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Keith Urban on Nicole, kids and The Voice

Keith Urban on Nicole, kids and The Voice

Keith Urban. Photography by Damian Bennett.

A voice comes soaring out of the brightly lit TV studio behind Keith Urban and smacks him square in the back of the head.

It’s a belter of a voice: an emotion-packed, powerhouse of a vocal — infused with just a hint of desperation.

The country music star’s hand hovers over the buzzer in front of him. He is torn. Flanked by Aussie songstress Delta Goodrem and chart-topping balladeer Seal, and executing his role as a coach on the TV talent show, The Voice, Keith must decide to recruit the singer to his team or cast her back to obscurity without seeing her face.

In pictures: Keith Urban’s exclusive shoot for The Weekly

Backstage, wife Nicole Kidman proudly watches on as daughter Sunday Rose peruses the catering table. Nicole beams as Keith banters with fellow judges, contestants and the studio audience.

If her presence is causing a frisson in the wings, she’s wholly oblivious to it. For today, it’s Daddy’s turn to shine.

Five days later, in a meeting room on the Fox Studios lot, I’m anxiously awaiting my audience with Mr Urban.

When, finally, he arrives, he is disarmingly warm in that way Queensland blokes tend to be. He may have spent the better part of the past 20 years in Nashville, becoming one of America’s biggest country music stars, but he still has all the down-home charm of a kid from Caboolture.

He enters the room in a blue-checked shirt and black jeans. There’s a firm handshake, direct eye contact from a pair of ice-blue peepers — and we’re off.

Keith is loving being home. The children, Sunday Rose, three, and Faith Margaret, one, are having a great time with their grandparents.

He’s excited about The Voice. He initially passed on it, not wanting to tie himself down to a project requiring a six-month commitment, but Nicole convinced him to do it, believing it would not only be an excellent showcase of his musical talent, but also a chance for Australia to properly get to know the man she fell in love with.

He’s chuffed the last three singles from his new album have all gone to number one on the Billboard charts. And, yes, he does look back in wonder at his modest upbringing on a farm in Caboolture, sleeping with his brother on a horse hair mattress, and marvel at how far he’s come.

With 15.5 million global record sales to his name and several platinum-selling albums to his credit, Keith is one of America’s biggest country music stars.

It’s hard to grasp from this side of the world, but it’s fair to say the mania he inspires among the legions of Americans for whom country music is practically a religion is almost Elvis-esque in proportions.

During The Voice taping to which The Weekly was privy, Keith’s every utterance was squealed at by a troupe of ardent female fans, all sporting lurid pink T-shirts emblazoned with “Monkey Army” — the name his official fan club has given itself.

During ad breaks, when he wasn’t dispensing the benefit of his rock star wisdom to the singers competing in The Voice, Keith happily signed autographs.

“I liked the idea of this show because it had four artists as coaches. Four people who started at the bottom in the music industry and had to prove themselves exactly as these contestants are doing. There’s a tremendous amount of empathy.”

Despite the decades spent in Nashville, Keith’s accent is still true. And when he speaks, it is with the poetry of a man who has spent the better part of the last 30 years writing song lyrics.

As a country singer, Keith, 44, has built a career on wearing his heart on his sleeve. In a musical genre reliant for its content on heartbreak and the twangs of high emotion, he has mastered the art of putting his feelings out there for all to see. And never more so, it seems, than when the subjects of his wife and children come up.

He goes into a kind of rapture when talking about them. Some of his homilies might come off sounding trite if they weren’t so heartfelt. He is the boy from Brisbane with Baudelaire’s soul.

Q: From the outside, you and Nicole seem to be pretty happy right now.

A: I honestly feel like I have spent my whole life looking for her. I feel like I spent my whole life stumbling about, knowing that there was this girl out there for me. I always believed in The One and I was tired of writing about it, but not ever experiencing it.

Q: When you first met, did it help that you were both big name celebrities in your own right? You had that shared experience?

A: I think it definitely helped, in that we were both looking for a place of purity that wasn’t based in either of our careers. And we found that in one another. For us as people and as artists, it was important to have that refuge,if you like, that secret garden that you know is not tainted in any way. I don’t love Nic because of what she does and she doesn’t love me for what I do. I just love her, pure and simple.

Q: Did it also help that you were a pair of Aussie expats living in America?

A: Definitely because even though we got together in our mid-30s, we shared an entire history before we had even met. We could cite everything from songs from our childhood, to things that you do at Christmas, to lollies and chocolates that are peculiarly Australian, to TV shows — everything.

Related: Nicole Kidman on getting over Tom Cruise

Q: What was it finally about Nicole that attracted you?

A: Everything. Just everything — it’s indescribable. When you meet that person, as I did with Nic, there’s this chemistry and synergy and sympatico. She’s my spiritual other half. We ask ourselves if we would like to have met each other in our 20s, so we could have had more time together, but the trade-off may have been that we wouldn’t have had the same amount of life experience to bring together and really make something of substance.

There’s certainly no doubting Keith and Nicole have both had their fair share of life experience. For Keith, he’s been on a journey that’s taken him from being a jobbing musician playing pub gigs in suburban Brisbane, to the top of the pile of the Australian country music charts, back to being a relative nobody in

Nashville, who spent five lonely, frustrating years trying to crack the US country music scene before finally making it big.

