Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Con­tents - Words by CAMERON ADAMS

Nashville’s Clare Bowen on how Cate Blanchett changed her life.

Clare Bowen was back­stage at the Syd­ney Theatre Com­pany when her life changed. It was 2010, and things were al­ready go­ing swim­mingly enough for the Aus­tralian ac­tor and singer. Fresh from the req­ui­site “five min­utes” on Home And Away, she had won the lead role in a pro­duc­tion of Spring Awak­en­ing.

THEN-STC artis­tic di­rec­tor Cate Blanchett sought Bowen out – she wanted to pass on some ad­vice. “Cate said to me, ‘Have you ever thought of mov­ing to LA?’” Bowen, 33, tells Stel­lar. “That thought was ter­ri­fy­ing. She said, ‘I think you’d do re­ally well there.’ She kicked me into gear to be brave enough to make the jump. I sold every­thing I owned to buy a plane ticket. Every­thing hap­pened from there.”

“Every­thing” was the whirl­wind that Bowen’s life be­came af­ter she scored a plum role on TV’S coun­try mu­sic drama Nashville in 2012. A few years into that gig, she at­tended a G’day USA tourism show­case in Los An­ge­les, where she no longer lived. (She had

re­lo­cated to the tit­u­lar US city to film the show.) Blanchett was there, too.

“She re­mem­bered that con­ver­sa­tion,” Bowen says, who calls the ac­tor “a beau­ti­ful per­son who of­fered up this gem of ad­vice… which I’m now re­lay­ing while sit­ting on the back ve­ran­dah at my home in Nashville, Ten­nessee.”

There was an­other fa­mous Aussie from Bowen’s past at that same func­tion: Tina Arena. “My dad is a flight at­ten­dant for Qan­tas,” Bowen says. “He got Tina to sign a menu for me a long time ago, and I trea­sured that thing so much it al­most fell apart.”

Em­bold­ened by her chat with Blanchett, Bowen de­cided to say hello to her child­hood hero: “I was shak­ing in my boots, but I told her I learnt to sing by singing her songs.”

Arena now ad­mits that she didn’t know who her ea­ger fan was. “I’d never watched Nashville,” she tells Stel­lar. “But she was beau­ti­ful and so en­gag­ing, I started watch­ing. I got sucked in.” She re­mains a fan. “I’m up-to-date now!”

Arena was so taken with Bowen that when it came time to put to­gether the guest list for her new com­pi­la­tion Great­est Hits & In­ter­pre­ta­tions, she asked Bowen to cover her song ‘Still Run­ning’. “There is such an in­cred­i­ble vul­ner­a­bil­ity and raw­ness and an an­gelic beauty there,” Arena says, “an in­no­cence that you just don’t see very of­ten. It res­onates in her voice and in her sto­ry­telling – she just grabs you and pulls you in from the very first breath. She’s equally as breath­tak­ing on cam­era as an ac­tress. She’s stun­ning.”

Record­ing the song left Bowen equally over­whelmed. “It’s hard to de­scribe when one of your heroes de­cides they want to con­tact you, let alone give you one of their songs to sing,” she says. “I al­most passed out."

BOWEN’S TEN­DENCY TO pour emo­tion into her songs is per­haps at a per­sonal peak in ‘Love Steps In’, her first solo sin­gle which she re­leased this year. The track is about her brother Timothy James Bowen, a 27-year-old Syd­ney mu­si­cian, and the health bat­tle he be­gan wag­ing in 2015. That year, he was di­ag­nosed with stage 4 lym­phoma; at the time, doc­tors gave him just two weeks to live.

When Bowen swung through Aus­tralia on a brief tour last year, he joined her on­stage, play­ing the gui­tar. “He was on chemo at the time,” Bowen says. “The poor thing was such a trouper.”

The singer knew ex­actly what her brother was go­ing through. When she was just four years old, Bowen was her­self di­ag­nosed with can­cer of the kid­neys, and given the same two-week prog­no­sis. She would ul­ti­mately spend the next three years in and out of Syd­ney hos­pi­tals.

‘Love Steps In’ is a fam­ily af­fair in more ways than one, since it was co-writ­ten by Bowen’s fi­ancé Bran­don Robert Young (along with their friend Justin Halpin), who knew his beloved was strug­gling to put her brother’s ex­pe­ri­ence into words.

“I knew I had to sing it,” Bowen tells Stel­lar. “It was so spe­cial. We sang it all over the world – from Glas­gow to Alabama – and brought it to Aus­tralia, where it took on a life of its own. I love that the song is not just for my fam­ily any­more. It’s for ev­ery­body.”

Timothy’s can­cer went into re­mis­sion in March 2016. “He’s beaten the odds,” Bowen says. “He got through chemo with fly­ing colours and knows ex­actly how lucky he is.” That song has now taken on a new mean­ing. “Now,” she says, “I get to sing it smil­ing. It was pretty rough last time with what my brother was deal­ing with. It’s [now] a joy that I have to share.”

Aus­tralians some­times scoff at the idea of mu­sic as “heal­ing”, but Bowen is a be­liever. She says it’s “the rea­son I’m still here. I was given two weeks to live. My par­ents pushed and pushed and pushed for things to hap­pen that usu­ally didn’t through­out my treat­ment. Get­ting peo­ple to talk about dif­fi­cult things is a big part of my show. Singing that song is like be­ing able to put your arms around ev­ery­one in the world at the same time.” A RE­FUSAL TO give up seems to be a re­cur­ring theme in Bowen’s life. When US net­work ABC can­celled Nashville last year af­ter rat­ings dropped, the show’s fans – known as “Nashies” – ex­er­cised peo­ple power. A pe­ti­tion se­cured close to 200,000 sig­na­tures and a bid­ding war erupted between net­works keen to give the show a sec­ond chance. It ul­ti­mately moved to a new chan­nel, and was re­cently re­newed for a sixth season.

“The Nashies went crazy,” Bowen says. “They did more than I ex­pected. When you hug some­one who comes to the Nashville con­certs” – the show’s prin­ci­pals reg­u­larly head out on tour to­gether – “you’re hug­ging some­one who brought the show back.”

Bowen re­turns to Aus­tralia for an­other solo tour next month; it will give her a re­prieve from film­ing du­ties on Nashville and al­low her to plan her wed­ding to Young later this year. As with most of what’s tran­spired in her life, she sounds ex­cited – if sur­prised – to be in this place.

“I never wanted to get mar­ried be­fore I met Bran­don,” Bowen ad­mits. “It was not one of my life goals, but he ru­ined every­thing in that depart­ment. I get to choose a song to dance with my dad to, de­sign my dress with my mum, all that stuff I never thought about un­til I met him. I can’t wait.”

Clare Bowen’s tour starts in Ade­laide on July 3; clare­bowenof­fi­cial.com/shows.

“I was given two weeks to live… Get­ting peo­ple to talk about dif­fi­cult things is a part of my show”

SOUTH­ERN COM­FORT (clock­wise from top left) Clare Bowen per­forms Nashville.

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