Fam­ily al­bum

In their first ever photo shoot as a fam­ily, David and Lisa Camp­bell talk to Stel­lar about life with three kids – and why David is fi­nally tak­ing on the Tin Lids.

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Stellar - - Cotents - Photography STEVEN CHEE Styling KELLY HUME In­ter­view AN­GELA MOL­LARD

When David Camp­bell de­cided to make a Christ­mas al­bum, it wasn’t com­par­isons with Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole or even Michael Bublé that he feared.

Rather, it was how would he mea­sure up to the Tin Lids – the ’90s group formed by a few of his fa­ther Jimmy Barnes’s other chil­dren – and Hey Ru­dolph!, their en­dur­ing Christ­mas com­pi­la­tion. As Camp­bell points out, even his own three kids sing along to the Barnes brood’s ver­sion of ‘Jin­gle Bells’.

“It’s a big deal do­ing a Christ­mas al­bum in my fam­ily be­cause I have to com­pete with Hey Ru­dolph! – which is the great­est Christ­mas al­bum of all time,” Camp­bell says with a laugh. “Sorry, Michael Bublé, but it’s true. If I could come in at least third…”

Camp­bell needn’t worry. His new set of yule­tide clas­sics also fea­tures a catchy new ti­tle track (‘Baby It’s Christ­mas’) writ­ten for him by Rick Price, and the re­sult is joy­ous and as­sured – two re­quire­ments of any al­bum aim­ing to be­come a playlist favourite dur­ing the fes­tive sea­son.

An artist’s work of­ten re­flects where they are in life and while this new al­bum outs Camp­bell as a self­con­fessed “Christ­mas tragic”, it also marks a new­found con­tent­ment and re­solve. “I’ve wanted to do a Christ­mas al­bum for a while and ev­ery­thing came to­gether,” he says. “I spent some Christ­mases in New York watch­ing ice skaters and buy­ing warm chest­nuts, so this has all the el­e­ments of a tra­di­tional Christ­mas but with hot over­tones – like a Beach Boys song.”

Af­ter years of un­rest, the 45-year-old is at the top of his game, host­ing the Nine Net­work’s To­day Ex­tra along­side So­nia Kruger, per­form­ing in award-win­ning roles in the­atre and cabaret, host­ing Car­ols By Candlelight, pen­ning a pop­u­lar Stel­lar col­umn and, of course, be­ing a hus­band and fa­ther. More than that, he has a sense of ac­cep­tance with his com­pli­cated up­bring­ing, only re­cently made pos­si­ble by his fa­ther’s own reck­on­ing with the past. In con­fronting his demons, the Cold Chisel rocker seems in part to have re­leased his son from the en­dur­ing ache of con­fused iden­tity and grow­ing up with an ab­sent fa­ther. In­deed, as Camp­bell plays with his chil­dren, Leo, eight, and twins Billy and Betty, three, at Stel­lar’s photo shoot – their first as a fam­ily – it’s hard to fathom that he had no role model for how to be a fa­ther. As the trio take turns jump­ing over a skip­ping rope, fi­nally fall­ing in a pile on top of their dad, Camp­bell’s easy warmth with and clear love for them prove he has, as Barnes has writ­ten, “bro­ken the cy­cle that his fam­ily had been trapped in for gen­er­a­tions”. Piv­otal to that trans­for­ma­tion is the woman watch­ing her fam­ily frolic: his wife Lisa, 38, who Camp­bell de­scribes as “in­cred­i­ble”. There’s no ques­tion the Camp­bells are an an­i­mated clan. A pas­sion for per­form­ing cour­ses through the gene pool, and com­bined with David’s self-con­fessed “bo­gan” her­itage and Lisa’s fault­less Bri­tish man­ners, it has pro­duced char­ac­ter­ful kids as cour­te­ous as they are cu­ri­ous. Betty is mes­merised by Stel­lar’s make-up artist and con­fi­dently asks if she, too, might have a lit­tle lip­stick while even weeks later, Billy is still in­quir­ing how he might pro­cure the leder­ho­sen he wore for our shoot. (His dad had al­ready coughed up for the knit­ted crowns and gold vel­vet wings.) Leo, mean­while, throws open the front door of the fam­ily’s home be­fore en­thu­si­as­ti­cally set­tling down to watch Steve Irwin videos while his sib­lings sleep and his mother and fa­ther chat to Stel­lar.

