Michele Hewitson Interview: Brooke Fraser

By Michele Hewitson

Brooke Fraser says she was self-conscious when young and hasn't always found it easy being in the public eye. Photo / Natalie Slade
Brooke Fraser says she was self-conscious when young and hasn't always found it easy being in the public eye. Photo / Natalie Slade

This is what people know about Brooke Fraser: that she is a singer-songwriter who is a Christian and the daughter of former All Black Bernie Fraser.

Mostly what you'd know is that she is a nice person, a bit earnest, given to good works and talking about Jesus. You might, if you were not such a nice person yourself, think that she was sweet but a bit dull.

When she arrived at the cafe, the man behind the counter said: "Welcome back to the neighbourhood." She said, "Thank you for having me back in the neighbourhood." My not-so-nice heart sank.

There are polite responses to a friendly comment from strangers, and then there are sugar-coated responses. I hoped she wasn't going to be the interview equivalent of a Mallowpuff.

She says it's mostly lovely to be recognised but she hasn't always had an easy relationship with being well known. She has lived in Sydney since 2004 and she once said she lived parallel lives, meaning she had her musical life here and her more anonymous life in Australia.

She's back home for The Winery Tour (at different wineries around the country) and while she likes people to say hello, she says she's been enjoying catching the bus around town because people look, and then, or so she thinks, decide 'that can't be Brooke Fraser, on a bus'.

This seems unlikely. She looks unmistakably like Brooke Fraser, which is to say she is very tall and beautiful, still in a gangly, coltish way at 27, which is very endearing, and she has a great mane of dark hair.

We sat outside, in the wind, and she put up with her hair getting stuck in her lip gloss without complaint - whereas most pop stars would have had a conniption about the pictures. She said, at the end, that the pictures would be awful, but she didn't actually care a bit.

She says when she was younger she was far more self-conscious. She says now, "You have to remember I was 20 and I'd been signed when I was really young [she was 18]. It was in a relatively short space of time that my life completely changed. And I think any young woman has her insecurities ... and to be dealing with the normal stuff that 19 and 20-year-olds deal with and then all of a sudden to have to be ... Yeah, to be looked at and scrutinised."

I asked about Sex Appeal, and her relationship to having people look at her (I meant blokes) and having to be a bit hot. She said, "Oh, my God! I don't think so! Have you seen any of my early photos. Terrible!" Well, she might be a bit hot now. "Oh my God! I don't think so."

She said that anyway she's been around for so long now that she's "part of the furniture. I'm not the hot young thing".

What rot. She looks so lovely that I said, when she arrived, "Oh, you do look lovely." She said, hardly missing a beat, "And you smell lovely," which really does demonstrate how hard she tries to be a nice person; she is good at it.

She has done interviews for years now and she's learned a few things. She used to answer every question and many of the questions were about her Christianity and good works - "It depends what you mean by 'work'," she said. The result was that she could come across as too good to be true, and painfully earnest. She is much more circumspect now.

I asked whether she'd had media training. She said that this was a "clever question" and proceeded to give a much cleverer answer. She said she has had what might be called media training: a "very useful chat" last year. Through her record company? "No. I just wanted to." Through her church? "No." Who from then? "Just a wise person."

She might, I thought, have regretted her earlier openness. She says not: an emphatic "no". But then she said, carefully, that "I think things would be a lot easier if I hadn't". What would have been easier exactly? "I think in New Zealand and Australia, which are secular nations, it has never been an issue, because there is no such thing as a religious music industry, say. But in ... the United States, where Christians are [regarded as] Caucasian Republicans ... if you say the name Jesus in an interview, which I have, then ... Americans go: 'Oh, she's part of that particular machine,' which I want no part of."

But does she now mind being asked about her faith? Because it has rather come to define her. She said, 'Well, I suppose I feel it's like being asked about my marriage or being asked about my menstrual cycle. Well, actually, no. Not my menstrual cycle because I'd never talk about that! I think [talking about such personal things] should be like an iceberg. What people see should be that much, but the bulk of it should be underwater."

