“My pri­or­i­ties are in the right or­der”

Things are com­ing full cir­cle for Natalie Bass­ingth­waighte on fronts pro­fes­sional and per­sonal. But get­ting here, she tells Stel­lar, only came at the end of a tough run full of chal­lenges and changes that “just broke” her

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy DAMIAN BENNETT Styling KELLY HUME In­ter­view CAMERON ADAMS

Things are com­ing full cir­cle for Natalie Bass­ingth­waighte on fronts both pro­fes­sional and per­sonal, but it hasn’t been an easy ride. She opens up to Stel­lar about her strug­gles with men­tal health, a six-week pe­riod that “just broke” her – and com­ing out the other side smil­ing.

“My pri­or­i­ties are in the right or­der”

Oddly, Natalie Bass­ingth­waighte is grate­ful for the “break­down” that helped reboot her life. The wake-up call came in March last year, when the ac­tor and singer woke up “frozen… I couldn’t breathe or talk.” The night be­fore, Bass­ingth­waighte and a col­league had been at a func­tion dis­cussing their hec­tic work sched­ules.

“I said my life was full-on,” Bass­ingth­waighte tells Stel­lar. “She said hers was, too. We started talk­ing about our kids and she said, ‘My son hates me; I’m al­ways work­ing.’ Even though it may have been said in jest, it re­ally hit me. The next morn­ing, I couldn’t breathe. It was ter­ri­fy­ing. I was curled up in a ball. That lasted six weeks.”

Iron­i­cally, Bass­ingth­waighte had spent the pre­vi­ous year try­ing to un­com­pli­cate her ca­reer. Since her big break on­stage with an en­sem­ble role in the mu­si­cal Rent in late 1998, Bass­ingth­waighte’s am­bi­tion and hus­tle saw her con­stantly spin­ning pro­fes­sional plates.

Since then she has jug­gled act­ing work (Neigh­bours, The Wrong Girl, Un­der­belly, Brock) with talent show roles (host of So You Think You Can Dance Aus­tralia, a judge on The X Fac­tor in Aus­tralia and New Zea­land) and a pop ca­reer fronting dance band Rogue Traders, and on her own.

The mother of two – to daugh­ter Harper, eight, and son Hen­drix, six, with hus­band Cameron McGlinchey, a drum­mer and song­writer she met through Rogue Traders – also started a uni­sex chil­dren’s cloth­ing line called Chi Khi in 2015. Two years later, and af­ter a lot of soul search­ing, she ap­peared on

I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! but ad­mits she ini­tially asked cast­ing agents if it would de­stroy her ca­reer: “I thought I might not be taken se­ri­ously again.”

But it was the fluc­tu­at­ing na­ture of that cho­sen ca­reer which ul­ti­mately made up her mind. “Fi­nan­cially, it had been quiet,” she ad­mits. “In this in­dus­try peo­ple don’t talk about that enough. I know one high-pro­file ac­tor who told me he’d been liv­ing in his car. Some­times you only work three months a year. But the per­cep­tion is you’re rolling in it.

“There’s a lot of fear in this in­dus­try. There’s al­ways this façade, but ev­ery­one feels crap about them­selves some­times. I don’t even think of my­self as a celebrity; I’m a per­son who works in an in­dus­try I some­times love and some­times hate. I didn’t only do the show for money, but… you have to pay your bills.” Post-jun­gle, she says, “I came out clear. Within six weeks, I was back into old habits, go­ing like a bull at a gate again.”

There were other trig­gers. In 2014, her world was rocked by the shock death of friend and long­time agent Mark Byrne, who died of a heart at­tack at 45. Byrne had moulded her ca­reer; they had been vir­tu­ally in­sep­a­ra­ble. “Af­ter Mark passed, I was al­ways search­ing: ‘Who am I? What am I good at? What am I sup­posed to be do­ing?’ Not hav­ing that per­son to speak to five times a day has been chal­leng­ing. I was so lost.”

And yet, she bot­tled up her grief and just kept on work­ing. Un­til that morn­ing

in March. Af­ter spend­ing al­most six weeks “curled up, cry­ing”, her first so­cial en­gage­ment loomed – she was set to speak at an event. “I was so frag­ile, I didn’t even want to get out of bed, let alone talk to any­one. I hadn’t writ­ten a speech; my head was just full of neg­a­tive talk.”

