Rhoda Roberts: Many of us will remember you, Nathan, from Hi-5, an incredible young group that really changed the face of music for our children, but you had worked for many years before that – is that fair to say?
Nathan Foley: Absolutely. I’ve known what I wanted to do since I was five. I was with my dad and we went into a second-hand shop and came across some old records, one of which was by The Jackson Five.
I took it home and was hooked. All I ever wanted to do was sing. I started singing professionally at age 10, doing vocal contests and TV work – I did the Midday show about nine times and the morning programs, and I was sneaking in the back doors singing with bands in clubs, so I had a lot going on before Hi-5. The auditions for Hi-5 came along when I was 18, and the rest is history. But for nearly 22 years now I have been singing professionally and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
RR: And when you were about 11 or 12 you won the Schools Spectacular?
NF: It was a variety show, one of the biggest in the world. It’s run by state schools. They do a concert at the end of the year at the Sydney Entertainment Centre. About 12,000 people turn up and I was part of that for about seven years as a soloist, from the age of about 11 to 17. It was the best experience I ever could have had – to get up and sing in front of that many people with an 18-piece orchestra. Human Nature was a part of that and so was Paulini. They went onto bigger and better things as well, so it was great exposure at such a young age.
RR: We all know you can dance as well… did you end up doing dance training and vocal training?
NF: I never had a singing lesson. I grew up listening to Nat King Cole and Stevie Wonder. My mum was a huge ’80s soul fanatic. She listened to Lionel Richie and
Billy Ocean. I grew up with them, and my uncle left me with a lot of old-school vinyl before he passed, including Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. I had a broad range of music that was fed to me at such a young age. It wasn’t until I was 21 that I started listening to the Top 40 on the radio… With the dancing side of things, I was part of a group that danced with Matt Lee, who is now in (the show) ‘Mary Poppins’. I only had two years’ training and they threw me in to dancing at fashion awards and awards nights. I have always been a hands-on performer, I have never really had lessons, I have kind of winged it most of my life because I have the passion and the drive.
RR: You went to the Newtown High School of the Performing Arts – were you one of the earlier intakes for that school?
NF: I went there from Year 8 to Year 12, but I did go to another high school in Year 7 where I was not accepted as an artist. I was picked on and hit by the older students. It was about being different, and anything different in people’s eyes – they sometimes don’t understand it. The same thing goes for racism, I guess. They didn’t understand me being a singer because they were into sports. They used to call me names. One day a bloke hit me and I pushed him back. I am not a violent person, but we were both sent to the Principal’s office and he said to me, “You know what, Nathan, this school is not for you – you need to go to a school that not only focuses on your education, but also lets you become confident enough to move forward with your performing arts career.”
He said he used to be a dancer and he thought I should go to Sydney and that changed my life. I was surrounded by people who worked in the arts and one of my best friends at school was James Little, who is Jimmy’s grandson. I was around other people in the arts who helped us to concentrate on our studies and I got to finish Year 12.
RR: What would be the Hi-5 moment of your life?
NF: I think the most amazing experiences were at Christmas-time going with the
Hi-5 team to the Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne and seeing the crowd of people and the candles all lit up. Singing to all those people and having them sing back at you is an amazing experience and even as a soloist I love doing ‘Carols by Candlelight’. Also touring the UK: we packed out a 4000-seat theatre in London. That was an amazing experience to have people from a different country coming to see you.