Celebrity Families

EXCLUSIVE: He's conquered the stage and the screen, but David Campbell says his kids are his greatest achievement

David Campbell tells Tiffany Dunk his latest project is one that pays tribute to his biggest triumph – being a dad.

By Tiffany Dunk
They say to write what you know. And as a father of three, David Campbell is all too aware of the pain that is the witching hour.
From tears over denied screen time to fervent pleas for late-afternoon sugary snacks to tantrums thrown when dinner isn't to their liking, it's a minefield every parent traverses as children ride the emotional waves of that perilous early evening period.
"It's horrible," he says with a laugh as Leo, 10 and twins Billy and Betty, both five, happily blow bubbles at each other as we sit down to chat.
"There's the Kubler-Ross model of the five stages of grief – which is denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. That's what toddlers and kids go through at dinner time and this is something we're constantly going through."
"Kids now are getting their own autonomy and requesting things but also, we're not a hotel. You're going to get what you get and you're not going to get upset about it."
So when Scholastic came knocking on his door asking if he'd be interested in penning a children's book, needless to say, this topic was one that soon came up. And thus Stupid Carrots was born.
Dedicated to the brood he shares with his wife of close to 12 years, producer Lisa, 40, the book is the tale of young rabbit Betty (and yes, she's definitely modelled on their daughter) who cycles through those stages when carrots are served again at dinner time.
"There was a period of time when Betty – and we don't know why – would mumble to people if she didn't like them, 'Stupid carrots'," David, 47, explains of the title's genesis.
"She would have been three and a half and it was quite abusive – cute abuse, but like a swear word. The tone was definitely there. Going into the meeting I was reminded of that by Lisa and so the term kept jumping out at me."
The natural-born performer of the family ("If the force is strong in one, it's her," admits David), Betty heartily approves of her starring role in Dad's latest project.
"To make the kids the centre [of the book] was really fun for me, to give them something of a legacy," says David of his beloved brood. (Photo: Alana Landsberry)
Her eyes light up as she talks about "my book," asking when they'll be sitting down to read it. As David obliges, all three shriek with delight watching their illustrated selves brought to life.
"Billy's first response was, 'What's my book about?'" David says of the questions that came after his first reading.
"I said, 'Your book is about going to bed.' And then Leo asked, 'What's my book about?' and I said, 'Well, your book is later next year and we'll talk about it. Let's see if this one goes well first and then we can have two or three.'"
"'That's how business works – If Iron Man 1 doesn't work then The Avengers doesn't happen, so let's all settle down!' But really, they're thrilled. They're all in the book and point out, 'That's me there,' so it's great.
"Writing a book is something that I'd never dreamt I'd have done and yet I loved it. And to make the kids the centre was really fun for me, to give them something of a legacy… And I'm sure in 30 or 40 years' time that will be the therapy I'm paying for!"
David married British producer Lisa Hewitt in 2008 at St. Philip's Church in Sydney. (Photo: Alana Landsberry)
While this is a lighthearted dig at his own expense, therapy is a topic that comes up often as we speak today.
An outspoken advocate for men needing to start a conversation, David has never flinched away from talking about his own experiences with anxiety, crippling self-doubt and binge drinking (the therapy has been ongoing since he met Lisa in 2006 and he's been sober since shortly after Leo's birth).
It's been especially pressing for him in recent times too. Not only has COVID-19 impacted many of his friends in the industry who have lost jobs but last year he lost his best friend, chef Justin Bull, to suicide.
"For men to talk and for other men to listen is invaluable, and I can't stress that enough," he says of the motivation for sharing his story.
"I'm very open about going to therapy and my own mental health as I'm still realizing how that has controlled aspects of my life. It would ruin relationships – business relationships, personal relationships."
"It would keep me distant from family. It would make me have such self-doubt and low self-esteem. Then I would counteract that by being really egotistical and arrogant at times."
His struggles, he tells us, began in childhood and have had a huge impact on how he parents today.
WATCH BELOW: David and wife Lisa's love is palpable as they sing this romantic duet. Article continues after video.
"I want [the kids] to have more of a sense of themselves than I had," he explains. "I was brought up by my grandmother who was very strict. But at the same time, even though she was strict, I was very insecure, probably due to stuff that had happened to me as child."
"I had great manners but emotionally I wasn't quite geared up for what was coming my way. So for us, it's about making sure they are as emotionally whole and intelligent as they can be, but still mindful of how they behave with other people – what it means to have good manners. We are old school disciplinarians."
David exudes confidence, both in person and each day on screen on Nine's Today Extra, and it's hard to reconcile this image with someone crippled with self-esteem issues.
But then again, with his history, perhaps it's not that surprising. David's story has been oft-told but still sounds like something from a movie.
The son of Jimmy Barnes – at the time an unknown musician, now Australian rock royalty – he grew up in the care of his maternal grandmother, believing his teenage mother Kim was his sister and Jimmy was just a "family friend".
At 10 he learnt the truth. And while he admits he wasn't emotionally equipped for the upheaval, it was definitely a blessing as, he says now with a beaming smile, "I inherited this amazing family".
By then, Jimmy was married to his wife Jane Mahoney, the pair parents to Mahalia Barnes, nine years David's junior. Later siblings EJ, Jackie and Elly-May would arrive. And formerly only child David was now a permanent part of their family holidays and adventures.
"Mahalia and I are probably closest because we have had the most time together," he says, with Lisa adding that she speaks to "the sister I never had" every day.
"Being the child outside at first, and coming into the family, it's been a wild journey but it's beautiful. We are all really close and it just shows that family is family."
To read more the full interview with David, pick up a copy of the November issue of The Australian Women's Weekly, on sale now.

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