On the day of the speech, an ad­vance copy of a mag­a­zine ar­rived. And she hap­pened to be on the cover, in a shot that had been taken three months prior to her break­down. “I was so joy­ous and happy on the cover, and now I had tears run­ning down my face. That was a defin­ing mo­ment for me. So, that’s how I started my speech. I said that we all think life is per­fect, and it’s not.”

Soon she started ex­plor­ing a range of al­ter­na­tive ther­a­pies in­clud­ing reiki, ki­ne­si­ol­ogy, acupunc­ture, coun­selling and en­ergy heal­ing. “I was on a mis­sion. The truth is, I was tak­ing a very small dose of an­tide­pres­sants and had done for a long time – around 20 years. Ev­ery time I tried to come off them, it didn’t work. I would get re­ally pan­icky.”

When she weaned her­self off them last year and felt fine, she thought “maybe this is the time, it’s meant to be. But it got to the point where I was tak­ing five other dif­fer­ent med­i­ca­tions to bal­ance the highs and lows. I just broke. I slowly built my­self back up. I went back on med­i­ca­tion, just a tiny bit, but it’s the thing that worked.”

Pi­lates, yoga, per­sonal train­ing and med­i­ta­tion are now in the pic­ture; of the lat­ter, she says, “I med­i­tate ev­ery day. It’s changed my life. I’m in­spired. I’m a much bet­ter mum.” And she is deal­ing with the build-up of grief that rocked her. “I hadn’t pro­cessed it, I didn’t deal with it. So in a crazy way, I’m grate­ful [the break­down] hap­pened be­cause I’m in the best place I’ve ever been. I’m more grounded. I feel more to­gether. My pri­or­i­ties are in the right or­der. I feel like this evo­lu­tion has hap­pened in me.”

On the work front, Bass­ingth­waighte is about to ex­pe­ri­ence an emo­tional evo­lu­tion that will bring her full cir­cle. Af­ter Rent two decades ago, she caught wind of au­di­tions for Chicago. “I al­most didn’t go,” she re­calls. “I was think­ing I might not be good enough, but I got the gig. I went in there with hunger and fight.”

She played the role of June, and was pro­moted to be un­der­study for the lead of Roxie Hart. But af­ter frac­tur­ing a rib in re­hearsals, she never got her chance. Bass­ingth­waighte, who calls it her “dream role”, au­di­tioned again this year for a re­vival – and got the job. “I was freak­ing out in­side,” she says. “I re­alise now I would have been way too young to play Roxie 20 years ago. I re­mem­ber I tapped on Mark Byrne’s door for six months try­ing to get him to be my agent. He kept say­ing no un­til he saw me in Chicago and went, ‘She’s go­ing to be a star.’ So I knew I had to do this show. It feels like Mark will be up there go­ing, ‘Yeah girl, you got to do it!’”

She’ll be re­united with I’m A Celebrity camp­mate Casey Dono­van and friend Alinta Chidzey in the new pro­duc­tion. On the Mel­bourne leg, Ja­son Dono­van will come home to play Billy Flynn. “I’ve never met Natalie, but I know we have Neigh­bours in com­mon,” Dono­van tells Stel­lar. “And I know she’s had a great ca­reer in mu­sic as well, which ob­vi­ously my­self and a lot of peo­ple from Neigh­bours en­joyed. I’m look­ing for­ward to work­ing with her.”

And she can ex­pect to see old friend Rodger Corser in the au­di­ence early in the show’s run. The two share a lot of his­tory: they met when they were in Rent – the first big break for both of them – and in 2004 he met his wife Re­nae Berry, who had been house­mates with Bass­ingth­waighte and worked with her in every­thing from cabaret restau­rants to that pro­duc­tion of Chicago 20 years ago.

“It’s so great for Nat to take the reins this time,” he tells Stel­lar, re­call­ing that she was the life of the party in the Rent years. “Nat’s al­ways been full of en­ergy. In the old days, she’d be the one who was mis­chievous and want­ing to kick on to the next place or go and do some ran­dom thing at 1am when the bar had shut, even though we all had to get up early the next day. My arm was eas­ily bent. She was a leader in that way.”

