Helen Reddy’s famous 1971 pop-feminist anthem I Am Woman takes three minutes and four seconds to perform, which is roughly the same time it takes to interview her.
Reddy was on a phone in the back of a car in Sydney this morning, having been whisked straight from the ABC to another media appointment, and Daily Review was in Melbourne prepared for a 10-minute allocation with Australia’s first Grammy winner.
The 73-year-old Reddy, whose fame was about as big as it gets in the 1970s, is back on the road again after more than a decade working as hypnotherapist, motivational speaker and apparently, psychic. She retired in 2002 but after singing a duet with her half-sister Toni Lamond at a birthday party, Reddy decided “the girl still has it”.
Her capital city tour of Australia is kicking off in Melbourne this weekend and is billed as a “rare opportunity to hear I Am Woman, Angie Baby and Delta Dawn performed live by Helen Reddy herself”’.
If only I’d listened to Fran Kelly interview Reddy when Reddy said the reason she got out of showbiz back then was: “I was so sick of singing those pop songs over and over again.”
When Kelly asked Reddy how she would greet audience expectations of hearing them again this time round, Reddy responded: “They’ll get ’em. I put ’em in a medley.”
So maybe Reddy wasn’t in the best frame of mind when I politely began our conversation by warning her that I was going to ask her about the past.
I believe the noise I heard was a groan.
I asked her about the time she was invited to President Gerald Ford’s White House. It must have been an eye-opener?
“I don’t remember,” she said, the silence mercifully being filled by the sounds of Sydney traffic whistling by. “It was a long time ago,” she eventually volunteered.
Had this entertainer been briefed for her media interviews by an attorney advising her to admit nothing?
Reddy visited the White House when First Lady Betty Ford – a former dancer now described as the Lindsay Lohan of her day – was in charge of the state dinners. Betty did the hustle with visiting prime ministers and danced on table tops while guests – including Reddy’s then-husband and manager, Jeff Wald – did lines of coke in the White House bathroom.
Reddy has been described as quite “tight” with the Fords. Were they good friends?
“What? Oh, yeah. They were friends.” I thought I heard a beep as Reddy’s e-tag crossed the Harbour Bridge. “They’ve both been gone a long time.”
Reddy reluctantly admitted she had visited the White House “a coupla times”.
My notes for our interview told me that on one of these occasions Reddy performed a duet with Carol Burnett after a state dinner for Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin on January 27, 1976. Among the 100 or so guests were vice-president Nelson Rockefeller, the Kissingers, Ariel Sharon, Alan Greenspan, Calvin Klein, Danny Kaye and a professional ice-skater called Jo Starbuck. Reddy and Burnett sang between 11.08 and 11.31pm that evening. Does she remember what she and Burnett sang?
Does she remember what she wore?
“What?” Was that the honk of a ferry I heard pulling into Milsons Point? “I don’t understand your question.”
Surely it must be been exciting for Reddy to find herself not only rubbing shoulders with the leaders of the military-industrial complex (not to mention Calvin Klein before he thought of the Y-front thing) but also at the centre of their attention?
“I grew up around famous people. My parents were in showbiz,” she said. (Reddy’s parents performed on the Australian vaudeville circuit, and Reddy moved to the US in 1966 after winning a prize on the TV show Bandstand.)
Sure, but the White House?
“It’s just a house.”
Aaanyway. Reddy must have met so many people in her illustrious career that her understanding of human nature would have been useful when she moved from showbiz into hypnotising clients?
“No,’’ she snapped. “They are two totally different things.”
Reddy has dual citizenship. Does she feel more American or Australian?
“I don’t know.” Silence. “People are the same all over the world.”
I thought I heard a car accident happening.
You can hear Reddy sing her three greatest hits in one medley and other songs on her Helen Reddy in Concert tour.