With her first album in six years and a major tour on the horizon, our favourite girl-next-door is back in a big way.
Natalie Imbruglia is apologising, although she hardly needs to. Celebrities often rock up hours late for an interview without a by-your-leave, so 20 minutes is not such a big deal, especially given that her plane had to make an emergency landing in Copenhagen due to a passenger with heart problems. Still, Imbruglia seems sincerely sorry, as well as genuinely relieved that her fellow passenger turned out to be alright. That’s the thing with Natalie Imbruglia: it’s not just her acting and vocal talents, nor her doe-eyed beauty, that have made her a star, it’s also the down-to-earth Aussie likeability, the impression that she is just the girl-next-door.
It seems that success has not gone to Imbruglia’s head, but that wasn’t the case when she landed a role in Neighbours, one of the most popular shows in television history, aged only 16. “I thought I was so cool, you have no idea!” she laughs. “All I wanted was to be famous and it had just happened. I had arrived! I thought it does not get better than this.” This meant moving to Melbourne and living by herself, a situation her parents could not have been pleased with, but the teenager was “headstrong and very hard to control. They knew that if they tried to stop me, it might not go so well…” Did she take advantage of her new found freedom? “Absolutely! Are you kidding me? I just ran wild. I was a kid that wanted to grow up quickly.”
A couple of years later, Imbruglia followed some of her co-stars to London, where they were earning good money making personal appearances. There she became friends with one of her idols, Kylie, and fell in love with the city, but couldn’t get a work permit. “Those were the dark days,” she recalls, “running out of money in London.” The dark days didn’t last long. Barely out of her teens, the actress-turned-singer released Torn, one of the most successful singles of the ’90s, and her album Left of the Middle, also a huge hit.
“I was expecting to get a hard time because there had been so many people from Neighbours putting out music, and not all so successfully,” she recalls. “I was ready for a fight.” Instead, record sales soared and serious stardom followed. “It was great. I just followed this song around the world and scooped up awards.” This time round Imbruglia kept her feet firmly on the ground. “I was very aware that this may never happen again and it was really important to be grateful,” she says, “because if the first single is that big, what are the chances of topping it?”
Fast forward to 2015, and it’s been six years since Imbruglia’s last album. She’s been studying acting in LA for two years, appearing in theatre productions and as a judge on Australia’s X Factor, all sorts of things… just not making music. “I didn’t want to do music for a while,” is the simple explanation. “I just waited until I wanted to do it again – kind of like I had writer’s block.” Male is the intriguing title of the new record. Working with producer Billy Mann, the singer has covered an eclectic compilation of tracks either written or previously performed by men. The treatment of each varies: “With Damian Rices’s Cannonball, we didn’t really change the song too much, whereas with Friday I’m in Love, we flipped it on its head.” The album will be followed by a tour with Simply Red later in the year, taking in major venues like the The O2 Arena. The writer’s block has definitely been cured as well, Imbruglia having already penned eight songs for an album of original material planned for next year. Acting is still on the cards if the right role comes along: “Maybe something dark and challenging. As you get older, you have the opportunity to play more interesting things, not just, kind of, ‘get your kit off!’”
In addition, Imbruglia, is a UN Ambassador and Virgin Unite spokesperson for the campaign to end obstetric fistula, an injury suffered by many women during childbirth. “This really struck a chord with me as a woman,” she explains. “In most cases they’ve just lost their baby and they’re being ostracised by their communities. In the developed world, we’d just have a caesarean and it’s not a big thing. I thought, why are more than three million women worldwide having to suffer this? I’m trying to help shine a light on it and do whatever I can, really.”
It’s clear that Imbruglia is more productive than ever, but the media still seems stubbornly focused on her love life. “The moment I turned 40, it’s all anyone wanted to talk about,” she states. A recent interview for a glossy magazine that was more about rumoured links to younger men than about music, took her by surprise. “Sometimes I forget I’m being interviewed and get too relaxed. I regretted being that honest and thought, gosh, I really have to reel it in, but I hate saying to a journalist: ‘No comment. Don’t ask me that.’ I like to just have a chat.”
We certainly wouldn’t want Natalie Imbruglia to reel it in. We’re glad she’s back in the recording studio, back on tour and back in town. We might even pop round for a neighbourly chat with this girl-next-door sometime soon.