Kate Miller-Heidke hobbles to her seat in the lobby of a bustling hotel in central London.
She tells me she’s sustained an infection in her foot from a blister acquired by 10 hours of dancing on a cobblestone street.
How does a 5’3″ girl from Australia’s north east coast end up in high heels for a half day dance break on the opposite side of the world? She was filming her Eurovision postcard — the prerecorded video compilation before each act performs live on stage.
Who knew Eurovision could be so cut-throat?
Kate’s on antibiotics for the infection, as well as strict doctor’s orders to keep off her feet. It’s going to be hard, with Kate explaining she’s flying back to Australia in the afternoon to rework her live staging.
‘We’re changing things up quite drastically,’ she revealed. ‘I can’t reveal any big details but it’s technically quite involved.’
When pressed on how her original stilt costume dress will make it across the pond from Australia to Tel Aviv, she then revealed: ‘The costume’s changing dramatically.’
She’s heading back to Australia to go ‘straight into intensive rehearsal’ but the injury’s thrown a spanner in the works.
‘I’m going to have to push everything back a little bit,’ she lamented.
We caught up with the Zero Gravity singer about meeting Madonna, her biggest competition and the mounting pressure for Kate to boycott Eurovision.
The first time I ever saw you perform, it was about 10 years ago and it was some sort of comedy talk show. You performed your song Words and I just remember thinking how unique it was. I had the same thought when I first saw Zero Gravity. What was going through your mind when you wrote it?
It’s a song about coming out of depression.
So it tries to capture that feeling of getting back in control of your life. Feeling strong again, feeling energetic again, after a long period of feeling down. It uses the metaphor of weightlessness, like a weight’s been lifted off.
You know, I had an experience with depression after the birth of my son Ernie and it took me a long time to sort of come out of that. And when the fog did lift, I felt this enormous sense of relief because when you’re depressed, it feels like it’s going to go on forever.
So when it ended, I felt that there was this edge of total elation that came with that and so this song tries to capture that.
The verses are in this dark place, but then there’s a sense of liberation in the choruses and then absolute transcendence and empowerment by the end of the song.
How do you hope the song will resonate with people?
It’s impossible for me to control how people experience my song, but their reaction to it has been amazing.
I’ve received a lot of really meaningful messages online from people who say that it’s touch them in some way and that makes me feel so grateful.
It really gives more meaning to what I do as an artist.
So why did you decide to enter the Eurovision Song Contest?
I’ve always been a fan of Eurovision and I think, as an artist, what really drew me to it is that it seems like a place where outsiders can be celebrated.
I love the extremes of Eurovision and just how artists are given carte blanche to do whatever the fuck they want to do.
Also, I love the theatricality of it and the spectacle, so that’s why I had this strong little desire to be involved.
How did you feel when it was announced you won Australia’s vote?
Surprised! I was taken aback because the competition was really strong. Electric Fields, Courtney Act…
Lots of brilliant artists and lots of them are dear friends now, so I didn’t expect to win but totally thrilled and grateful to.
You mentioned that you love how entrants can do whatever the fuck they want to do. I recently saw that you met Hatari, Iceland’s entrant
Yeah! I love them
What was your opinion on them? A queer BDSM hardcore group
I absolutely love what they do.
It’s performance art and every interview they do is a theatrical experience. I think they’re very clever, really thoughtful, funny — hilariously funny and I actually love that song.
It’s a great pop song.
Lyrics like ‘Hate will prevail!’
Yeah, I googled the song lyrics and it just, you know, I just find it absolutely delightful.
Who’s your biggest competition? Have you sized up who you’re competing against?
I know it is a competition but I’m thinking of it more as a celebration.
And I don’t mean for that to come across as sounding trite or insincere but that’s how I do think of it and that’s how I always experienced Eurovision as a punter too.
I was never super interested in the rankings at the end beyond who won obviously, but I was more interested in actually just experiencing it as the most crazy eclectic concert you would ever see in your life.
