I’ve had too many knives thrown at my back”

After a bru­tal few years as her na­tion’s punch­ing bag, Delta Goodrem is back on top, with a num­ber one al­bum and a new TV role. Aus­tralia’s sweet­heart once again, the “smarter and wiser” singer-song­writer tells Su­san Hors­burgh it feels like com­ing home.


On July 8, when Delta Goodrem learned her new al­bum, Wings of the Wild, had de­buted at num­ber one, it seemed the uni­verse was try­ing to tell her some­thing. That date has loomed large for Delta ever since July 8, 2003, when she was di­ag­nosed with Hodgkin’s lym­phoma. Back then, as an 18-yearold Neigh­bours star with a record­break­ing de­but al­bum and na­tional sweet­heart sta­tus, the dev­as­tat­ing news caused her world to cap­size.

Ex­actly 13 years later, Delta’s fifth al­bum’s chart suc­cess seemed em­blem­atic of an­other life-chang­ing chap­ter – one that has brought her full cir­cle, back into the em­brace of the Aus­tralian pub­lic.

“It was just strange,” says the 31year-old singer-song­writer. “The shift with ev­ery­body has been phe­nom­e­nal, back to what I think peo­ple felt when they first met me, but now

I’m a woman.”

For Delta, who started in show­biz at seven and be­came fa­mous at 17 as Neigh­bours’ as­pir­ing singer Nina Tucker, it has been a rocky, pub­lic pas­sage to wom­an­hood. Along­side the nine num­ber-one sin­gles, 10 ARIA awards and eight mil­lion record sales, there has been a steady sup­ply of reve­la­tions about her pri­vate life, from her jilt­ing by ten­nis star Mark Philip­pous­sis to her ro­mance with teenaged mu­si­cian Nick Jonas, eight years her ju­nior – and a nasty bro­ken en­gage­ment to Ir­ish singer Brian McFad­den in between. “In front of the whole coun­try I’ve had a few duds,” she joked of her ex-boyfriends on The Voice last year.

Like many an Aussie star, Delta has been felled by tall poppy syn­drome, but never more so than in 2012 when she joined The Voice as a judge and men­tor. The so­cial me­dia bile didn’t abate for years, with trolls tak­ing aim at her per­son­al­ity, her dance style, even her per­fec­tion.

The re­sult seems to be a cagier, more self-pro­tec­tive Delta. Meet­ing The Aus­tralian Women’sWeekly at Sony’s Syd­ney head­quar­ters, she is friendly, but there is a stee­li­ness that per­haps wasn’t there five years ago.

“She doesn’t suf­fer fools,” says her long-time friend and col­lab­o­ra­tor Vince Pizzinga. “Her rest­ing state is that she’s a lov­ing per­son – kind and gen­er­ous and em­pa­thetic – but she won’t get pushed around.”

Ac­cord­ing to Delta, she has dis­cov­ered the free­dom that comes “when you re­alise you can just be wholly you”. Dur­ing her 15 years in the pub­lic eye, “I’ve seen dif­fer­ent storms – I just put my um­brella up,” she says. “To be able to keep a warm and com­pas­sion­ate heart is what I feel is im­por­tant... You just have to get smarter and wiser.”

Since turn­ing 30, Delta has dropped the shut­ters on her pri­vate life and baulks at ex­plain­ing the ge­n­e­sis of her lyrics – which can make an in­ter­view tricky. Yes, Wings of the Wild, with its soar­ing vo­cals and swelling or­ches­tral ac­com­pa­ni­ments, is an ode to em­pow­er­ment, yet it’s clearly a big

“up yours” to her de­trac­tors, too – but Delta doesn’t want to talk about that. “No quote could re­ally ex­press the grav­ity of what was go­ing on,” says Delta, who stresses that any neg­a­tiv­ity has come from a noisy mi­nor­ity. “If you want to know how I felt, you just read the song lyrics.”

So here’s a sam­ple. In Heavy, there is a rapid-fire burst of words: “When it’s hard to breathe and I just can’t get off the floor, I long for days when I was free, a life I lived so long be­fore.”

In her dark­est song, Only Hu­man, she sings that she’s “had too many knives thrown at my back”, that she’s “bro­ken” and tempted to “call it a day”. Says Delta, “I can barely lis­ten to that song without be­ing trans­ported to that mo­ment.” Ask her about that mo­ment, though, and she won’t give specifics.

Ac­cord­ing to Vince, crit­i­cism has hurt her, but she makes sense of it through song­writ­ing. “She’s some­body who, even in the face of that kind of ad­ver­sity, finds some­thing in her core to lift her up and pre­vail, and in a lov­ing way,” says the pro­ducer and com­poser. “She’s never the per­son who lashes out – she finds heal­ing through her mu­sic. The first thing she’ll do is sit at the pi­ano and just write some­thing ex­tra­or­di­nary.”

