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.

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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.

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