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Darren Hayes shares his story of battling mental health as part of one of the biggest music groups of the 90s.
The former Savage Garden member opened up about the band’s success and how their popularity unwittingly added pressure on the singer.
Hayes is now proudly open about his sexuality as a member of the gay community, but at the time his denial sent him into a deep depression.
“To the casual observer, I seemed confident, full of swagger with my vaguely ’70s kick wave and a blue-black dye job that could rival Elvis in his heyday,” he recalled in a deeply personal editorial in HuffPost. “But my bravado was a carefully crafted character, built to shield me from years of school bullying, denial and shame of my sexuality, and a mask to hide the rapidly rising depression that would soon become overwhelming.”
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He revealed that while his sexuality crisis was part of the reason for his struggle, he alleged that an unstable home environment of his abusive and alcoholic father also contributed to his declining mental health.
“No one could have known any of this while they were watching me on Rosie [O’Donnell’s] sofa. Savage Garden was on the verge of world fame and would go on to sell 26 million albums, have two Billboard No. 1 singles, and chart the world,” he shared. “Yet no one knew that I was deeply unhappy, barely containing secrets that would soon devastate me emotionally and send me to the brink of suicide at the height of my fame.”
Hayes carefully cultivated a persona that would shield him from the public discovering his secrets, especially during a time that was not hospitable to the growing LGBTQ+ community.
“The 80s were a horrible time to be a queer kid. We were inundated with warnings about a so-called ‘gay scourge’, and popular culture was littered with negative stereotypes about what a gay person was,” he explained. “I didn’t have any public role models that I identified with. I saw nothing but death on the news, and although I never told anyone about my crushes on boys, I had convinced myself that by mere thought I had contracted AIDS. .
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The young teenager found salvation during a Michael Jackson concert. The fluid androgyny embodied in the star’s performance inspired Hayes to venture into music as well.
“I made an impossible, magical pact with the universe that I would become an artist and one day make an audience weak at the knees and an entire auditorium forget their troubles,” he continued. “I would fill that horrible, horrible wound in my heart with the love of an audience. And what do you know? For a while, it worked!”
Savage Garden found success with their debut single I want you and would go on to find more hits with hits like “Truly Madly Deeply”, to sold-out stadium after stadium.
But the success did not help the singer in his internal struggles.
The band would disband in 2001, but it wasn’t until 2002 that Hayes sought professional help.
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“It was around 2002 that I started seeing a psychiatrist, a first step in finally dealing with the residual pains of my childhood and my budding sexuality,” he said. “I remember the therapist asking me, ‘Have you ever cried about your childhood?’ I thought that was a ridiculous question. Of course not. I was a survivor. I was strong. Then he reminded me that every child has the right to feel safe. Did I ever feel safe as a child? He asked. It seemed absurd.
This encouraged the singer to be more open about his sexuality, and it showed in his solo music career. He married her boyfriend Richard Cullen in 2005.
His desire to be more honest with himself was part of what drove his desire to return to music.
“I would honestly say my new album saved my life,” said the Aussie musician People. “I was in a dark place, emotionally, not understanding that just like my sexuality, my creative outlet is a huge part of who I am and by denying that, I was denying an essential part of me.”
Hayes recently released the music video for “Poison Blood” on June 26.
The singer said his new musical direction was an attempt to reclaim the years he spent in hiding.
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“I realized that I myself had never really been at the height of my fame and commercial success,” he added. “It would have been a huge regret for me to step back from the public eye without coming back into the world as an authentic me.”
The 50-year-old has more than just new music planned, he is also embarking on a UK tour in 2023. He hopes to share his new message of acceptance and understanding.
“Because I have fully embraced myself in my art, I no longer feel shame and stigma around my sexuality or my mental health,” he said. “I speak openly about both because I believe they are connected, and in speaking about what embarrasses us most, I hope bringing light to sadness will drive out darkness. In my latest single, “ Poison Blood”, I refer to my mental health as “a blessing, a gift and a curse”.