Delta Goodrem on cancer, losing her speech and coming out stronger

Delta Goodrem has lived quite a life in her 36 years.

The Australian pop singer signed a record deal with Sony aged just 15. The next year she made her debut in Neighbours – a rite of passage for Aussie stars – as wide-eyed schoolgirl and aspiring singer Nina Tucker, winning a Logie for best newcomer. But by 18 she was in hospital, battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of white blood cell cancer, and all her projects were on hold.

That was nearly two decades ago, but Ms Goodrem has decided to revisit that period, and other similarly formative and challenging times in her life, on her new album. “Everything that’s ever happened has given me a new depth, a new colour to the rainbow, as I say to people,” she says.

“You find another depth within you and I think that comes [with] involving your heart and soul. And that’s what this record is for me. It’s one of those moments when you go, ‘I wanted to be more literal in my writing.'”

After a sharp laugh, she adds: “I’m very Aussie. I get on with it and move on.”

Bridge Over Troubled Dreams, her seventh album, came shortly after another trauma. Ms Goodrem faced complications while having her salivary gland removed in 2018, which led to the paralysis of a nerve in her tongue – a time she describes as “tongue-gate”. She had to relearn how to speak, then sing, through rigorous rehabilitation and speech training. “Anybody who is in the middle of going through a challenge, whether you’re in a cancer fight, whether you’ve gone through something traumatic, there’s many different phases and different moments you’re going to feel.

“It’s a step-by-step process. It’s the first realisation. Then it’s the journey of, ‘Okay, this is happening’.”

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Ms Goodrem, however, has managed to transform trauma into triumph. “It really was a reset moment in my life,” she recalls. “It happened just before the whole world went into this moment of reset.” She has written an album track about the ordeal. “The song Paralyzed really was the starting point,” she says. “I had this feeling in my heart, I just wanted to tell stories, go back into a place where it was a ‘check-in’ moment, where you look at your life and you go …”

She pauses. “It really was a quiet moment. After losing my speech, I had a quiet moment. Just listening, watching, taking a moment and going, ‘Okay, how did we get here? What’s happened to get to this point?'”

The album is accompanied by a book, published by Simon & Schuster, that features the stories behind the songs, plus lyrics and pictures. “The album and the book are really one,” she explains. “It was going back to the very, very start. Going back to the basics with the music and the piano and then saying, ‘Okay, let’s talk about the birth and starting out’. Even though I’d never felt like that was my story to tell, I felt like it was my parents’. As I started to go back to the start, I realised there are so many more stories I’d never shared with anybody.”

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She is referring to 1984 when her mother was involved in a serious car accident while pregnant, resulting in Ms Goodrem being born nearly two months premature. “I’ve got faith in the front seat and hope by my side,” she sings on the track Crash.

Dear Elton, a public thank you to Sir Elton John for offering support during her cancer treatment, is another poignant moment on the album. When she was in hospital, he sent flowers and so she has written a song, complete with Rocket Man references galore, in return. “When I got diagnosed with cancer when I was 18, obviously, I had just broken through in the UK, my album was number two on the chart that week, I remember. Then a different course happened and he reached out and sent a beautiful orchid and he touched base. I always thought of that as just one of the most amazing things. Just to take the time, and it was so incredible, and I see what he does for all artists …

“He continually supports all young artists around the world and I was so grateful and so overwhelmed. On the first day of chemotherapy, I got a call from him. My mum came down and I had just had my first round and he said: ‘On behalf of all of us, we are thinking of you.’ I was like, ‘Thank you so much!'”

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Ms Goodrem was a fixture of British pop culture during the early 2000s. Her 2003 debut album, Innocent Eyes, went to number two and she was a regular at award shows, dating former Westlife star Brian McFadden and becoming a pop power couple. And while she has never since matched those heights commercially in the UK, every one of her albums has peaked at number one or two in Australia. Ms Goodrem is an excitable yet thoughtful talker, and it is only a question about being famous that gives her pause. “I’ve always said it’s not better, it’s not worse …

“Actually, I know what to say,” she adds after a moment of thought. “I actually took it as a great responsibility from a young age. I took on the role of understanding that you are a model in certain contexts. I have always tried my very best, and continue to along the way, so you can give out a good message, a positive message. And I really abide by that, wanting to uplift people through music, but also I always had that drive.

“Like starting my foundation last year (which raises money for blood cancer research). There’s a real drive in me always. What good is it if you can’t do something good with it?”

Are you a Delta fan? Have you followed her journey over the years? Have your say in the comments section below.

Bridge Over Troubled Dreams by Delta Goodrem is out now.

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