful. I am thankful for that. I have felt it all. That’s why I say that when you sing “Memory”, it’s so beautifully healing.
“The most present place I could be is standing onstage, with energy in the room, in lights, singing a song like that.”
Goodrem has spent three quarters of her life in showbiz. Aged just seven she guest-starred on A Country Practice, and became a household name at 18 playing Nina Tucker on Neighbours. She’s that old-fashioned kind of star, one that wasn’t catapulted to fame by a reality show, but worked hard at her craft, dreaming since she was a young girl of emulating her idol and friend, Newton-John. “Delta’s never been afraid of work,” says another pal, music guru Molly Meldrum. “She’s always looking at how she can better herself, as a performer, as a musician, and dealing with the public.”
Many of her lessons were learnt through trial and error. As Goodrem says herself, “I didn’t have a map to know how to live a public life.”
The highs and lows of her 20s were played out in the tabloids; we know about the failed romances with a string of seemingly bad matches, such as tennis lad Mark Philippoussis and music bad-boys Brian McFadden and Nick Jonas. We know about her cancer battle. We know about her failure to launch in the US, perhaps because the era of the beautiful female balladeer, the Céline Dions and Mariah Careys, was reaching its end just as she was beginning.
She’s a sensitive and emotional woman, says Meldrum. “As young as she is, she’s had her ups and downs with relationships,” he says. “It’s been hard for her at times, she’s like a little girl when she falls in love with someone, and sometimes she lets herself be hurt.”
Goodrem has weathered these storms thanks to the support of her family, which Meldrum says is crucial to the fortitude of any young star exposed to the bright lights of fame. “It’s very easy to get out of control,” he says. “Delta has never allowed herself to get like that.”
Sony Music Australia boss Denis Handlin, who has known Goodrem since she was 15, says she has matured. “She’s an incredibly generous woman with a big heart — compassionate, hardworking, an outstanding person,” he says. “She has become wiser with age, and is more instinctual about life and the entertainment business.”
It’s been hard for her at times, she’s like a little girl when she falls in love with someone, and sometimes she lets herself be hurt.
The woman herself believes her 30th birthday was a turning point and saw her confidence grow.
“You shed skin,” she explains. “It’s having an understanding of illusions versus reality. The way I look at it is, the parts of my job are the times when I get to create … and the moment where work and business is. Coming of age is like having an understanding. Also, I think, you understand something can run away from you. In a certain moment you have to put your umbrella up, when something is intense in public life.”
As a result, she no longer discusses her love life. Even though she’s been on the receiving end of rumours linking her with everyone from Andy Lee and Hugh Sheridan to Karl Stefanovic — and that’s only the gossip mill from this past year alone — she won’t be drawn on such talk. “I’m really proud to say I’ve learnt I don’t want to be the person that talks about that,” says Goodrem. “Keep asking, and you are going to get the boring answer, because I have learnt that’s not who I am. When I look back at certain chapters in my life, I think, that’s not who I am, that’s not the core of me, I don’t have to do that.”
She will, however, talk about one new man in her life. His name is Nate, and he’s four months old. He is Goodrem’s nephew, the son of her brother Trent and his wife Carly. “I am besotted,” she says. “He came to [my] concert, and I was in so much trouble as Aunty Delta. [I said] ‘We’ll stay up late,’ and my brother was like, ‘He’s not going to sleep tonight.’”
Goodrem will spend Christmas with her family, including Nate, in Sydney, where she’s the designated “Christmas Crazy”, ensuring that everything sounds, smells and tastes like Christmas.
Does Nate make Goodrem keen to become a mother herself? “I am just so happy loving on him,” she says. “I look forward to that time, but it’s not right now. I’m enjoying getting into music and being really empowered in what I’m getting to do. I know when I do [become a mum], I will give it my everything.”
GOODREM SAYS 2015 was a defining year — working, recording, putting those career ducks in a row. This year was one of celebration, as all that work paid off. “It’s just been really expressive, artistic, explosive, dynamic,” she says.
Following her success with Cats, she returned to The Voice, where both the winner and runner-up were her acts, giving Goodrem her first win. It was vindication amid gossip she’d been let go to make way for Kylie Minogue in series three, then brought back when Minogue proved to be less compelling television. She admits she was thrilled to have won, and says she has grown into her coaching role. “Now I don’t censor anything,” she admits.
Meldrum says judging is a tough gig. “It’s hard when you have to give constructive criticism, but don’t want to sound like you’re the be all and end all,” he says. “Delta is good with her protégés and cares about them.”
Goodrem has also returned to acting, playing teacher Izzy Dreyfus in season five of House Husbands (which will air in early 2017). But her biggest thrill was the release of her album Wings Of The Wild in July, and the tour that followed.
I’ve seen all different sides, and it’s worth working hard and being patient to have years like this year.
The album had been due out after another single release, but Goodrem abruptly decided to unveil it early, allowing just eight days for the finishing touches. “I said it’s got to go now, I am going to be finished with this particular chapter soon,” she says. “Getting that to number one was like, oh my gosh.”
The tour was a victory lap. “That was like our confetti went off,” she says. “The energy of the room was so loving, and it felt like I was with my tribe.”
The tribe consisted of typical Goodrem fans, the 30-somethings who have grown up with her. But there was a new generation, too, both the children of the old fans and fresh fans from The Voice. “In Canberra we had a kids’ mosh pit,” she says. “They were like little jelly beans, jumping up and down.”
Goodrem is coy about her plans for 2017, perhaps because the Newton-John role was still in “conversation stages” at the time of our interview. But Handlin predicts big things. “She’s never been one to rest on her laurels, and her mind is always working overtime,” he says.
It almost seems churlish to ask about the future, because she is still basking in the glow of 2016. “To have people at the concerts remember what their life was like in certain songs, and me reflecting in that too … it was really special,” she says. “When the stars align you are really grateful for it.
“I’ve seen all different sides, and it’s worth working hard and being patient to have years like this year.”
Article written by | Jordan Baker
Date | 17/December/2016
Media | Stellar Magazine