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Over The Rainbow

David Campbell has already wowed new York (and Dad Jimmy Barnes) - now the cabaret and Les Miserables star sings for the Queen's pleasure.

Perched 65 floors above New York on a November evening last year, a dapper David Campbell stepped onto the stage and swung into song. The young Australian, described by New York’s Time Out as creating "the biggest buzz since Barbra Streisand," had the audience rapt. But just moments before his inaugural appearance at the Rockefeller Center’s Rainbow & Stars, Campbell and his rocker father, Jimmy Barnes, had been out on the tiles.

The bathroom tiles, that is. "It was my opening night and I was in the bathroom," says Campbell, 24, sheepishly. "Jimmy got there early and came to the bathroom and that was how we met up. That was a big surprise. I didn’t even know he was there."

That’s the way it has been for much of their lives. Raised in Adelaide by his maternal grandmother and adoptive mother, Joan, Campbell was 12 when he was told that Cold Chisel star Barnes was his father – he had had a brief teenage relationship with Joan’s daughter, Kim. (Campbell had believed Kim was his sister.) Barnes had long been in the background as a family friend, Campbell has said, "so it wasn’t that much of a shock."

Music has proved a common calling – despite their polar opposite styles: the father all "Working Class Man", shirt sleeves and sweat; the son all suits, suavity and Peter Allen medleys. But Campbell, who was joined onstage in New York by Barnes for a belting rendition of Jackie Wilson’s "Higher and Higher", says, "What I do [musically] is not that far away. It’s getting closer than I thought it ever would be."

Campbell has just completed a seven-month turn as Marius in the Sydney production of Les Miserables, which allowed him to spend "a fair bit" of time with Barnes. "David has incredible potential to do anything he wants," Barnes has told Who Weekly. Campbell appreciates the support: "He’s really helped me a lot. He’s going to put tapes together for me and just stuff that dads do, I guess. If you ask them for advice they bloody well help you out."

Last week, Campbell hit a new high, performing for Queen Elizabeth II in London. As part of an international line-up that included Australian singer-actor Hugh Jackman and Briton Dame Judi Dench, he appeared in Hey Mr Producer, an evening of songs from musicals staged by impresario Cameron Mackintosh. "I come from Adelaide and I sang in rock bands and I never thought the Queen would be on my list of people to meet."

He resisted his destiny at first. "I was intent on not singing at all, because of Jimmy," says Campbell, who nevertheless fell in step with his peers and formed a band. After high school, he moved to NSW’s Southern Highlands to live briefly with Barnes, his wife, Jane, and their four children.

Campbell then moved to Sydney, discovered acting and, "through the sheer fluke of doing an Australian musical [Only Heaven Knows] at the Stables Theatre," realised his true calling and put together a cabaret show, Nowadays. "I was going to do it for 10 days and that was it, but then it just kept going." It took Campbell all the way to New York.

"I was very impressed by David’s enthusiasm for the music and by his deep passion," says Broadway and international cabaret veteran Michael Feinstein, who first met Campbell in Melbourne in 1995. "I think that he’ll have a tremendously successful future in musical theatre."

While Campbell has enjoyed his time as a Miserable, he’s keen to return to the stage alone, and is heading back to Rainbow & Stars in October. "The whole [pub] band thing became a memory quickly," says Campbell, highlighting the musical differences between him and his father. "I don’t even want to go there with the comparisons of being in the shadows." Campbell has stepped into a spotlight of his own.

  • ALIX CLARK

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    WHO Weekly Magazine, June 22 1998.