ELLE is the music star of the 90s who went from the top of the charts to the bottom.
But now Natalie Imbruglia is ready to play the fame game again after resurfacing the spotlight when she was unmasked as Panda – winner of The Masked Singer over the weekend.
Next on the agenda is a new album and a UK tour, after years of songwriter blocking.
So, does it all come down to a cute, furry panda costume?
Natalie, 47, said: “Timing is everything. I felt really good and I’m a mom. I think the idea of dressing up is more appealing when you’re a mom.
“I changed, so that was probably a big motivator. Back then, you worried about what people would think, and I don’t care now. I think it’s age and wisdom, isn’t it?
“You’re just a little exhausted worrying about it, being in the public eye. But it’s nice to be somewhere where you can put on a show like this and enjoy the fun and not take yourself too seriously.
At 17, Aussie Natalie achieved great success when she joined the cast of Neighbors, then two years later quit to pursue a music career.
She impressed record labels with her demo of the song Torn, and in 1997 it became her debut single, selling over 4 million copies worldwide.
She went on to sell 10 million albums, had five UK top ten and ten top 40 singles, three top ten albums, plus two Brit Awards and three Grammy nominations.
Natalie was a pop star.
But trouble started when his label rejected his third album as too rock for radio play, then told him to record new songs with Swedish producers Bloodshy & Avant before leaving the label.
This third album, Counting Down The Days, was finally released on another label in 2005. But then she was forced to release a compilation of her ten years of music and left the second label.
Despite collaborating with Coldplay’s Chris Martin on his fourth studio album, Come To Life in 2009, it bombed in Australia and its UK and US release was cancelled.
It was then that Natalie disappeared from the public eye.
Natalie said: “I think I wasn’t having the best time of my career and I think I felt like I wasn’t good at something.
“That’s my confidence – no matter what field you work in, I don’t think success means you’ll never be insecure.
“So I just went through a period where I was like, ‘I can’t do this. I’m not good at it.” And it went on too long.”
In 2015, Natalie released Male, an album of covers of songs by male artists. But it took three years before she felt capable of recording her own music again.
She said: “It wasn’t until I went to Nashville and took a writing trip that I got over that. [insecurity] because I just thought, ‘Throw me in the deep end, give me 10 days and two sessions a day’.
“And I wrote this song called When You Love Too Much, and I was like, ‘I’m really proud of it. It’s a really good song.
“And then it was great because regaining your confidence, when you didn’t have it, is the greatest gift.
“It’s nice to have that feeling and to have a really creative shine.”
The song is at the heart of Natalie’s album Firebird, which was released in September last year but has been revamped following her success on The Masked Singer.
Along with rekindling her interest in songwriting, Natalie also fulfilled her dream of becoming a mother.
She had divorced Australian rocker Daniel Johns in 2008, but in October 2019 she surprised fans by revealing she was expecting her first child via a sperm donor.
Max Valentine is now two years old and Natalie has dedicated her time on The Masked Singer to her toddler.
That’s my confidence – no matter what field you work in, I don’t think success means you’ll never be insecure. So I went through a period where I was like, ‘I can’t do this. I’m not good at it.” And it took too long.
She said: “He has a little panda when he goes to bed at night, so I suggested we wear the panda outfit. I asked, ‘Would it be okay if I could be a panda?’
“He loves it, the only problem now is that every time he sees a panda he says, ‘Mom, mum!’
“I suddenly realized I had to be very careful because we were at the airport and someone had a little girl who had a wheelie bag with a panda on it and she was like, ‘Mommy, mommy!’ like that – he loves it.
“I was like, ‘Shhhh!'”
Natalie’s costume was jam-packed with clues to her identity, but the show’s judges – Mo Gilligan, Davina McCall, Rita Ora and Jonathan Ross – suspected Panda was Amanda Holden, Billie Piper or Lisa Stansfield.
Natalie said: “100% I actually saw it as an acting job. “I stayed in an American accent from the moment I got in the car to the studio. I simply loved it.
“With the whole costume element, I realized things didn’t read very well. So, for example, when Panda had his arms down, he looked bored.
“So I was like, ‘Oh my god, I gotta keep moving my arms.’ So you’re trying to sing along and make Panda look funny.
“It was like becoming a sort of puppeteer. I really enjoyed the challenge.
When Natalie was announced as the winner, not everyone was so happy and took to social media to mark her victory as a solution.
They were angry that studio audiences ranked Panda above Mushroom, Charlotte Church, and Robobunny, Westlife’s Mark Feehily.
But Natalie said: “I think it’s wonderful that people are so invested in the person they’re a fan or follow, that they feel so strongly about it.
“But my experience on the show has been such amazing camaraderie.
“It’s a fun family show. I don’t think he should be seriously competitive that way.
“And I hope the bottom line is that people really enjoyed the fun that we all had on the show. Everybody’s a winner.
Fans were also surprised to see Davina’s overreaction to seeing her friend revealed as Panda during the ITV show’s finale.
Natalie explained that the two had been friends for a long time.
She said: “Davina DMed me afterwards, saying, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe this.
“And we have this back and forth conversation. She said, “I don’t think you understood that you just won an eight week competition”, and it’s true, I didn’t expect to win.
“I was convinced that Mushroom had won it, so I was just as dumbfounded.
“But yeah, she was really funny and she was talking about the host [Joel Dommett] because he was freaked out enough that I hugged him all week.
“So that was pretty funny.”
Natalie’s win comes days after news broke of the cancellation of Neighbours, the soap opera that made her famous as a teenager.
Her character, Beth Brennan, is one of the Channel 5 show’s most legendary characters.
Natalie moaned, “I’m really sad! I think we all love Neighbors, growing up with it.
“And I think it should go on forever. I mean, it’s just a parody.
“So wherever the petition to save Neighbors is, I’ll sign it, I’m on board.
“So wherever the petition to save Neighbors is, I’ll sign it, I’m on board. I have a son on the show – Beth Brennan’s son is on the show. So I’m rooting for him to stay at the antenna.
Rumor has it that fellow legends Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan could return for one final episode. So, would Natalie consider joining them on Ramsay Street?
“I would think about it, yeah. Like I said, have more fun, take life less seriously.
“I would consider going back. I think it would be nice to walk through those doors.
“I mean, I probably won’t recognize anyone – not even my son.”
- Natalie has a new album, Firebird, and a single called Nothing Missing Out Now.
1975: Natalie was born in Sydney, the second of four daughters to an Italian father and a mother of Irish, Scottish and English descent.
1992: Debuted on Neighbors as Beth Brennan, left two years later.
1997 : The first single Torn was released, reaching number two here and the album Left Of The Middle followed, selling seven million copies.
2001: The second album White Lilies Island limps to a million sales.
2003: The label reportedly rejected his third album. She plays Rowan Atkinson’s love interest for Johnny English.
2005: Release of the album Counting Down The Days, which sold just over 200,000 copies. But the first single Shiver became the most played song on the radio of the year.
2007: Release of the album Best Of.
2009: The fifth album Come To Life fails in Oz and is canceled in the United Kingdom and the United States.
2021: Firebird album release.
2022: Win the Masked Singer.