When Natalie Imbruglia’s hit single Torn topped charts around the world she seemed to be the golden girl who could do no wrong.
She’d made an apparently effortless transition from TV fame in Aussie soap Neighbours to become a million-selling pop star with platinum awards all around the world.
Natalie had fame, fortune and a striking beauty that won her high-profile admirers such as Prince Harry and Lenny Kravitz.
But today she reveals that at the height of her fame 18 years ago she was actually suffering from crippling anxiety and a form of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) that made her scared to leave the house.
“I was anxious, nervous, stressed out and scared. I didn’t want to go outside in case people recognised me,” she says.
“It nearly sent me insane. I felt I had to live up to Torn. I didn’t write it, but I was a part of the reason it was so successful.
“I felt so much pressure to live up to those expectations, then I was expected to top it. That was really hard for me.”
She felt so crushed by the pressure that as she toured the world to promote her music she blanked everything out.
“I was so busy being scared I never took time to see places and enjoy it. I was scared of losing my voice or being recognised.
“I always took myself too seriously and could never really relax. It’s a perfectionist trait. I look back and think I should have just had more fun.
“I was too busy worrying about everything being perfect around me.”
It wasn’t a problem that went away overnight, but since turning 40 in February Natalie feels more content than before. She released a new album this summer, is working on another, and has a tour with Simply Red lined up.
And after taking five years out to retrain as an actress, she has rediscovered her love of music.
“Turning 40 was a good thing for me,” she says. “I’m happier than I’ve ever been, I’m more settled and I’m not trying to be anything that I’m not.”
Raised in Sydney, Natalie joined Neighbours a month before her 17th birthday and played Beth Brennan for two years before deciding to quit and pursue a new life in London.
Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan had already taken the same path, and though it took Natalie three years to get a music career off the ground, success when it came was instant and overwhelming.
Torn, her 1997 debut single, sold a million copies in the UK and hit No 1 around the world. Her first album, Left Of The Middle, went platinum in only three weeks. But Natalie struggled to cope.
She explains: “I have OCD, which can be a problem because I’m not good with change. My motto is ‘No Surprises’. It’s an OCD from my mother. It is hard. In trying to control things it doesn’t work.
“I spent too long trying to please people,” she says. “My past record label made lots of stupid decisions, too many to mention.
“If I’m difficult, too bad. It’s hard being a strong woman in the music industry and having an opinion because you are labelled difficult.
“But every time I’ve not followed my intuition and tried to please other people it has gone wrong, so what do you do?
“Ultimately I would prefer to trust my instinct and stick my heels in. It was a bit late to be worried about being branded a diva – but I don’t think I’ve always made the best decisions for my career.
“There was a big cosmetics company, not the one I ended up being the face of, that I turned down because I didn’t feel authentic.
“It was a crazy decision. I was naive. I was just a kid and wanted to be authentic.
“I turned down massive campaigns in Japan as well, which I look back at and think they would have been so lucrative.”
Along the way her five-year marriage to Daniel Johns, former singer with rock band Silverchair, was falling apart and they divorced in 2008.
A huge and controversial star in Australia, Daniel was known for outspoken comments about animal rights, experimenting with drugs and he suffered from depression and anorexia.
Nat says the divorce and her increasing dislike of being judged on her appearance both took their toll.
“I was going through some sort of body dysmorphia and it wasn’t good. There was always so much focus on the way I looked,” she says.
“It was pretty confusing to have people always asking about your appearance. The assumption was that I was there because of my looks.”
She adds: “Sometimes they get you on a bad day and that’s unfortunate. But now I don’t even notice any more.”
In fact, now she’s in her 40s she glad she won’t be offered the same kind of eye-candy roles as before.
“You certainly won’t be catching me in a bikini as a Bond girl,” she chuckles. “I haven’t got the confidence to do that. I used to hate getting offered sexy-girl roles. I always wished I was older so I didn’t get them any more.”
But her petite beauty has always attracted admirers and after her marriage split, Prince Harry’s appearance as guest of honour at her 34th birthday party set tongues wagging about a royal romance.
There was her brief fling with American rocker Lenny Kravitz, too, and she dated David Schwimmer from TV hit Friends.
Then six years ago, after a tally of two Brit Awards, six Grammy nominations and six million albums sold, she dropped out of the music industry and moved to Los Angeles.
She had continued acting in films over the years after a role in Rowan Atkinson’s comedy hit Johnny English in 2003, and decided to retrain as an actress.
She regards it as one of the best things she’s ever done.
Nat explains: “I had done Australian X Factor for a year and wasn’t really enjoying music any more.
“So I took an extended break and then realised how much I missed it. I virtually didn’t sing apart from in the shower for about five years.
“Music is a strange thing – if you aren’t feeling it you can’t force it. I just needed a break and it took courage to do that – and luckily I could afford to do it.
Now her fifth studio album, called Male, is out and she’s started recording the sixth. Her Simply Red tour starts over Christmas.
“I remember meeting Mick Hucknall when I was a teenager in Neighbours and he was touring Australia. So to think I’ll now be supporting him in arenas is incredible,” she says.
Meanwhile, offers of more work are coming in thick and fast.
“I’ve said no to a lot of reality shows. Financially it may have been silly but it just doesn’t feel right in my gut,” she says.
“But I’m still in touch with the girls that were in my group on the Australian X Factor and I care about them.
“The opportunity hasn’t come around again but I’m not opposed to it.
“I love The Voice too. I think Kylie was fantastic on it. I’m fully booked until Christmas but of course I’d be interested. I think they are both great shows.”
Though they weren’t in Neighbours at the same time, Kylie Minogue, 47, has been a good support over the years.
“She and I have been friends for a long, long time, ” she says. “Us Aussies stick together. We are just like any other girlfriends on holiday – all subjects covered, put it that way.
“Kylie would be someone I wouldgo to for advice on a long career. She’s much more savvy.”
For someone who’s achieved a lot, it’s surprising to hear Natalie says she finds it really difficult to talk about herself.
“I once started an autobiography but I hated it,” she says. “I hated talking about myself so I had to buy back all the quotes from the journalist.
“It’s like reading your own diary back and realising how annoying you are. There’s a lot more interesting people in the world.”
That’s not a sentiment you hear too often from showbiz stars. And with that, I only want to talk to her more…