Delta Goodrem in a shoot for Sunday Life. Photo: Jennifer Soo
Delta Goodrem turned 29 last weekend. Young, rich, beautiful, dressed by A-list designers and living the high life in Hollywood, the superstar songstress is, by her own assessment and that of her closest friends, the happiest she's ever been. And, for the record, there's something she wants to make loud and sparklingly clear before we go any further: no matter what you hear, no matter what you read elsewhere, Delta Goodrem is very much the single lady right now. And loving it.
"I'm dating," she announces, amid one of her regular uncontrollable fits of laughter. "I'm going to try to see people, but it doesn't mean that if you see a picture of me with somebody that I'm with them. I'm affectionate; I'm a koala bear. I hope people understand that I'm just like any other 29-year-old who's trying to work out what's right for her."
When at home in Los Angeles, Goodrem is in the constant company of a tight-knit clique of mostly fellow Australians – artists and entertainers who, like herself, are working on solidifying their place in American show business. She calls these friends "family", her "guardian angels". It's like the latest incarnation of the legendary LA-based "gumleaf mafia" of the 1970s led by Olivia Newton-John – a one-time idol of Goodrem's, now a confidante.
Delta Goodrem through the years
Delta Goodrem signs autographs for her fans. Photo: Getty Images
She is very much the focal point of the new mafia and her home is its headquarters. Her friends call it the House of Oz, her mini-mansion way up in the Hollywood Hills. The singer calls it her sanctuary, the core of both her private and professional universe. "I've lived in several cities around the world," says Goodrem, who grew up in the quiet and leafy hills district in Sydney's north-west, "but it wasn't until I moved to Los Angeles and bought my house [in 2010] that I found my home again."
Purchased for a reported $US3.1 million, "home" is a slice of prime real estate. Rows of floor-to-ceiling windows give almost every room panoramic views of Los Angeles below. Occupying pride of place just inside the grand marble entrance, in a glass-encased semi-rotunda, is her most prized possession, a baby grand piano. Its placement isn't only for visual impact – it's also the building's acoustic sweet spot.
Two of Goodrem's closest friends share the house. There's "soul sister", Renee Bargh, the former Foxtel presenter who now co-hosts NBC's entertainment show Extra, and music producer and songwriter Vince Pizzinga, the long-time musical collaborator she describes as "the most beautiful man in the world".
The softly-spoken Pizzinga helped co-write one of Goodrem's biggest hits, the title track of her 2003 debut album, Innocent Eyes. He says life in LA gives Goodrem a freedom she can't always get back in Australia. "There's a comparative level of anonymity for her here. There are still photographers parked outside the house every other day, but there's not universal recognition like there is in Australia. She basically gets to have a semi-normal existence, which is very freeing for her. It's not an easy thing to be constantly scrutinised and recognised. She can go to the supermarket here relatively unscathed."
Renee Bargh describes the trio's living environment as a little oasis. "It's got a really safe vibe," she says. "It really does feel like family – it's such a long time since I felt that. We go home and debrief on our days, and Vince will cook an amazing meal and we'll all talk and laugh."
BRW magazine recently estimated Goodrem's earnings for the past year at $1 million. The Hollywood home stands as a testament to all of Goodrem's material successes so far (six million albums sold worldwide; a star of The Voice, one of the highest-rating television shows in Australia for the past two years), as well as her relentless determination to fulfil her ultimate ambition – cracking the US market. And that lifelong dream might finally be within reach. She is currently in the throes of writing and recording her fifth studio album, her first fully-fledged American release, due out next year.
It's not that Goodrem has gone completely unnoticed since moving to the US. In 2011, she received praise when an estimated 21 million people watched her perform as a last-moment stand-in for a sick Adele on America's Dancing with the Stars. Then there was her short-lived romance with teen heart-throb Nick Jonas (shock-horror – almost eight years her junior), which brought her into the viewfinders of LA's paparazzi. But more significantly, Goodrem is now represented in the US by Irving Azoff, the man Billboard magazine recently called the most powerful person in the American music industry. Azoff's talent agency also represents megastars such as Christina Aguilera.
"I think we have some very powerful moments coming up," Goodrem says. "I want to make the album of my life in the next few months. I've built up a fantastic team over the years and we've got wonderful things in the pipeline. I've got patience and I believe in timing."
While her life in the US is all about the future, back here in Australia, for the moment at least, the focus is back on a chapter from her past. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the release of her record-breaking debut album, Innocent Eyes. "These 10 years feel like 20," she notes, wryly. Her record label is commemorating the milestone by releasing a 10th anniversary edition of the album, which has sold 1.2 million copies in Australia and over four million worldwide.