“I knew I would lose all of this if I was still that frac­tured per­son”

As Camp­bell drinks green tea at his kitchen bench – ve­gan and tee­to­taller, he is an em­bod­i­ment of clean liv­ing his wife jok­ingly calls “the most punch­able man on the planet” – it’s clear he and Lisa have built the fam­ily he never had. Leo, he says, is “sen­si­tive and in­tel­li­gent with a big heart”, Billy is “phys­i­cal and a risk-taker – he’s al­ready been to hos­pi­tal twice” – while Betty is the “Cate Blanchett of the fam­ily”. When it comes to par­ent­ing, the pair ex­ude love, calm­ness and open­ness. “Com­mu­ni­ca­tion is key,” says Camp­bell. “I al­ways want them to know what I’m think­ing and feel­ing. I’m very open with them, I’ll apol­o­gise if I’m in­cor­rect and I’ve told them I’ll al­ways lis­ten to them.”

Trans­parency is very im­por­tant, which is no sur­prise. As has been well chron­i­cled, Camp­bell was brought up be­liev­ing his grand­mother Joan was his mother while be­ing told his real mother Kim was his sister. Jimmy Barnes, who had a teenage li­ai­son with Kim and would visit oc­ca­sion­ally, was re­ferred to as a fam­ily friend. Camp­bell was only told the truth at the age of 10.

As Lisa notes, it was “ac­tive de­cep­tion” and for years Camp­bell strug­gled. Ther­apy and mak­ing pro­found choices about the fa­ther he wanted to be – in­clud­ing giv­ing up al­co­hol – have helped. “I needed to grow be­cause I knew I would lose all of this if I was still that frac­tured per­son. There’s still iden­tity is­sues, but the main legacy is anx­i­ety.” He takes a deep breath. “This was a re­ally hard week for my anx­i­ety. It’s been steady seas for a long time, but it came out of nowhere. Even So­nia asked what my prob­lem was. I guess it’s still mon­sters from the past need­ing to be let out.” He turns to Lisa: “I’m sorry, by the way. But I woke up this morn­ing and I can feel it pass­ing now.” Lisa raises her eye­brows the­atri­cally: “Thank God!”

Camp­bell is proof that it is pos­si­ble to be a sur­vivor rather than a vic­tim of cir­cum­stances. Granted, he got some help when friend Magda Szuban­ski in­tro­duced him to Lisa 12 years ago but as his wife points out, Camp­bell is an avid self-im­prover. “You’re so con­scious of be­ing bet­ter,” she says to him di­rectly. “Not just bet­ter than you were yes­ter­day, but bet­ter than you ex­pe­ri­enced.” She ac­knowl­edges he has whole­heart­edly em­braced Leo’s love for AFL. “I have so much re­spect for you pro­vid­ing the trust, sta­bil­ity and fa­ther-son re­la­tion­ship that you didn’t have.”

Barnes has pub­licly ad­mit­ted his re­gret in not be­ing there for his son – a mov­ing mo­ment cap­tured in the doc­u­men­tary based on his best­selling mem­oir Work­ing Class Boy. But in an ex­traor­di­nar­ily can­did ex­change with Stel­lar, he goes fur­ther, de­scrib­ing what his son means to him. “Now I have grown up, and he has grown up to be the man he is, my life feels so much more com­plete be­cause he is in it,” Barnes says. “He cares about peo­ple and the world and I think he’s one of the most bal­anced peo­ple I know.”

In­deed, as Barnes de­scribes it, they are now equals. “David is some­one I look up to. He lis­tens more than he speaks and he’s funny, open and lov­ing. I’m sure he has his faults, like any of us, but he grows and works on him­self con­stantly.” While the pair would like to record to­gether as Dad and Dave, Barnes

says they don’t hang out con­stantly. “I learn from him and I’m sure he has learnt from me. I think the past has helped us both stand on our own feet. If he has a prob­lem, I am there for him and I know he is there for me. I love my son.”

If Camp­bell lacked an an­chor as a child, he has found one in adult­hood and his mar­riage. He and Lisa laugh con­stantly, riff­ing off each other on ev­ery­thing from TV shows to par­ent­ing. As well as run­ning a pro­duc­tion com­pany, Lisa is the chair of Syd­ney’s Hayes The­atre Com­pany and the cre­ative force be­hind the fam­ily’s elab­o­rate an­nual Hal­loween cos­tumes. When asked re­cently to con­trib­ute to an homage to Magda Szuban­ski, it was Lisa’s idea to dress their daugh­ter Betty as Szuban­ski’s Kath & Kim char­ac­ter Sharon Strz­elecki. Re­splen­dent in a net­ball uni­form and bowl-cut wig, Betty, who is also Szuban­ski’s god­daugh­ter, is hi­lar­i­ous in her video mes­sage mim­ick­ing the use of “it’s noice” and “unusual”.