You can see why she might feel this - and I was very happy not to hear about her menstrual cycle - because somehow her Christianity, and the discussion of it in interviews, led to complete strangers knowing that she would not be having sex before marriage. (She married Scott Ligertwood in 2008.) It's hard to imagine that anyone would have been crass enough to ask that particular question, but apparently somebody did, and so she answered.

What an odd and intimate thing to know about a young woman: it is at least as prurient a question as asking somebody what they get up to in the bedroom. She said, "I was never like, 'Hey! Can I bring this up? Guess what I'm doing. Or not doing."' That would be a very odd thing to do. "Exactly! And I never consciously hoped to be the marketing face of that idea."

She could have just said: Mind your own business. "Yeah, and in hindsight, I probably would." She thought for a moment and said, "And now I'm at the stage where I don't mind saying 'mind your own business' to journalists. I haven't had to say that to you. Yet."

She will now not answer questions on the most peculiar of topics. On the tattooed name on the back of her neck. Is it her husband's name? "No." Does it say Jesus? "Ha, ha. No." Why was she being coy about this, of all things? "Just for the sake of it. You've been giving me a hard time and now I'm giving you a bit of a hard time!"

I asked how many children she now sponsors through World Vision - she used to go on about World Vision all the time in interviews, so I thought that was a patsy topic. She wasn't going to tell me. Why on earth not? "That's another question that I've answered that I sometimes regret."

Why? "I don't know. And at the same time if I say how many we sponsor, maybe people will be inspired to ... So I don't know if I should say or not." Surely she wasn't worried that it would sound like showing off? That was exactly what she was worried about. "I suppose I don't think you should always talk about everything that you do. Putting all of your good deeds on display ..."

Oh, well, I said, doing good was back in fashion. She gave me a look which in anyone else would have been very snippy indeed, "I wouldn't know about fashions. I'd be doing what I was doing whether it was in fashion or not." I finally managed to get her to tell me (I wanted to see how stubborn she can be) and the number is 11. She knows a family who have 30. What show-offs. "Exactly!"

I said, as a joke, that I hoped she wasn't going to do an Angelina and bring one of these kids back from her next doing-good trip. "Well!" she said, "the funny thing is ... you never know!" She may have been pulling my leg. She does like a prank; when she met her now husband, she told him she was a professional kick-boxer, and claims he believed her.

I did say: 'I was joking!" And she said, "I know but if people think I'm trying to be like Angelina, who gives a rat's arse? I can give a child a home who maybe wouldn't have one otherwise." So I think she wasn't joking, but she'd probably - although who knows? - draw the line at bringing home 11.

How stubborn is she? I thought I'd be writing about how nice she is. I did ask if she was bothered by everyone going on about her niceness because it made her sound bland, didn't she think? She said she can't worry about what people say about her, and later she asked, ever so sweetly: "So, how am I doing as an interview? Am I terribly bland?" (I had long ago abandoned the Mallowpuff idea for the one of a much more interesting lemon meringue pie.)

She is terribly stubborn. She says, by the way, that her record company has never given her any direction in the matter of talking or not talking about her faith, or tried to shape her image. They probably realised early on what it took me a while to figure out: she makes donkeys look malleable.

I asked what sort of church she went to and she said: "A great one." She goes to Hillsong Church, a Pentecostal mega-church which generates mega-money and gets the sort of news coverage that makes Destiny Church's look glowing. She got her mule face on and said she wouldn't "go to the church that I read about in the papers. If we're talking facts, I know the facts that have been reported are not accurate".

She'd earlier said she had "a personal conviction about not being involved in ... the commercialisation of what is sacred to me". The church has a shop, of course. She said, "Next. Is there a question in there?" There was: about the commercialisation of what is sacred.

She said, "This can be the last thing we say about it: the difference is that the money from worship albums is not going to line anybody's pockets. It's going back into the work that the church does." Some of which is controversial, I said, but she wasn't going to say another word. Well, she said one. It was: "Ha!" and that was the end of that.

I later asked where she is on creationism. She said, "I'm a big fan of dinosaurs."

I said: "So you're a fan of evolution?" She said, smiling sweetly like the nice girl you always read about: "Mind your own business, Michele."

- NZ Herald

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