Camille O’Sullivan: breathtaking and wonderfully mad

I first published this piece on my production company’s website,, just before traveling to Edinburgh to perform at the Fringe.

I saw Camille O’Sullivan for the first time in 2008, just before setting off on what would be a life changing overseas adventure. I saw her again that year in Edinburgh at the Fringe and I remember thinking – I want to sing like that.

When I saw her again in 2009, a germ of an idea had started to form.

I watched a few different cabaret singers around that time. And I remember the exact seat I was sitting in and the exact moment watching Alan Cumming’s rendition of ‘Mein Herr’ that I thought to myself – a cabaret in which women sings songs by men about women. That could be fun.

But it started with Camille.

Last night I saw her new show, ‘Feel’, at the Basement. I was beside myself with excitement and I was not disappointed.

Camille is a fearless performer. Her willingness to be completely mad on stage is tempered by a lack of arrogance or ego, creating a wonderful mix of vulnerability and confidence. She knows she’s good – she must – and I recognised the twinkle in the eye of a performer who knows when she has the audience in the palm of her hand. But she’s created an onstage persona that is so playful and absurd that we’re as excited as she is to be along for the ride.

Her voice is breathy and powerful and rough and raw and completely enthralling. And her song choices are flawless. I cried through Waits and Cave and Cohen (of course). And her a cappella rendition of ‘Marieke’ by Jacques Brel never misses its mark.

My friend remarked in the car “she’s got a drop of the wanker in her.” And it’s true. Between the glowing bunnies and the meow-ing and the Wizard of Oz soundscapes, there’s a touch of the over-the-top artist at work. But she pulls it off. I think the lesson for us all is not to apologise for our wankier (artsier) tendencies. She owns it and performs it so convincingly, tempered with laughter and mockery – you feel all at once like she is laughing at herself for her crazy creative choices and laughing at you for letting her get away with this stuff. It’s wonderful.

She’s also spectacularly attractive. I remember thinking, as she marched across the stage in glittering red heels singing ‘In these shoes’ that she might be the sexiest woman in the world. At that moment she was, all pale legs and flying dark hair and wild vocal abandon.

I left The Basement excited and inspired and finally ready to go to Edinburgh.

I could never have imagined the last three years when I first cried through Camille’s rendition of ‘The Ship Song’, a song I’ve listened to countless times since. I couldn’t have conceived of this family we’ve built, could not have hoped to improve so much as a performer and singer, to have grown up so much as a person.

Through the decision to start performing I have made new and wonderful friends, found amazing artists and musicians to admire, lost all belief in myself then gained a whole new kind of confidence, had bizarre adventures in the streets of Adelaide, fallen a little bit in love here and there, sent millions of emails, laid awake wide eyed and terrified, been sick from stage fright, read reviews that made me cry (both good and bad), forgotten what it was like to socialise on Thursday nights (known as Rehearsal Night hereafter), spent the equivalent of a deposit on a small house, and built a life around the mad hope that Phoebe and I could some day do this stuff for a living.

And this is just the beginning. Because in six weeks – four years after I was last in Edinburgh – we open at Gilded Balloon’s Wine Bar.

So, um, thanks Camille…

…and thank you Alan Cumming and Queenie Van De Zandt and Caroline Nin and iOTA and Amanda Palmer and Chrissie Hynde and Leonard Cohen and Maxine Kauter and Brett Every and ali hughes and Nouvelle Vague and Bernadette Robinson and Martha Wainwright and Rufus Wainwright and Janelle Monae and Regina Spektor and Dolly Parton and Antony and Tori Amos and every other artist I’ve watched in the last four years and thought – I want to sing like that.