Former Australian Idol winner Casey Donovan has opened up about a twisted cat-fishing ordeal that saw her devote six years of her life to a man who never existed.
Speaking on Andrew Denton’s Interview, the season two winner spoke candidly about the turbulent experience which saw a stranger - ‘Campbell’ - come into her life and rip it apart.
She described a pattern of deceit and psychological torture, and how she was strung along for over six years.
“I’d put so much effort and time in this that he had to be real. He HAD to,” she said.
‘This is interesting’
Donovan described a shy 16-year-old, fresh off her Idol win and on tour for the first time, low on confidence but high on talent, who first fell for the mystery man.
Underage, and touring with older Idol members, she found herself alone in her hotel room, night after night, until one phone call broke the monotony.
“It was this guy on the line, and he wouldn’t tell me who he was or how he got my number. I basically said, you need to lose this number,” she said.
Donovan explained, however, that he was persistent and, bored and lonely, she was compelled to answer his calls.
His name was ‘Campbell’, he had a likeable, ‘ocker’ voice.
He was ‘interesting’.
“When you’re on the road as a 16-year-old, you can’t go out to pubs and clubs with the other people. You get sent to your room... It became comfortable to talk to this person every day,” she said.
She described how over the following months and years, their phone conversations turned into a romantic relationship.
She would call him during live sets so he could sing Listen to Your Heart, her hit single, on stage with her, but was never able to see him face to face.
The first time they organised to meet he pulled out last minute, sending his friend Olga in his place.
It was a pattern that would continue over the years, excuses ranged from a broken down car, to ailing family members, and always Olga would be there instead.
Olga soon became the only physical point of contact between Casey and ‘Campbell’.
Eventually Casey was coerced into sharing her first sexual experience with Olga, who ‘Campbell’ said would create a sexual connection between the pair.
She said she agreed to the bizarre situation because by that point she was in far too deep: “I think by that time I was just willing to do anything to see him.”
She knew deep down, however, that something wasn’t right, and it all began to unravel.
Casey described how in her gut an inkling was growing, one that eventually, she couldn’t ignore.
She found herself lying to family and friends, aware of how bizarre the situation sounded, and slowly beginning to realise how unlikely the situation actually was.
She never admitted to her family, for example, that she had never actually met ‘Campbell’.
Eventually the deceit proved too much.
“I was just creating this big ball of lies, until one day I was like, ‘There’s something not right’.”
Her suspicions turned on Olga, the only living connection she had to ‘Campbell’, and that’s when everything began to fall into place.
“I’d be on the phone to Campbell and say, ‘Ooh! You just sounded like Olga’. (He’d say) ‘No, I didn’t, don’t be stupid’,” she said.
“By the end of it, I’d turned into a private investigator. I’d search her room when she was out; I’d look for answers because I knew there was something not right.”
She said despite it all, she clung on to the relationship from one reason: “Hope. To think that no one could actually do that to another human being.
“To think of all the sh*t I’ve been through in my life… to be at that point and to just have everything fall apart. It really hurt.”
Casey said it wasn’t until she broke down on stage, and had to acknowledge the toll her personal turmoil was having on her career that she finally shared the distressing situation.
She opened up to her manager at the time, who promised to help unearth the truth.
When they both finally confronted Olga, Casey said she knew the jig was up, her ‘friend’ met their incessant questions with a silence that spoke volumes.
The heartbreak, Casey said, was extreme.
“That was my world… done, basically. I wanted to die,” she said.
“It got to that point where it was just — ‘What the f**k have I done to my life?’ I’d put on so much weight. I was killing myself eating… I was just empty.”
She finally revealed the truth to her parents, who had suspected something was off for a while, but the ‘betrayal, the distrust, and the emotional heartache’ took a toll for a long time.
She revealed that intensive therapy has worked wonders, but is still at a loss to explain Olga’s motivations.
“I don’t know if she was a closeted lesbian that didn’t understand her sexuality so she tried to make other people feel like they had to do that,” she said, guessing at what made the catfish tick, but admitted she actively avoids thinking about it.
What shines through the darkness of the harrowing experience is the huge progress Casey has made.
She divulged that in a bizarre twist she actually crossed paths with Olga, just days before the tell-all interview.
It was the first time they’d seen each other in eight years, but Casey said she was calm and cool.
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