“There was a certain point when I had been there five years and nothing was happening,” Keith recalls now. “I felt like I was doing my best and it wasn’t working. And I didn’t know what to do. I felt like I hit a point where I was just completely lost. Because as a human being or an artist, to think you are doing the absolute best you can and for it not to be working, it’s soul destroying.

Video: The best performances on The Voice

“And it’s funny because someone once asked me if, in the middle of all that, I ever thought about coming back to Australia, but it honestly never occurred to me. It wasn’t part of the plan. The plan was to be accepted in the US. And I was determined to just keep hitting that wall until it gave way.”

As if tackling American country music head on wasn’t enough of a challenge, Keith complicated things along the way by getting engaged twice and developing a crippling addiction to cocaine. And then he met Nicole.

“I truly think there are only two kinds of people in the world,” says Keith. “There are people who love Nic and people who haven’t met her yet. I really do. People who say negative things about her, I think, well, you just can’t have met her yet.

“You can’t have. Because she’s sensitive and joyous, and wonderfully compassionate and empathetic towards people, and she has a heart that is just infinite in size. She has such a zest for life. And she’s as loyal as the day is long. And I still can’t quite believe I got to marry her, quite frankly.”

Their wedding, on a rainy June night in Sydney in 2006, was, by all reports, a joyous affair. Those who attended say there wasn’t a dry eye in the house when Keith serenaded his bride with his chart-topping ballad, ‘Making Memories of Us’.

Yet the newlywed afterglow was cut short when, three months later and at Nicole’s urging, Keith checked himself into rehab at the Betty Ford Clinic to treat lingering cocaine and alcohol addictions.

“I just decided that I had to be worthy of Nicole and, you know, I had some serious work to do,” he says now. “And I was so willing to do it because everything was so right between us.

“We’ve had conversations since about how I wished I had been in a good, solid, sober place instead of having to do it in the middle of our marriage, but the truth is, I’m grateful we got to do it in our marriage because we got to build the foundation together.

“If you want to see if somebody loves you, check yourself into rehab. I could cry right now when I think about it. It was an extraordinary act of love on her part, the kind of which I had never seen in my life before.”

Six years later, the couple are the proud parents of two little girls, Sunday Rose and Faith Margaret — the latter of whom was born, rather famously, to a surrogate mother. They live mostly in Nashville, with occasional visits to their property in the NSW Southern Highlands — far enough removed from the Hollywood madness to have carved out a semblance of normal family life.

In pictures: Keith Urban’s exclusive shoot for The Weekly

“The great thing about having a property here and one in Nashville, too, is that Nic and I like [the kids] to get dirt under their nails,” says Keith.

“We’re both determined not to be precious about those sorts of things. We want them to get dirty and covered in mud, so they are just real.

“People say kids are great because they keep you young, but I think kids are great because they keep you present. Sunny and Faith do that for me. It’s totally in the moment. I don’t dwell on what’s going to happen tomorrow or what happened yesterday.”

And while he adores his daughters and professes to be “remarkably at ease” in a house dominated by women, Keith makes no bones about the priority of his affections.

“We’re very, very tight as a family unit and the children are our life, but I know the order of my love,” he says. “It’s my wife and then my daughters. I just think it’s really important for the kids.

“There are too many parents who start to lose the plot a little and start to give all their love to the kids, and then the partner starts to go without. And then everybody loses. As a kid, all I needed to know was that my parents were solid. Kids shouldn’t feel like they are being favoured. It’s a dangerous place.”

In pictures: Delta Goodrem – A decade in the spotlight

Given that he’s introduced the subject of dangerous places, I dive right in and ask him about Tom Cruise — specifically, whether he believes, as many observers do, that the relationship he and Nicole share provides a nice, grounded, Aussie counterpoint to his wife’s previous marriage.

“I don’t know, you’d have to ask Nic that,” he replies, diplomatically. “What I can tell you is that we came together when we were supposed to, with everything we had learned along the way. And the things we had learned along the way were really wonderful things for our marriage.

“For instance, we both learned a lot of things that we would do differently. Certainly, there are a lot of things I did wrong in my previous relationships that I wish I had done better, and I get a chance now to do it right and really feel the beauty and value of a real relationship.”

So, the boy from Brissy and the girl from Sydney found each other on the other side of the earth. Thrown together by their shared experience of mega-fame and similar upbringings eating Golden Roughs and Wizz Fizz, they’ve married, had a couple of kids and created a little Aussie bubble in the heart of middle America.

Q: Are you thinking of expanding the family?

A: I don’t know. We love having two daughters right now. I think we are open to letting things evolve naturally. We don’t have any definitive plans either way.

Q: Would you go down the surrogacy path again?

A: There are no definitive thoughts of not doing it or doing it. Nic and I have always been the kind of people who operate from a place of responding to the rising of feelings — that’s just creative people in general.”

Q: But just so I’m clear, there are no babies of yours being carried by other people anywhere in the world right now? I only ask because the last time I interviewed your wife, I asked if she might be pregnant. She said she wasn’t and I got caught flat-footed when Faith was born to a surrogate 10 days later.

A: (laughing) No, there are not.

As our interview draws to a close, I ask Keith what he makes of this extraordinary existence of his: the fame, the wealth, the public appetite for intricate details about his life. How, ultimately, do he and Nicole reconcile their desire for privacy with the very public nature of their jobs?

“We have always had the mantra that we have nothing to hide and everything to protect,” he says. “And from there, it’s just a matter of keeping the balance.”

In pictures: Keith Urban’s exclusive shoot for The Weekly

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