Her 30th birth­day was a wa­ter­shed for Delta, who turns 32 in Novem­ber this year. “I lit­er­ally woke up that morn­ing and felt com­pletely dif­fer­ent,” she says. “I went, ‘This is me, this is what I stand for, this is what I’m not go­ing to stand for.’ I pur­pose­fully just wanted to be me – to be in the re­la­tion­ship with my­self, with my mu­sic, and wanted to en­joy my fem­i­nin­ity and my fe­line na­ture.”

Iron­i­cally, she landed the part of Griz­abella in Cats last Oc­to­ber. In the busiest year of her life, she fol­lowed her mu­si­cal theatre de­but with The Voice and scored a role as teacher Izzy in the new se­ries of the Nine Net­work drama, House Hus­bands. SBS then came knock­ing, invit­ing her to ex­plore her ge­neal­ogy in Who Do You Think You Are?

“I could never have ex­pected the twists and turns,” she says. Re­searchers dis­cov­ered that her great-grand­mother, Florence Bray, had a son at the age of 20 after an af­fair with a mar­ried mem­ber of Mel­bourne’s es­tab­lish­ment, but went on to work as a mu­si­cian and show­girl in the US, while her ex-lover was dis­in­her­ited after con­vic­tions for fraud and lar­ceny. “It’s quite in­cred­i­ble that Florence was on Broad­way,” says Delta. “I loved that she lived a colour­ful life and got to ex­press her­self through art.” When she learned that her con­man great-grand­fa­ther “preyed on small peo­ple”, though, Delta was re­duced to tears. “I be­lieve in lift­ing ev­ery­body up and I want ev­ery­body to feel good. It’s a value sys­tem that is very im­por­tant to me, and any­body who dis­re­spects the in­di­vid­ual hu­man, I can’t deal with that.”

The daugh­ter of pa­per man­u­fac­turer Denis and her one-time man­ager, mum Lea, Delta grew up in a sporty house­hold in Glen­haven, on the north­west­ern out­skirts of Syd­ney. She and brother Trent, now a pro­fes­sional AFL player, had a tro­phy cabi­net out­side their bed­rooms and did their best to outdo each other. Delta wrote her first song at seven and starred in her first TV ad the same year, be­fore go­ing on to ap­pear in A Coun­try Prac­tice, Hey Dad! and Po­lice Res­cue. “It was nat­u­ral, I didn’t push any­thing,” says Delta. “Peo­ple al­ways came to me and I au­di­tioned for things and I would just get snapped up very young. It was part of my blood; it wasn’t ‘I want to be’, it was en­abling a part of who I am.”

As a kid, Delta would stick the Top 40 charts on her wall, whit­ing out the num­ber one artist and writ­ing her own name in­stead. That fo­cus paid off when she landed man­ager Glenn Wheat­ley at 13 and signed with Sony two years later. When Vince met her in 2000, he was “gob­s­macked” by the 16-year-old’s voice. “She sounded so ac­com­plished,” he re­calls, “more ac­com­plished than peo­ple twice her age.”

Delta pre­miered her pi­ano bal­lad Born To Try on Neigh­bours and in 2003 her de­but al­bum, In­no­cent Eyes, rock­eted to num­ber one for 29 weeks. At the time, though, she was grap­pling with a head-to-toe rash, night sweats and a lump in her neck. In this year’s hit sin­gle, Dear Life, she al­ludes to the curve ball that was her teenage can­cer di­ag­no­sis. The mu­sic video has Delta bare­footed at the pi­ano, singing, “I’m a sur­vivor”, with flash­back footage of her mid-treat­ment in 2003, wear­ing a wig at the ARIA Awards. Her sick­ness, she says, has al­lowed her to forge a spe­cial con­nec­tion with her fans. “It takes away the taboo con­ver­sa­tion between me and peo­ple who are go­ing through their bat­tle, and that’s been a gift for sure,” says Delta, who is pa­tron of The Kinghorn Can­cer Cen­tre at Syd­ney’s St Vin­cent’s Hos­pi­tal. “I must hear a story daily and it’s pretty full-on.”

She de­scribes her fam­ily and friends as the “touch­stones” of her life. She checks her phone dur­ing the in­ter­view, on high alert as her sis­ter-in-law,

Carly, is due to give birth any day to the first Goodrem grand­child (a baby boy, Nate Lawes Goodrem, was born on Au­gust 8). Re­port­edly dat­ing Wal­la­bies rugby star Drew Mitchell, Delta speaks to her fam­ily ev­ery day or two, and her “side­kicks” are still mostly her friends from pri­mary school, a di­verse bunch who range from builders to stock­bro­kers.

Noth­ing makes her hap­pier, she says, than hav­ing din­ner or watch­ing The Bach­e­lor with friends over red wine – ex­cept maybe per­form­ing live. On Oc­to­ber 27, Delta kicks off an Aus­tralian tour in New­cas­tle.

“It is like Christ­mas to me,” she says. “I just can’t wait.”

“I be­lieve in lift­ing ev­ery­body up, I want them to feel good.”

ABOVE (from left): Brother Trent, mum Lea, sis­ter-in-law Carly and Delta. Fam­ily and friends are the “touch­stones” of her life.

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