The doors are attached to the dressing-rooms of three remarkable celebrities: the judges for Channel 7’s hugely popular entertainment show, Australia’s Got Talent (AGT), at Parramatta Riverside Theatres, Sydney, one of several venues engulfed by the 150-strong production team as they scour the country for 2012 contestants.
In order, they belong to Irish larrikin and singer Brian McFadden, 32 – the food and ashtrays could belong to any one of the half-dozen friends, management and hangers-on accompanying him to today’s recording. The flowers, candle and chips are a telltale sign of the show’s only female judge and marie claire cover star, Dannii Minogue, 40. And shock jock and controversy-courter Kyle Sandilands, 40, is the temporary custodian of the blow-up doll – though it should be noted it’s part of a gag being staged for the cameras, not a new girlfriend. Allegedly.
Her life may be charmed, her admirers many, but there are days when even Dannii Minogue doesn’t feel like being Dannii Minogue. On April 4, Australia woke to the news that she had split from long-term partner Kris Smith, 33, the father of her almost two-year-old son, Ethan. At the time of our interview, it’s likely the two had already parted, with a series of tweets for a year prior suggesting things had been going sour. But ever the professional, Minogue soldiered on for the cameras and for our crew. “How do I juggle everything now? Some days with ease, some days with difficulty. I have found that over the years, whatever happens, you have to roll with it,” she told marie claire after the news of the deterioration of her relationship had flashed around the world. “Fame and work have always had an impact on my family since I went into this business at seven years of age. It’s all I know.”
Minogue’s as familiar to most Australians as their primary school best friend, with many of us growing up alongside her as she starred on our TV screens from the age of seven.
But despite this, she won’t let you get away with being starstruck for long. Before you can embarrass yourself by blurting out, “I used to love you on Young Talent Time!” she’ll put you at ease by offering you half her Wagon Wheel or asking to see pictures of your kids. Denyer concurs: “She’s never looking over your shoulder to see if someone more famous or important is behind you.” Instead, she has the air of someone unaffected by fame. She seems to understand the game and take from it what she needs, but is otherwise not a million miles from someone who really could’ve been your best friend from primary school.
“Ninety five per cent of show business is the boring stuff: the waiting around, the interviews," says Minogue. "You can’t have attitude about it. I was in here the other day and a guy was having a go about being made to wait for his turn. I said to him, ‘If you think you’re going to be a big star without having to wait, then this is not for you. Even if you get hugely famous you’ll still have to wait. You’ll just get to wait with flowers in your dressing-room.’”
Fans of AGT will recognise this firm-but-fair attitude as classic Minogue. She’s generally accepted to be the “nice” one of the three judges, though she can spot a prima donna the second their lower lip juts with self-importance and is quick to put them in their place. Minogue is polite, low-maintenance and professional; sits where she’s told; smiles on cue; waits in her chair when the cameras stop rolling until she’s given a signal that she’s not needed for something else. You’ll never hear her ordering anyone to pick out the blue M&M’s from a packet or peel her a grape (her stash underneath the judging table is girlie but not diva-y: water, a fluffy zebra-print blanket, moisturiser, and her trusty salt and vinegar chips).
In contrast, Sandilands and McFadden – “the boys”, as everyone calls them, usually with a tone of affectionate exasperation – are halting filming to bound outside for cigarettes or to devour buckets of KFC when the mood takes them. “They’re saucy and rude and crude, but I like that,” says Minogue of her colleagues. They are, and no-one is spared. Later in the day, the three judges are kidding around for the camera. Sandilands, with his trademark drawl, taunts Minogue about having “work” – meaning cosmetic surgery – on her face. It’s typical Sandilands – delivered deadpan, but hitting close enough to bruise. Minogue, who has never publicly admitted to any cosmetic enhancement beyond breast implants, flinches for a millisecond before recovering with cool professionalism. “You need hair plugs!” she quickly retorts, swatting him playfully on the bum. No hard feelings.
Before the split, Minogue was candid about the dual pulls of work and her role as a mother. “The guilt of going back to work floods you,” she admits of time away from her young son – whether taping the show or tending to Project D. She whips out her phone and shows off photos of her blonde mini-me, toddling like a future fashionista in a pair of mum’s rubber thongs. “I try to take it all in my stride, but when it affects my loved ones I feel an internal struggle with the love for my work,” she explains later. On set, she steals a quiet moment with Denyer’s baby daughter, Sailor, closing her eyes as she breathes the scent of the little girl’s hair. What will happen with Ethan’s custody now is unclear, but pre-split, Minogue had no plans to cart her little boy around the world. Minogue’s hope for the future? “Happiness. For all of us. Whatever that may be.”
It’s unlikely the globetrotting will slow soon, with regular trips planned to the UK to oversee Project D, and possibly even some recording sessions of her own in the works (“Watch this space!” she teases at the suggestion, before hurriedly shutting herself down).
In the meantime, keeping a mothering eye over her other baby, the AGT contestants, is keeping her busy. With another a handful of chips, she heads out to the unremarkable corridor to wait for her cue to return to the stage. And waits. And waits. And waits. That’s show business.
To read the full interview with Dannii Minogue, grab a copy of the June marie claire edition - out now!