Sunday Star-Times - - ESCAPE | MUSIC -

Stan Walker is a shadow of his for­mer self, and bet­ter than ever. In Septem­ber, he cel­e­brated his first year since hav­ing his stom­ach re­moved and, though he’s a lot lighter, he says his voice is the best it’s ever been. It’s been just 10 months since a photo of him and Prime Min­is­ter Jacinda Ardern shocked fans, his gaunt ap­pear­ance spurring ru­mours of ill health. In­deed, as it turned out, he was due for emer­gency surgery for an in­fected gall­blad­der at the time, but he’d de­layed the pro­ce­dure. His doc­tors weren’t happy, but he said, ‘‘no, tonight I have a din­ner with the Prime Min­is­ter’’.

The in­fected gall­blad­der was a com­pli­ca­tion from the surgery he’d had the Septem­ber be­fore, where he’d had his stom­ach re­moved. There had been 13 ’’spots’’ of can­cer on it. The can­cer was due to a rare gene mu­ta­tion, CFH1, which was thought to have led to the deaths of at least 25 of his fam­ily mem­bers. His mother, April, had un­der­gone treat­ment in 2016 for breast can­cer, caus­ing Stan to can­cel a planned New Zealand tour.

Stuff talked to him ear­lier in the year ahead of the re­lease of the doc­u­men­tary, Stan, that fol­lowed him as he un­der­went treat­ment. It’s now a year since his stom­ach was re­moved, but Walker says it was the best year of his life so far. He feels good.

‘‘I just feel nor­mal now. I’m tired from work­ing hard, but that’s it. Go­ing through that stuff… doesn’t af­fect me now. Un­less I eat some­thing bad, but that’s about it.

‘‘I’ve done that a few times, sac­ri­ficed taste for pain. I can’t eat dairy, I can’t eat greasy food, I can’t eat pro­cessed food. So ev­ery­thing I shouldn’t eat, I’m not sup­posed to eat, my body just tells me what’s up real quick. Some­times I do it just for the taste be­cause, y’know, I’m hun­gry.

‘‘It’s hard be­cause I try to be the per­son that I was, and try to eat the way I was, and my eyes are way big­ger than my no-stom­ach.’’

He scans the room. A cav­ernous space filled with gym­nas­tics equip­ment, crash pads of every size, colour and shape. A twin­kle in his eye tells me he’d love to go and play silly bug­gers. He turns back to me, though. Walker has work to do. He’s on the Welling­ton leg of his New Takeover tour.

‘‘It’s good to be back out on the road. I love work­ing con­stantly, I love be­ing on the road, I love tour­ing, I love per­form­ing. That’s what I live for. I do ev­ery­thing that I do so that I can do this. I like record­ing and I like per­form­ing to my fans, ev­ery­thing else I don’t like, but it’s nec­es­sary.’’

He says de­spite fac­ing his mor­tal­ity, he never ques­tioned his pur­pose in life.

‘‘It wasn’t ever a ques­tion for me [that I wanted to keep singing]. As soon as I got bet­ter I was straight back into it. So I haven’t re­ally looked back or stopped or… I don’t know, even talk­ing about that is re­ally weird for me, be­cause I feel like it was so long ago. My mind­set, where I’m at, my body and ev­ery­thing is like, fully, com­pletely re­moved and far from what it was.’’

It strikes me that his body hasn’t com­pletely caught up yet, and nor should it have – it’s only just a year since he had his stom­ach re­moved. He had a col­lapsed lung, an­other com­pli­ca­tion. That must have been scary, I ask. ‘‘That was just a thing that hap­pened. Singing was the last thing I was think­ing about, I was just think­ing ‘I need to breathe’. That was all I was con­cerned about, breath­ing and be­ing alive, but we’re good now, my lungs are back to full ca­pac­ity.

‘‘I think now, singing, I’m a lot like – bar this bad throat, dry throat – I’m a lot bet­ter singer than what I was. I’ve got more range and more power com­ing from my lit­tle body – it’s re­ally weird. I miss my girth of my voice, it was a bit thicker. But now, I can stretch more, which is re­ally weird. I don’t know [why]. Maybe I got skin­nier and ev­ery­thing got skin­nier and stretched out, I don’t know. It’s the only thing I can think of.’’

