Forty years ago his
appearance in a shopping centre attracted 20,000 screaming fans. Today
he stands alone outside Big W at Werribee Plaza. Such is the dichotomy
between little Jamie and grown-up Jim that no one affords him a second
Yet, if you were to introduce him to those passing pedestrians,
they would fawn with fond nostalgia and tell all their friends: “You
won’t believe who I saw in Donut King today … ”
There was a time when – like a song title on his second album –
Jamie Redfern, or Jim as he prefers to be called these days, was Sitting on Top of the World, feted by the likes of Elvis Presley and Sammy Davis Jr.
Now he is rebuilding after the global financial crisis knocked the
stuffing out of the performing arts academy he runs with wife Judy. “It
really killed the discretionary spending on things like singing and
dancing lessons,” he says. “We were lucky to hold on because so many
schools closed. But we are doing OK now and the signs are there things
are getting better.’’
The couple are busily extending their Star Quality Song and Dance
Studio network from west to east, with plans for another Pay TV program
to showcase talent.
Redfern, 56, is ever the optimist. He needed to be to survive the
bruising transition from the boy-king of pop everyone wanted a piece of
to just another man in the mall. “I’m the bitter and twisted one, aren’t
Redfern’s wife of 26 years and mother of their daughters Hayley,
18, and Taylah, 16, laughs with a playful dig in his side. The pair met
at Sheiks Disco in 1986 after Redfern’s mate dared him to ask the lovely
girl who kept smiling at him to dance. “He egged me on that much I
walked over and said, ‘Hello, how are you? Would you like to dance?’ and
she said, ‘No thanks, I don’t like this song’.
“I just sat next to her
while she ignored me and I looked over to my mate, saying now pay up,
when I felt a little tap on my shoulder and she said, ‘But I will dance
to this one, I love this one’.” It was I Was Made for Lovin’ You by Kiss. “And that was it.”
Redfern had always had an eye for the girls. At the end of each
show of his US tour, he would kiss a girl in the audience. He was more
Tom Jones than Liberace, and couldn’t fathom it when he came back at age
15 and people speculated that he was gay. “I’m like, me gay, why? And
dad said, ‘Well, I guess because you toured with Liberace’ and I said,
‘so what?’ I was so naive.’’
Rumours were the least of his problems. Towards the end of his
hugely successful American tour, the young star was on the brink of
signing a major contract with film giant MGM when everything imploded.
“My contracts in Australia were about to run out. There was only
about a month to go … but at that time my voice was changing and the
keys were having to be brought down,’’ he says. “I asked them to give me
a break for a year, but nobody did and nobody listened. I do feel a bit
resentful about that now. Being a singing teacher, I look after kids’
voices and I am very aware of when you need rest and why.”
But the money machine kept rolling. “When dad and I did a deal
with MGM, not too many people on the American or Australian side were
happy because they wanted to be involved. There was so much to-ing and
fro-ing that the person who missed out was me, the little boy who had
already made everybody a ton of money.”
Redfern never saw much of it. “Let’s just say I was the
highest-paid entertainer in the country. I was doing two gigs a day at
$1500 and it was all put in trust, and by the time I got that money
there was hardly anything left.”
When he left Australia in 1972, the future King of Pop’s departure was televised and the Young Talent Time team waved him off at the airport. He became the Pocket Sinatra, appearing live in America on The Johnny Carson Show,
but once home he struggled to get a gig. “I’m OK with it now. But for a
little while there I felt like I was in a twilight zone. It was like,
is this real? What just happened?”
Redfern credits God and his family, particularly his late mother Mary, for his survival.
It can’t have been easy. At a time when Braybrook boys were
scrapping and smoking, Redfern was being dressed in lace cuffs and
“I had to sing the way they wanted me to sing, I had to dress
in a certain way that I really didn’t want to dress, and when I spoke
no one wanted me to sound too smart,” he recalls.
“Sometimes when I look
back, I cringe. There’s this interview on YouTube with Ernie Sigley and
everyone says it is so cute. But when I watch it I get embarrassed
because it wasn’t me. It wasn’t me being me. ”
Today Jim has found his own voice and is singing again, doing the odd solo gig and shows with brother and fellow Young Talent Time veteran Derek. “I want to enjoy that side of my life and take a bit of a
punt on it now,’’ he says.
“I’m starting to create shows that are a bit
more pop, rock and blues-oriented. I might not have that really big
voice I had as a kid, but it is still a good voice, and I think as you
get older you become so much more clever in how you interpret the
Redfern is also writing songs and has penned some for a Wiggles
album. He can’t see himself writing the book although he could pack it
with great anecdotes, like the time he sat on Ginger Rogers’ knee and
asked if it was true her legs were insured for a million dollars. “Yes,”
she had replied. “One for $600,000, the other for $400,000.” Which one
am I sitting on, he had asked. “The $400,000 one.” Redfern swapped legs.
“I don’t like the cheap seats,” he quipped.
“The thing about writing a book is I wouldn’t like to gloss over
the terrible things and the political stuff, and there was a hell of a
lot of it. I prefer to look at brighter things, at better things. Oh
boy, does that sound like the Jamie Redfern of old,” he laughs.
Details » www.showbusiness.net.au The next Redfern Brothers Show is at Watsonia RSL on September 17.