The platinum-selling artist Natalie Imbruglia is a woman of many talents. From being introduced to the world through ‘Neighbours’, Imbruglia left our shores to pursue a career in London. This transformative move catapulted her into the world of indie-music fame, an ongoing dalliance with the theatre, and a successful skincare line. Her real passion however, lies within the world she inhabits “outside of work”. When Imbruglia was named as an ambassador for Virgin Unite and threw her influence behind bringing attention to obstetric fistula, she found solace in altruistic ventures . Since then, the grammy-award nominee, has campaigned tirelessly to eradicate the preventable condition.
How did this project come about? Have you done anything like this before?
I was interested in the idea of the female take on male songs. As I was originally collecting all of my favourite artists and looking at what to do, I found it much more intimidating trying to cover some of my favourite female artists. I don’t know if it’s because they were from such poignant moments in my life and it’s was almost too scary to touch them? But male artists, it didn’t feel like I was directly confronting that, it just felt like a different interpretation some how. It was more… fun and more interesting.
How did you go about selecting these songs?
I had a massive list – my managers had a list and my producers had a list. We whittled it down once we realised that we just wanted to do male artists, then it got a lot easier.
Then it came down to what I wanted to say at the time, where my head was at, what I wanted to communicate. Because I’m very lyrically driven, the emotional story behind the song is very much what guided my song choice – the themes and everything involved. So I picked stuff that was interesting to me at the time.
They’re all quite different from the originals, you’ve definitely taken them and made them your own, Was that the aim of covering these songs? To reinvent them?
I wanted to do my own spin on things, I wanted it to be very organic and to not have any electronic sounds- that was the main goal for my producer. We kept it very classic, clean and vocally driven. I didn’t want the production to take over. I wanted it to be about the vocals.
With songs like ‘Instant Crush’, it was just discovering the message underneath. Julian Casablancas, who I love, sang it beautifully but I wanted to do a version where the experience of reading the lyrics, and discovering their meaning, translated to what we were left with.
For the past couple of years you’ve been focussing on acting. How did it feel to go back?
I went to L.A to study with Ivana Chubbuck and it was really scary at first because I was doing privates with her and she told me I had to go to group class.
So I had to get up in front of thirty or so actors. I was terrified, but getting past yourself is such an important test for any actor.
I made some really incredible friendships from doing that. It was such a supportive environment to experiment and take notes from Ivana and learn, and really hone in on her method.
For someone who is a musician and who is expressive like that, it’s really the best way to learn. You use your personal life, things that you’ve been through – to work through your character. I find that fun and interesting and very empowering actually! It’s not that different with my songwriting, a lot of those principals apply so yeah it was good fun!
I think it’s healthy as an artist to have different means of expression – it keeps your main passion fresh.
Talk to me about your altruistic ventures. You are the global ambassador for ending Obstetric Fistula and Virgin Unite.
I guess when I heard about it, in 2005 from Richard Branson, I didn’t know what it was. It’s been an interesting journey. So I’ve been campaigning and just trying to keep a spotlight on the issue – raising awareness and funds. I ran a marathon with Richard to raise money for Virgin Unite – some of which went to fistula.
I just spoke last week at the world health assembly, just before the ‘Day to End Obstetric Fistula’ and was on a panel with some incredible people – one of which was Catherine Hamlin who is like Australia’s Mother Theresa. She has done more for people with fistula than anyone else on the planet. She is tirelessly campaigning. She has dedicated her whole life to these women and their fight by making sure they had access to medical care. She has built the most incredible hospital which caters to everything from the nurses to physiotherapists. She has truly given these women everything they could hope for and helped them reintegrate into society.
So for me, I wish I could do more – I don’t feel like I do enough. Whenever there’s an opportunity for me to be used in that way, to draw attention to this issue – I will always take it. There’s an event this week that I’m going to, where a woman I met on a health retreat is selling some portraits to raise money for Catherine Hamlin’s hospital so Im going to go down and support that. I just do what I can. I’m at a turning point with this issue where, we can keep bandaging the problem but we really should be eradicating it. There’s no reason why this should still be happening. It really should be coming from a government level. We need funding high up, so my job is to keep the pressure on.
There’s a lot of factors like poverty, inaccessibility – it”s just that it’s not high on the governments’ agenda. Then these horrendous emergencies occur, like Ebola, and the issue gets worse and more cases occur. It’s making sure that the issue doesn’t get forgotten and there’s accountability – It’s brought to people’s attention.
How long have you been working with these organisations?
Since 2005. There’s grass roots organisations like ‘Healing Hands of Joy‘ that do amazing work in Ethiopia. They do great work in training up ‘Safety’ ambassadors. It’s really about helping these women empower themselves through education and support. They train up women who have been treated for fistula and give them the opportunity to go forward and take their training to help other women just like them. So there really needs to be more government funding pumped into grass roots organisations like ‘Healing Hands of Joy’.
There’s so many worthy causes. It’s about picking something you’re really passionate about and sticking to it. Once you’ve met these women, you really get motivated to stick with it.
Do you have any experiences that resonate with you during your time with these women?
My last field trip in Ethiopia, I met a woman who had had fistula for 40 years. Because of the Safe Motherhood Ambassador program that HHOJ is running – one of the women that had been trained to go back to her community, had convinced this woman to come forward and get treatment. Up until that point, this poor woman had been too scared to come forward because she didn’t have the knowledge or education to know that if she came forward, she could have the surgery to get it fixed. A lot of these women are scared of hospitals, Now this woman, all because of this program, will be dry for the first time in 40 years. So as you can see, it is so important to educate and keep working for proper training and awareness of this cause. The work they do is amazing, and any money donated really does go straight to the women.
Her latest album ‘Male’ is on sale now.