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Barnes' son rises

Express Entertainment Section

Jimmy Barnes may be the biggest rock performer in Australia but the Working Class Man is better known as 'David Campbell's father" in New York.

Such is the reputation of his son that Barnes senior has to make do with second billing on the Manhattan musical scene.

Having lived just over half of his 25 years in the shadow of a rock legend, Campbell says he no longer frets over achieving the same level of fame in his home country.

He is on the verge of a long and brilliant career in the toughest town of all. The local critics are running out of superlatives to describe his singing and stage presence. One reviewer recently described him as an amalgam of "Peter Allan, Johhny Mathis and Kenny Loggins".

Kenny Loggins? "At least he didn't say say Michael Bolton," Campbell says, laughing.

And he can afford to laugh. In the past three months the former Adelaide boy has come of age, quickly leaving behind any impression his early success on the cabaret circuit was fleeting.

Since January he has sung the lead in the revival of Babes in Arms at new York's City Centre, taken part in a tour in the US and Australia with pianist John Bucchino, played the role of Emil De Becque in the 50th anniversary of South Pacific alongside Liz Callaway and George Hearn.

In between these performances he has squeezed in numerous appearances at the late-night cabaret spots, toured Florida and accepted an award as Young Australian of the Year for the arts.

Earlier this year his old school in Adelaide named its new hall after its favourite son - the David Campbell Performing Arts Complex.

Last week he shared the stage with Liza Minnelli at the MAC awards (Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs) - the first time he had met the star. Perhaps the last.

"We shook each others hands and our hands were sweaty," he explains. "I said, 'Well, you know at least we don't have to swap spit'."

Campbell returns to Sydney next week for four shows at the Sebel Town House, the last time his Australian fans will see him in a one-man show for some time.

"This show in Sydney will probably be the last show like this I do in Sydney for a while in the intimate cabaret style," he says over brunch at the Paramount Hotel in New York's theatre district.

In the coming months he wants to write more of his own material (he has already co-penned a song with his father), plan a new record, take acting lessons, audition for a new musical - and get married.

Les Miserables co-star Natalie Mendoza won his heart during the Theatre Royal production last year. they announced their engagement in August and plan to wed later this year.

But his fiancee is busy with her own career in Australia and finding a date could be difficult.

"The long distance thing is the hardest thing in the world," he says.

"We just try to support each other through it and you know it's tough. I want her to be with me all the time and she wants me to be with her all the time - the love with have for each other that's the important thing."

The announcement of his engagement came a surprise to some fans. Given the level of support he enjoys among the gay community, both in Australia and the US, many had assumed Campbell was gay. He says he owes his success today to the support given to him early on in his career by Sydney's gay community and is not put off by the confusion.

"It is a form of flattery," he says. "They were the first community that supported me. I don't think I would have the career that I have now if it wasn't for that. "I wouldn't have the confidence that I have."

The rise and rise of David Campbell is all the more remarkable given his background.

It was not until age 12 that Campbell was told his father was Jimmy Barnes. On the same day he was also informed the young women he had grown up believing to be his sister was in fact his mother.

"It's a time that I'm still dealing with, that day of finding out," he says.

"I think it flavours a lot of what I do. Finding out about Jimmy gave me confidence. finding out about Kim (his mother) was confusing."

He is close to both his natural parents. He hopes one day to be able to fly his mother and grandmother (who bought him up) out to New York to watch him perform.

Campbell says his shows in Sydney will be a blend of old and new including songs from James Taylor and the Beatles mixed with songs from musicals he sang recently.

Although he is still yet to fully realise his dream - a lead role in a long-running Broadway musical - he is in no hurry to get there.

"I am feeling a sense of regrouping; a sense of calm now," he says.

"I've spent six years pushing and rushing. But now I want to take careful steps.

"I'm closer than I've ever been in my life; whether it happens or not that's not for me to decide. But I'm closer than ever been in my life."


By Michael Cameron in New York - The Sunday Telegraph: April 18, 1999