So I can’t go into it with that competitive mindset because I’ll come out of it too bruised and traumatized.
Have you seen any of the other performances?
I performed at the Amsterdam pre-party Eurovision concert [in the Netherlands] over the weekend (6/7 April) so that was a great chance to stand in the audience and have a dance to all the other acts.
It was so much fun.
I love Tulia, the Polish girls, They have amazing vocals and great people. The Norweigan entry, Spirit in the Sky — that’s definitely one of my favorites.
Songs that you wouldn’t hear on the radio. That’s where my heart lies.
Did you hear Madonna is performing? Are you a fan?
She’s reportedly going to do two songs — one from a new album and one from her back catalogue of songs. Do you have one that you would prefer for her to do?
The Like A Prayer era would be amazing for me.
Cherish, Express Yourself. I’d love that.
Are you hoping to be backstage where she is and potentially meet her?
I’m fully anticipating that we won’t be allowed to look her in the eye.
So I’m not going to get my hopes up for that. Maybe I’ll be able to photo bomb in the back of someone else’s selfie.
More than 60 LGBTI organizations have called for a boycott of Eurovision this year in respects to being an ally to Palestinians and pinkwashing. What do you say to the calls from people to boycott Israel?
The decision to go to Israel’s not one that I made lightly. I thought deeply about it and tried to read from all sides of this absolutely messy, messy struggle that’s going on.
I don’t agree that performing in a country means that you endorse that country’s government.
As a concept, I struggle with the idea of cutting off a whole people from music and learning and culture. I struggle with the idea that that’s how we move forward.
But I know that I have a lot to learn and I’m looking forward to spending more time there and meeting Palestinians and learning more about it.
From a pinkwashing perspective, it does make sense that that aspect of the community do feel aligned with oppressed people and injustices and I fully understand that perspective.
Think about what’s happening in Brunei at the moment. This kind of coming together — the international gay community is an empowering thing from that perspective too.
The whole thing is so complex. It’s something I do struggle with and I’m still thinking about, but I’m reluctant to go out and make any sort of sweeping definitive statements about it beyond the fact that I’ve always thought that music and art should break down barriers.
So do you have plans to meet Palestinian people while you’re in Israel?
There’s a Jewish Palestinian choir in East Jerusalem that I’m really hoping to meet and talk with.
I know we’re trying to arrange other opportunities. Not just me, but the other artists are keen and the other people from SBS — the broadcaster — we don’t want to go over there and whitewash, which is what we’re being accused of.
I’m gonna try to get the whole picture.
I had a really good conversation with Hatari about it. I know that they’re thinking deeply about it too.
All I can say is that I know for a fact that all the artists are thinking about it deeply.
Do you feel the international pressure from people asking you to boycott Israel?
What’s your relationship with the LGBTI community?
I don’t have an official relationship [laughs].
But most of my friends are gay and, I mean, I’m in the world of musical theatre and I have an opera background.
Have you been to The Beat in Brisbane?
I used to go to The Beat a lot when I was growing up. And I did get to perform at Mardi Gras a couple of years ago, which was amazing.
I’ve been seeing online some incredible drag queens performing Zero Gravity, with a lot of humor.
The song is so over the top already, but they really actually provide some inspiration to me.
Are you planning any Pride events? Potentially Brisbane Pride in September?
Look, if they’ll have me, I’d love to!
I’ve actually played at that before quite a long time ago. Nearly eight or nine years ago, so probably time to go back.
Any new music coming up or plans for the future? I know you spent a lot of time composing for the Muriel’s Wedding musical
Muriel’s Wedding [has] been taking up the vast bulk of my time in the last few years.
It’s actually been a long time since I’ve written anything for my own voice or released anything from my own voice so I’m I’m gonna go back into the studio after Eurovision.
Yes, I’ll start work on a new studio album.