Bass­ingth­waighte is still the same all these years later at home, where no-one is al­lowed to watch TV, fuss with their phones or reach for de­vices first thing in the morn­ing. In­stead, they lis­ten to mu­sic. “It’s just a nicer way to wake up,” she says. “I used to roll over and look at my phone and emails in bed and start pan­ick­ing.” Now, she says, “[I get to] be with the kids and get them up and ready.” She’s even try­ing out an iPad ban dur­ing the week. “It can send them a bit psy­cho; if they’ve been on it for 30 min­utes and you take them off, they crack it. And my kids are usu­ally very calm. The thought of so­cial me­dia and my kids ter­ri­fies me.”

Bass­ingth­waighte posts the oc­ca­sional photo with her chil­dren on her In­sta­gram ac­count, against her hus­band’s wishes. “I don’t mind shar­ing them, but I also don’t want to use them. I don’t want them grow­ing up and think­ing it’s mean I put them on so­cial me­dia as kids.” Harper sings “all day ev­ery day” and has started drama lessons (“but she wants to be an in­te­rior de­signer”), while Hen­drix is ob­sessed with the legacy bands his

“I was so frag­ile, I didn’t even want to get out of bed, let alone talk to any­one”

father has in­tro­duced him to, like Beastie Boys, AC/DC and Red Hot Chili Pep­pers. “It’s al­most like she’s be­com­ing me and he’s be­com­ing his dad. There’s a lot of sim­i­lar­i­ties, which is scary to watch.”

And when she does watch tele­vi­sion with her kids, she’ll quickly change the chan­nel if ads for re­al­ity shows about dat­ing, mar­riage or quick ro­mance come on, say­ing they leave her “mor­ti­fied and em­bar­rassed”. Ear­lier this year, she was set for what she had hoped would be a good run on Net­work 10’s re­vival of the home ren­o­va­tion hit Chang­ing Rooms. It was a rat­ings dis­as­ter. “It was dis­ap­point­ing [it] didn’t work,” she says. “It’s a heart­warm­ing show, and TV is lack­ing feel-good shows. I don’t want my

“I don’t want my kids to see TV shows where women fight and have facelifts”

kids to see shows on TV where women are tear­ing each other down and fight­ing and have facelifts and filler and big fake lips. Where have the real peo­ple gone?”

Still, she will cop to a bit of hypocrisy on that front. “I do stuff,” she tells Stel­lar. “I’d be ly­ing if I said I didn’t. I’m nearly 44 and every­thing starts to go down a lit­tle bit… There are things you can do. I love how Kylie Minogue calls them ‘beauty se­crets’. I prob­a­bly over­share too much…”

And since at­tend­ing a health re­treat near the By­ron Bay hin­ter­land two years ago, she has been ob­sessed with re­lo­cat­ing her fam­ily there. “I just thought, ‘I’m sup­posed to live here,’” she says. “I want to get back to na­ture, home­school the kids. I love Mel­bourne, but I want to move where there is land, rolling hills. I want the kids to be out­side, to get a dog, to ride a horse. I want the kids to have more than this world where what you have is so im­por­tant. It’s not what you have. It’s who you are, and how you treat peo­ple.”

Chicago opens at Syd­ney’s Capi­tol The­atre on Au­gust 20 and Mel­bourne’s State The­atre on De­cem­ber 14. Tick­ets at chicagothe­mu­si­cal.com.au.

NATALIE WEARS Rachel Gil­bert dress, rachel­gilbert.com; Peter Lang ear­rings (worn through­out), pe­ter­lang.com.au; Giuseppe Zan­otti shoes, miss­louise. com.au; (op­po­site) David Koma dress, mytheresa.com

NATALIE WEARS (op­po­site) Is­abel Marant dress, mytheresa.com

(from top) Natalie Bass­ingth­waighte with hus­band Cameron McGlinchey and chil­dren Hen­drix and Harper in April; sing­ing with Rogue Traders in Mel­bourne in 2016; with cast­mates from the up­com­ing pro­duc­tion of Chicago (from left) Casey Dono­van and Alinta Chidzey.


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