“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
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.