Asked what makes her mar­riage seem so solid and shiny, Lisa doesn’t miss a beat: “Both of us think we got the bet­ter deal.” Camp­bell con­curs: “I def­i­nitely mar­ried up. She’s my best friend and I go to her first when I need to make de­ci­sions.” The sup­port runs both ways. Lisa, an only child, lost her mum to can­cer when she was just 17 and was dev­as­tated by the re­cent death of her fa­ther. “He was such a big part of our lives and we miss him ter­ri­bly,” says Camp­bell, who cred­its Lisa with urg­ing him to build a re­la­tion­ship with his own fa­ther.

Yet be­ing the son of an Aus­tralian leg­end brings its own pres­sures. “My dad is iconic – they’ll never make an­other one like him. Him and [John] Farn­ham, that’s it,” muses Camp­bell. “I of­ten won­der where’s my value in that, and I feel I have to prove my­self more to keep what I have so I don’t lose ev­ery­thing.”

Such a fate is un­likely. Camp­bell and Kruger are head­ing into their eighth year as co-hosts, he won best ac­tor this year at both the Help­mann and Syd­ney The­atre Awards for two dif­fer­ent roles, and there’s ev­ery chance Baby It’s Christ­mas will match the sales of his pre­vi­ous plat­inum-sell­ing al­bums. Camp­bell is also one of the fron­trun­ners be­ing touted to re­place Karl Ste­fanovic if and when he even­tu­ally leaves To­day. Asked if he would take the gig were it of­fered, he replies diplo­mat­i­cally, “Karl’s not go­ing any­where. It’s Karl.” But if the role did come up… “I haven’t thought about it – I’m too busy think­ing about ev­ery­thing else on my plate.”

That Camp­bell has bal­anced such pro­fes­sional suc­cess with hands-on par­ent­ing and a ded­i­cated ap­proach to his health and fit­ness – he’s 25kg lighter than in his 30s – is all part of be­ing a bet­ter man. As Kruger quips: “In the time we’ve worked to­gether, he’s given up drink­ing, taken up run­ning and be­come a ve­gan. But I still like him.”

Camp­bell points out that un­like most host­ing part­ner­ships, she’s the “al­pha” of the duo. Kruger says it’s only be­cause she’s worked in tele­vi­sion for a long time. Be­sides, when it comes to par­ent­ing, she says, he’s the al­pha and she’s the beta. Plus there are the jokes. “He’s one of the most tal­ented peo­ple I’ve ever known, but be­yond that it’s his abil­ity to make me laugh on and off air that I en­joy most,” she tells Stel­lar. “If I had a dol­lar for ev­ery time he’s left me in stitches af­ter say­ing some­thing to­tally in­ap­pro­pri­ate dur­ing a break, I’d own a tele­vi­sion net­work.”

Ide­o­log­i­cally, how­ever, they couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent – as ev­i­denced when Kruger called on Aus­tralia to ban Mus­lim im­mi­grants dur­ing a de­bate on To­day in 2016. While Camp­bell dis­agreed, more than two years on he has no in­ter­est in reignit­ing the firestorm that en­sued. “Friends are al­lowed to dis­agree on things and friends also have to sup­port each other when sit­u­a­tions are dif­fi­cult. You don’t just blow things up be­cause some­body has said some­thing you don’t agree with.” As both point out, most of their pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions these days are about whose child is sleep­ing through the night.

Hav­ing re­cently moved from an in­nercity apart­ment to a fam­ily home, the Camp­bell kids are look­ing forward to Christ­mas, dec­o­rat­ing the tree and danc­ing to their fa­ther’s fes­tive tunes. If they’re lucky they’ll be al­lowed to stay up and watch him sing one of them at Car­ols By Candlelight on Christ­mas Eve. But, as Camp­bell points out, they’re a bit picky. “They love ‘Jin­gle Bells’, but they don’t like the bal­lads.”

LISA WEARS (right) KITX top and skirt, kitx.com.au DAVID WEARS Jac+ Jack jacket, ja­can­d­jack.com and shirt, david­jones.com; Levi’s jeans, le­vis.com.au (be­low, from top) David Camp­bell won a Help­mann Award this year for his role as Bobby Darin in Dream Lover; with his fa­ther Jimmy Barnes in 2012; on To­day Ex­tra with So­nia Kruger last year.

DAVID WEARS Jac+ Jack shirt, ja­can­d­jack.com; Levi’s jeans, le­vis.com.au

(from left) BILLY WEARS LISA WEARS BETTY WEARS Rylee + Cru dress, DAVID WEARS LEO WEARS Zara

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