It’s several years since classically trained singer and member of original reality TV success story TrueBliss Carly Binding has released an album, or been in the public arena. But all that is set to change this month, when the 34-year-old will star in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s one-woman musical Tell Me on a Sunday – her first professional outing in years.
“It’s a new direction for me, and a massive challenge, putting myself back out there – but it’s been a long time coming,” explains Carly, who is mum to London, her son with former rugby league player and All Black Matthew Ridge, from the couple’s Auckland home.
“When the director, David Coddington, first asked me three years ago, Matthew and I had been trying for a baby, and I was pregnant, so I told David I couldn’t do it. We lost that baby, so David suggested we wait a year and do it again – and I got pregnant four months afterwards. So a year went by and I was still pregnant!”
While Carly is taking the challenge of a one-woman musical show in her stride, she’s a lot less keen on being back in the spotlight that was so blinding in 1999, when she, alongside bandmates Joe Cotton, Keri Harper, Erika Takacs and Megan Alatini, won Popstars – rocketing her into a world of stardom that she says blew her world – and her personality – apart.
“Being on a reality show changed me a lot – it took me a long time to get over doing it, and even now there's a stigma that stays with you forever,” explains Carly. “You have to bear that in mind when you decide to be in a reality show.”
It’s also the reason she’d never encourage London to follow his half-sister Jaime’s footsteps and open his life up for public judgment. “We just didn’t go there – we didn’t watch it,” says Carly of The Ridges, TV3’s reality show about Jaime and her mum, Sally – Matthew’s ex-wife.
“As a former reality star myself, I know that when you’re young you have no idea what you’re doing. You don’t know that once you’ve done it, it will be forever how the public define you. No matter who you are, or how you change, you will always be that girl from the show.”
It’s partly because Carly has such vivid memories of her time in reality TV that she chose not to join the other band members when they reunited for a child cancer charity event last year. “I just think you can never go back,” says Carly. “My time with the girls and with TrueBliss was unique and magical, and I’d like to keep the memories of that special time as they are, not try and re-create anything. It’s about moving on."
And moving on is something Carly has always done. Eight years after her first appearance on Popstars – during which time she became a successful solo artist – she moved to LA, where she played regular shows on Sunset Strip for four months.
“My music career was kind of in limbo – I’d been trained classically, but had been doing pop, and I didn’t really know where I was heading, so I figured I’d try my luck in LA,” she remembers. “I’d played some shows in the States, and there was interest in my music – but in reality, all I wanted was to stop and sort my life out.”
Now her career path has brought her to musical theatre. “Singing musicals is completely different to singing pop, and I’m still taking weekly lessons to iron out some issues with my voice, but I’m up to the challenge!” Carly says being a reality star is not something that she would do again.
“It took me a while to realise that what the people who go on reality shows want to get out of it isn’t necessarily what the production company is wanting. “These shows are on TV to entertain the public at all costs, and that usually means editing to make the ‘stars’ appear exactly as they want them to, to make them behave a certain way.
It’s not fair, because it’s not until you’re really deep into it that you realise you aren’t in control any more. I used to be loud and vivacious, but I became very self-conscious about how I behaved – one of the reasons I think being on a reality show is so detrimental to your character. You shouldn’t have to go through life always thinking about how people will perceive how you’re behaving.”
It has taken a lot of soul-searching, but Carly and Matthew are happy in their own world, which includes Matthew’s “other baby”, his handwash car wash and café Car-Fe, and their son, London, who turns two on November 16.
“London is, and always will be, the light of my life,” smiles Carly as London runs around her feet, kicking soccer balls and playing with the toy motorbike his beloved grandma, “Bamma”, (Matthew’s mother Sallie) gave him from the $2 Shop. “I’ve been waiting to have a child for a very long time, and London is full of joie de vivre - so alive, so in love with life. “
She and Matthew will have only one child, though. Matthew has a teenage son, Boston (15) and 19-year-old Jaime with Sally – “and London’s perfect. No need to see if we can make a better one! I don’t mind saying I think he’s just awesome.”
And watching the little family as they interact – Matthew makes Carly eat something before she heads out to the first major rehearsal for the new show, while London helps by turning the toast upside down on the couch – there’s no doubt that they have finally found contentment.
“Contrary to what a lot of people believe, Matthew is not ego-driven. He’s like me – both of us are very independent people, so there are no jealousy or control issues,” explains Carly. “We’ve both had our hard times, and we’re both proud of what we’ve achieved. We’re really very lucky.”