Success, money and Christianity have made life better for singer who has left his violent past behind and embraces life with total optimism.

What a lot we seem to know about Stan Walker. That he won Australian Idol; is a judge on The X Factor; had a ghastly, violent childhood, bashed by his drug-dealer father and sexually abused by a relative; became, predictably, a troubled, thieving young thing; found God and wham!, became a clean-living, born-again good Christian boy and is now a professional, full-time singer. And he's only 24. He seems, perhaps not too surprisingly, terribly grown up. "I'd like to think I'm growing up. That I'll keep growing up!" He is also (and much too much on this later; I should have known better than to have asked) a born-again virgin. He once said: "I don't sell sex."

We were sitting in the recording studio at Sony, which is his record company - "Most people hate their labels; I love mine!" - looking at the cover of his new CD, Truth & Soul, an album of soul covers, an idea from his record company which he hated. He wants to write his own songs and he is, but slowly, because "I'm a bit pedantic and precious about my stuff." So, an idea about an album of covers came up because record companies like their artists to actually release stuff, and "I was, like, hell no! I'm an artist! I write my stuff!"

But he loves these songs - Try a Little Tenderness, A Change is Gonna Come, Ain't Too Proud To Beg, for a sample - and he is always putting covers on his Facebook page, "just for fun", with his mates and so he thought, oh, what the hell, and he got his mates in on it too, just for fun. And then he started thinking: "This is a great idea. This is my idea! I've just had this great idea! Hard out!"

Trust him to turn around an idea he hated, embrace it, and then announce it as his own. He's not just, and amazingly, given that childhood of his, an optimist; he's an uber-optimist.


He said: "I think people think I'm complicated, but I'm quite simple. I like simple things."

Some things I'm pretty sure I didn't know about Stan Walker are that he's very funny, very smart; articulate and thoughtful. And he looks pretty hot on his new album cover. I made him look at it and he said: "Yeah. He's pretty handsome! Nah! I don't know" Actually, he looks beautiful which of course he baulked at, not because he thought it girly. "No. I use beautiful all the time. But I wouldn't call myself beautiful." He claims to be vain - "I'm vain! Don't get me wrong! I want to look good on camera!" - but not that vain then. He might be selling sexiness, if not, you know, actual sex. He said: "I'm definitely not selling sex. I'm not really selling anything. I'm just being me."

He said, about the album cover: 'Well, that's Stan Walker. This is Roto. That's my middle name and that's what my family call me." Roto (which means In, in Maori) is him in his casual street gear and Nike sandals and his specs and his budget bling - which is not bling at all but "budget" earrings because he's allergic to silver. You can tell they're cheap, he said, helpfully pointing out that they'd gone a kacky sort of green. He looks, I said, glossier than he did a few years ago - which is that odd thing that happens to people when they become celebrities. He's had his teeth done. "You have to look good. I should have got a big American smile, eh?" He could get a mouth full of diamonds. "I might. I'll get a grill!" But, seriously: "I do it for myself. I've learned to take better care of myself." The teeth weren't vanity. His were awful and rotten; the teeth of poverty. He said, about the surface glossiness: "I'm a hori, you know, to the core. I'm hori and I'm rugged but when I do shows ... I have to be at a level that people aspire to be like me and are inspired by me."

He's on a diet. "So that when I dance and sing I can breathe. Ha, ha." He loves "everything that's bad. I love takeaways. I love lollies. I love icecream". He has won a fair few eating competitions (he's competitive at everything; if you went for a walk with him, it'd be a competitive one) and once ate so much icecream, so quickly, in an eating competition, that he froze the entire roof of his mouth off. He won, which is the main thing.

Anyway, fat wouldn't be sexy. There is an idea that Christianity is not sexy. "Yeah. I think people get it so wrong. For every different group or belief, there are bad role models. There are bad humans but that doesn't say that all humans are bad. I don't like dogs because I've been bitten by every single dog that's come my way. But I love my dog and I know she can't hurt nobody. She's a bulldog. She's a pussy. She thinks she's a blimmin cat!" The dog's name is Kotiro (which means girl) and she lives with his parents in Melbourne. I hadn't yet got used to his flights of fancy, so I was thinking: What's the blimmin dog got to do Christianity, or sex, for that matter? I think he mostly wanted to talk about his dog, who he misses, because he lives in Sydney when he's not here for The X Factor. He's a good, and sometimes whimsical, story teller which makes him a delightful and surprising interview. He also has a cosy sort of charisma which is likely why his fans are of all ages, from little kids to teenyboppers and old ladies, like me.