Innocent Eyes remains the commercial high point of both Goodrem's career and the Australian music industry as a whole: no album released since, by any musical act, local or international, has sold more copies in Australia. Add to that an unprecedented five straight no. 1 singles from the same record, a multi-platinum string of sweet and soaring adolescent anthems – Born to Try, Lost without You, Innocent Eyes, Not Me, Not I and Predictable.
Goodrem was only 17 when she wrote and recorded the bulk of the album. She was working on Neighbours during the day, then heading off to the recording studio at night and flying overseas on weekends to meet international producers and record labels.
A prodigious pianist and gifted vocalist, she was looking forward to performing concerts for the first time. Then, in the middle of 2003, while Innocent Eyes maintained its stranglehold on the top of the Australian charts and in the same week it debuted at No. 2 on the UK charts, came the dark twist – the super-fit, sports-loving 18-year-old was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. There was an outpouring of public support.
"What an extraordinary year," she reflects now. "Six months of this extraordinary high, bringing to life what I'd been envisioning since I was born, and then to go into the world of oncologists and haematologists. It took a long time to put the pieces back together after that. Physically I looked different – I wasn't the long-haired, piano-playing person. My identity was different, my feelings about everything, it was a totally different world after that. And it took me a long while to recover – I was on antibiotics for years."
She spent the rest of that year locked away in her family home, only emerging in public to attend the ARIA Awards, where she collected seven trophies, including best female artist. By the start of 2004, she was well enough to step out occasionally and began an unlikely relationship with tennis star Mark Philippoussis. It was a romance made in tabloid heaven, ending a few months later amid claims from Paris Hilton that she was having an affair with The Scud.
"Oh God!" she screams when reminded of all this, collapsing in laughter. "Oh yeah! That's right! I forgot about that. It's comical. It's going to be great for the movie one day!"
Then, in a more serious tone, she adds, "I don't remember a whole lot in that chapter. I remember tiny things. I was still recovering. I would say that I was just a young girl trying to get back into the world. I think I just wanted to love somebody. I had a great family growing up and I think I was just looking for a relationship after everything I went through. Because then, obviously, I ended up in one after that."
Towards the end of 2004, Goodrem released her second album, Mistaken Identity, featuring the duet Almost Here with Brian McFadden, the young Irish singer from boy band Westlife. Almost Here was a hit across Europe and Goodrem and McFadden, who'd recently split from both his wife and band, became a couple. It was very much a case of opposites attract: McFadden the loud, roguish, hard-drinking party animal; Goodrem for many years a teetotaller (nowadays she'll indulge in the occasional glass of wine).
During their first few years together, the couple lived in various cities across the globe, buying a house together in London, having stints in New York and Los Angeles, before finally settling back in Sydney. Theirs was a feisty, often fractious relationship. They were engaged for years, but never came close to locking down a date for the wedding. McFadden accompanied Goodrem to LA in 2010 but, soon after, it all came unstuck.
Goodrem did her share of venting about the seven-year relationship on her most recent album, last year's Child of the Universe, but has now consigned that part of her life to the distant past. "I'm not going to negate that we had wonderful times when we met and I learnt a lot," she says. "We had a chapter and we did fall madly in love at that time. It wasn't all bad, and it wasn't all good in the end."
In the past decade, Goodrem has learnt to be tough. During her years with McFadden, the British press had portrayed her as a home-wrecker. "I'm pretty sure I got voted the most hated woman in Britain one year," she laughs. "I've been voted the most loved and the most hated at different times."
And she became a target of internet vitriol during her coaching role on The Voice. "I felt like no matter what I did on the first season, I was always going to get that. I earned my stripes to sit there. I don't need to explain my musical past but I just had to put my head down and do the best thing I could for my artists and trust that people would see that in the end."
Now, single and focused on her career, she has the strength to know that she can outlast the knockers and the naysayers, the critics and the haters. The events of the past decade – the cancer, the sudden fame, the relationship breakups – have proved that she is, above all else, a survivor. "I've always just put my head down and been patient," she says. "I know that in the end, in my heart, my intentions are right and people will see that eventually. Even though it really hurts, I also always know it will pass."
- Sunday Life
Photographer: Trevor King; fashion editor: Penny McCarthy; hair: Richard Kavanagh; make-up: Noni Smith; fashion assistant: Jacqui Brady-Chapman.
Lead-in image: Delta wears Ellery vest and trousers; Petite Grand earrings and gold stack rings; Pink Lou Lou bracelet and rings; Kirstin Ash bracelets.