Delta Goodrem breezes into the room wearing a glamorous black dress and black nail polish, bangles jangling, that famous cascading blonde hair framing one of Australia’s most famous faces. Any casual viewer of The Voice knows she’s telegenic, but up close this mega-wattage serves to reinforce the truism that some people are born to be in show business.
I’m at The Voice offices at Fox Studios in Sydney, a little bit of Hollywood in Australia, next to the Sydney Cricket Ground. I’ve walked past the long pathway that contestants nervously enter to perform, and into a boardroom to wait for Delta.
My timing is excellent: it’s the day Delta’s song Wings goes to No. 1 on the charts and The Voice’s ratings hit the stratosphere. Things are good for Australia’s sweetheart. “I’m appreciative of when the stars align,” she says.
It’s been a long journey to this point. From child star at 15 to pop stateswoman now at 30, Delta has never been satisfied with being one thing: she’s a classical pianist, singer, songwriter, performer and actor. No wonder she needs the energy she radiates. “I have a million trains of thought,” she says. “When it came to joining
The Voice it was hard to process [it all] to one train of thought and to finish it … I find I jump, I jump, I jump … I’ve had to learn how to be succinct. It wasn’t something I was natural at when I first joined the show.”
What did come naturally was the warmth she showed towards the acts she observed and mentored. “My honesty is my truth. It doesn’t mean I have to be hard about it. It’s that thing of ‘never mistake kindness for weakness’.
“I feel very strong in the way I approach my kids. They have to be as committed as I am, because I’m giving my heart and soul. I feel that I always end up having a very united team. They have to learn quickly, so I try to give them as much information as they need.”
Delta grew up in Sydney with her brother, Trent, who plays football in the South Australian National Football League (SANFL). It wasn’t a very musical household.
“Very Aussie and my brother’s very sporty,” she says. “I equate finding my own style when I was young to not being influenced by a lot of artists. I didn’t have the exposure to these artists until I got older, when I started to write my own (music).”
Success came early. She was signed to Sony records aged 15, and by 18 she had a main role in Neighbours and had released her first album.
The largely self-penned Innocent Eyes debuted at No.1 on the Australian charts in March 2003 (it reached No.2 in the UK), selling four million copies worldwide. The album would go on to break Australian records previously held by John Farnham’s Whispering Jack by staying at No.1 for 25 consecutive weeks.
The euphoria was quashed in July 2003 when Delta was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, a blood cancer.Australia, in love with the young, blonde pop sensation, rode every bump of Delta’s journey – which included intense chemotherapy and radiation treatment – to her full recovery.
She wrote her 2004 album, Mistaken Identity, about that experience and says what she went through made her stronger.
“I think that’s one moment in my life when, yeah – absolutely. I think it was another colouring to the story.”
Writing her own songs has always been part of the Delta package. Indeed, she attributes the longevity and success of her career to it. “You definitely can’t last without writing your own songs,” she says. “You have to create your own moment. It doesn’t get given to you.”
She says songwriting is her lifeblood and ties in with her curiosity about people. “I love the psychology of human nature; it’s something I love to study and that’s why I’m a songwriter. I love watching and observing and listening.”
She writes her songs at home. “My home is my happy place. I bought my home for its acoustics. I literally imagined this place. It’s a big room and I don’t put any furniture in it; it’s just a piano, a microphone, and my mum helped me build in some speakers so I could sing.”
I ask whether she subscribes to the theory that songwriters find it easier to write when they’re not thrilled with life. “I believe my best work has been when I’ve been happiest,” she says. “If I get to a place where I’ve processed what has happened, that’s normally when I write the song. It’s when I’ve just come through it and then I write it just after the cusp, when I feel I’ve dealt with that.
“I feel there are fire moments where my heart is trying to speak out and then there are moments where things are higher and come through you. It’s like trying to catch lightning in a bottle. It’s like sitting in a storm and waiting and looking and going ‘where is the lightning, I’ve got to catch it’.” She smiles. “It’s hard to catch.”