He likes a homily (his life thus far is a sort of homily) but he is no a moraliser. He said, about Christians who think homosexuality is a sin: "A lot of Christians like to say: 'Oh, we love you but we just hate what you do.' Who the hell do they think they are? That's not real love. You know, there's a lot of bad examples of Christians. Just because you say you're a Christian ... It's just like standing in a garage ain't going to make you a car. Going to church ain't going to make you a Christian, just because you've been doing it for twenty years."

He believes in forgiving people, which is what you'd hope for, in a Christian. But I think he is innately kind. We had to do The X Factor scandal of course. But what I wanted to know was what he thought of his fellow judges, Natalia Kills and Willy Moon before all of that nonsense. He said: "I actually started becoming really good friends with Willy ... I actually feel sorry for them because whatever is happening in their lives ... I don't really know them that well but what I do know ... is that they're lovely people but they are struggling between a place of real, and fame. Which is really sad."

He has had his own struggles with his fame, but not with the reality, or otherwise, of it. "For me, what fame I've experienced is 95 per cent sacrifice, sleepless nights and loneliness." Oh, give it all up then, I said. He said: "No. Because that other 5 per cent, when I'm on stage and I get to sing for my fans or when that mother comes up to me and says: 'You've changed my son's life and he didn't kill himself because of you ... All the other stuff is necessary to get to that 5 per cent."

He is a worrier and he used to worry that his success would one day disappear. So he works harder than anyone to make sure it doesn't. He seems a happy, optimistic person and he is, but of course he wasn't always and still isn't always. He said: "I'm a happy person but I'm a very deep, serious person and I get stressed. I get stressed really easy." By what? "By life!"

I asked if he was making any money and he said, incredulously: "I'm definitely making money! Ha, ha! Yeah." He said that people are funny about talking about money. He likes talking about money and you can see why he might. He said: "You know, my goal, when I got money, I always said to myself: 'One day I'm going to buy clothes', cos I never had clothes. I always got hand-me-downs. [There are two older brothers and a younger brother and sister.] And once every, like, six months, we'd have Coco Pops. We were brought up on Weetbix and so I was like: 'I want to buy Nutri-Grain!' This sounds so stupid, but even as a kid those things meant a lot to me. That was flash because we never had it."

One of the first things he did with his money was buy a house on the Gold Coast. "I didn't realise until after I bought it that it was my dream house. This is definitely not a brag." His dream house had five bedrooms, two lounges and a pool. It was like the brand new, posh houses he used to break into as a kid, not to steal, although he used to steal from other places.

"This is going to sound funny, but I used to walk around the houses, walk around the rich areas and look at the cars.

"It was like a dream. I was this random weird kid." It doesn't sound funny. It sounds heartbreaking. It's definitely not a brag, but who could mind if it was?

Once he got the house he filled it with people: His parents, assorted siblings and their kids, an auntie, a cousin - and his dog. I lost count at twelve. All those people, and the dog, mucking up his dream house! "No, that's all right. Nothing makes me happier than walking into a loud house, where the kids are screaming and fighting, and mum's yelling at my brother and my sister is getting smart to my brother ... and the dog's barking and one of the kids is tackling the dog. I just love that. The house is just the shell."

He hates living in the hotel alone and so his mates and his girlfriend come and stay and they all sleep in the lounge, which rather does away with romance - and just as well, given the born-again virginity, I said. He said, about the no sex before marriage: "Don't get me wrong. There's not a day I don't think about it." Yes, all right. That's quite enough of that, I said, because there was only one prude in the room and it wasn't him. So I really shouldn't have asked, a bit later, why it was so important to him but I did and it is: Because the Bible says that "you should hold yourself before marriage ... Okay, it's not saying you'll be condemned to death or that you're going to Hell but I want to know what it feels like. I don't know if I can. I'm a young man! I've got my needs!"

At which point I said, that really was enough. I was off. He said, laughing, as I packed up in a fluster: "You can ask me anything!" I fear this is true, but other than that, he's just a darling (if a bit of a naughty one.).