He laughs, and I can see the ex­u­ber­ant, un­tam­able Walker of old. To him, can­cer was an ‘‘in­con­ve­nience’’.

‘‘There were the scary times, but even those were in­con­ve­nient. Every time some­thing went wrong, I wasn’t think­ing about ‘oh my gosh, I’m go­ing to die’, I was like, ‘this is longer in hospi­tal, this is taking up my time, it’s taking up my whole life, I want to get back into work’. I love work­ing, I’m a worka­holic.

‘‘Not be­ing able to sing at the early stages, it was frus­trat­ing for me be­cause I’m so used to be­ing in con­trol of my body. My mind was all the way there way be­fore my body got there. So it took a while for my body to catch up to my mind.’’

A self-de­scribed ‘‘staunch Chris­tian’’ he said his faith helped him get through, but he wasn’t per­fect.

‘‘I would have th­ese con­ver­sa­tions with God be­fore it all hap­pened and I was like, ‘yeah, it’s all good’ and when I got into it I was like ‘hey now, hurry up’!

‘‘It’s not all roses, it didn’t all turn out to be like the Cinderella story where I trusted God through­out ev­ery­thing, be­cause there were times where I was like, ‘can you hurry up, al­ready?’ Like c’mon. But ev­ery­thing worked out to be bet­ter than I ex­pected. I am more than what I ex­pected.’’

The in­con­ve­nience seems to have, if any­thing, rein­vig­o­rated his drive. His eyes widen as he talks about his com­mit­ment to his work.

‘‘I don’t want peo­ple walk­ing away say­ing ‘far out, that was an awe­some show’, I want them go­ing, ‘that’s the best show’. I want peo­ple walk­ing away, go­ing ‘no­body can sing like him, no­body can play like them, no­body can put on a show like them’.’’

He said his lat­est tour had rounded up the con­clu­sion of his ‘‘best year’’.

‘‘Parts of it have been the worst but ul­ti­mately this has been the best year of my life. I couldn’t have asked for a more in­cred­i­ble, fruit­ful, life­pro­duc­ing year. I’ve achieved more of my goals and dreams in this short span of al­most a year – the year ain’t even fin­ished yet. All the things I’ve wanted to do for years I’m do­ing now, and I’m more in con­trol of who I am.

‘‘I’m tour­ing off no al­bum, no sin­gle, I haven’t had any mu­sic for ages. The fact that my fans are still with me, they still show up so I’ve got to give it up to New Zealand, I’ve got to give it up to my fans be­cause this has been the best tour I’ve ever done

It was the worst of years, it was the best of years ... af­ter un­der­go­ing a gas­trec­tomy to re­move his stom­ach, Stan Walker is back on tour, and spoke to Felix Des­marais about sur­viv­ing can­cer, dis­ci­pline and host­ing the Voda­fone Mu­sic Awards on Thurs­day.

be­cause they still choose me, af­ter all th­ese years. What­ever I’m go­ing through in life, they still rock with me, so it’s been mean.’’

Go­ing back into the record­ing stu­dio to pro­duce new mu­sic, Walker said he doesn’t want peo­ple to think he’s go­ing to come out with a whole lot of songs about sur­viv­ing can­cer.

‘‘I think ev­ery­body, when they found out that I was go­ing into the stu­dio, they were like ‘aw, you’re go­ing to be writ­ing th­ese in­spi­ra­tional songs about how you sur­vived’, and I was kind of like, ‘well, ac­tu­ally I’m kind of the op­po­site’, I’m writ­ing about sum­mer, about liv­ing my best life.

‘‘I feel like that [other] stuff is drain­ing. I’m a deep per­son but if you saw the doc­u­men­tary [Stan] me and my fam­ily – we are not like any­body else. We didn’t mope around, we mocked each other for hav­ing can­cer.

‘‘It’s not part of my ev­ery­day con­ver­sa­tion un­less I want to get the front seat or I want my sis­ter to go get me some­thing, I’m like ‘aw, I had can­cer, can you go and get that for me?’ I don’t even think about it. It’s not part of my thought process. That’s the type of per­son I am. So when this sort of stuff hap­pens, I’m not gonna go in [to the stu­dio] and be like, ‘I’m a sur­vivor’.’’


Stan Walker’s Christchurch show in Au­gust.

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