In 2003 she played the namesake in the film Hating Alison Ashley, about a beautiful girl arriving at a new school and attracting the jealous ire of a rival. I ask if there were any echoes of that in her own life – people envious or resentful of her success? “I don’t know. I don’t think about or worry what people’s projections onto me are any more. I’m older now.”
Did she once? “I’ve only ever wanted to come in and do a great job, do the best I can. Projections onto me are up to them, their own things to work through. I’m really proud of the person that I am today. My heart, my intention is to only ever bring good things, have fun and live my life to the fullest. I don’t spend time judging other people.”
She relishes her role as a coach on The Voice. “I love it. I get to be surrounded by music all day. I’ve got the best seat in the house.”
She says her fellow coach, Ricky Martin, could be a template for male charm, but she acknowledges there has been friction with another coach, British singer Jessie J. Tensions between the two over Jessie’s full-bodied assessments of performers on the show came to a head one night when Delta walked off set.
“I’m an Australian on there,” Delta says, “and these are Aussie artists. I realise we’re making a TV show, but at the same time I don’t care. I come from an artist’s point of view where I sit there going ‘they have to walk off to their families, they have to live with this for the rest of their lives’. I’m not going to let them walk off with a bad experience …It takes a lot for me to walk off set. In 15 years I’ve never snapped in front of anybody.”
Has she smoothed things out with Jessie? “I love having her as part of the show. I think she brings an incredible dynamic.”
With The Voice now wrapped up for 2016, Delta is busy rehearsing for her next role, playing Grizabella in the musical Cats, which opens in Melbourne in December. “I’m loving it,” she says.
Delta says she has two cats, but they are not much of an inspiration. “One of them doesn’t move. He just sits there. But they love music.”
After 15 years in the spotlight, I wonder whether we really know the real Delta all that well? “I’m responsible for guarding myself over the years,” she says. “I learnt how to have two lives. I learnt how to live a pubic life and then to live with my friends and do my thing.
“I think I’m actually a little bit more wild at heart, I’m actually a little bit more eccentric than I’m probably (seen) as. I just knew how to sit and be a professional in my job. That was all it was. It wasn’t as though I was trying to act as anybody else; it was just that I was being a young professional as a kid.”
Did she ever feel that being a teenage star robbed her of anything? “No. I never feel that. There are decisions – like anyone has – where I think ‘I could have done that better’. But when it comes to missing out on childhood … I managed to have a wonderful childhood.
“Music was something I always knew I would do, so it wasn’t a surprise to me. It was a part of my life since I was six or seven. It was a part of my being. It wasn’t that I said ‘oh, I want to do this’. It was just what I did.”
As I’m leaving, I mention, slightly sheepishly, that someone in my inner circle admires her enormously, especially her famously lush hair. Delta smiles and without further comment grabs my phone and films a greeting to this young person, going into some detail about the man who does her hair and how much work Delta does to ensure it looks this good. She signs off with a dazzling smile and blows a kiss. One young heart back in Melbourne beat a little harder that afternoon.
What Delta did was natural, warm, authentic, refreshingly down to earth, and it just might say more about the type of person she is than anything else.
Delta attributes her longevity in the industry to her skill at writing her own songs. So who are her songwriting heroes? Delta was born 13 years after one of her musical heroes, Carole King, released her monster album Tapestry in 1971.
The album, which won four Grammy Awards and was No. 1 on the American Billboard charts for a record-breaking 15 weeks, is a distillation of King’s songwriting talent with Will You Love Me Tomorrow?, You’ve Got a Friend, It’s Too Late, (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman and Tapestry.
Delta hadn’t been born, either, when Fleetwood Mac released its self-titled album in 1975. It featured another of her heroes, Stevie Nicks, whose Rhiannon and Landslide are on that album. “I didn’t have the exposure to these artists until I got older, when I started to write my own (music). I went ‘Oh! This is a spiritual thing that I connected to … Carole King, my heart completely went … Stevie Nicks, I discovered Stevie when I was 22.
After I’d gone through the rough health chapter, I then found Tori Amos. So I went through these different phases. You have to be exposed at the right time to influences in your life.”
… Wings by Delta Goodrem is out now.
» … Cats plays at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre from December 18. Ticketmaster 136 100, ticketmaster.com.au