Since bursting into the public spotlight as a round-faced 18-year-old on Australian Idol, Stan Walker’s rags to riches story has captivated us. But his 'back story' of physical and sexual abuse has always been confined to two lines, brushed over, he’s forgiven and moved on.
But no more. Stan has more to say, a lot more.
Reading an early manuscript of his book Impossible: My Story left me somewhat shell shocked. I felt anxious going to meet 29-year-old Stan for the first time.
I’ve interviewed many survivors of physical and sexual abuse, every one is different and the conversation can be really awkward at first. But from the moment we met, Stan’s 'what you see is what you get’ demeanor was quite disarming.
“I’m really nervous,” he said – well, that made two of us!
Despite the early jitters he made it very clear he understood I wasn’t going to dance around the subject – that he was ready to tell the full story.
Stan’s story is full of extremes and contradictions; love and hate, richness and poverty, it is not easy-listening, it jars, it’s triggering, uncomfortable and at times it’s very confronting. That’s why it’s so important.
By the time we met again at his marae we were both in beach mode, relaxed and chatty.
He’s clearly super proud of his whenua and marae – Tamapahore which sits on Mangatawa maunga surrounded by papa kainga housing for many of his whānau. We bounce along in his truck as he points out cousin this and aunty that’s whare – everyone stops him, there’s lots of "cheers cuz" out the window and promises to catch up later.
Surprisingly, some of his light and breezy way continues as we talk outside his childhood home about the violence of his father.
Stan can recount memories of abuse with a wry look on his face. "Why do you do that?", I ask and he says it’s because he can’t really believe it was his family.
"We’ve changed so much – it’s like I’m talking about a totally different whānau.”
One vivid memory as a child was when Stan and his cousins were late bringing fish and chips home for dinner. His father Ross beat him to the ground, with blood on his face he remembers looking down the corridor and seeing the four little faces of his cousins peering around the door frame. Just looking at each other. They didn’t know what to say and neither did he.
We spend several days together near Tauranaga, at the beach and on his marae. During breaks in our filming he’s on his phone, to his girlfriend or parents Ross and April in Melbourne. A habit built after years on the road. He’s forgiven his father and together the family have forged a whole new path. Like night and day.
When we sit down for the main interview it’s time to shed light on the terrible secret he kept for much of his childhood.
When he was 8-years-old Stan was raped by an older cousin almost every day after school for eight months.
“It stuffed me up for years,” he said, and I can feel his anger as we lock eyes and he describes the anguish of sexual abuse.
He adopts different voices at times to explain how confusing it was, his attacker preying on his innocence, whispering encouragement to keep the secret.
I knew he was ok with me asking him anything and that is extremely rare in an interview of this nature. I felt privileged to be in that space with him.
Like Stan, I too hope his story will encourage other people with similar experiences to come forward and know they are not alone.
Stan's book, Impossible: My Story (HarperCollins NZ), will be published on October 14.