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Talking Heads -

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PETER THOMPSON: Welcome to Talking Heads. My guest this week is someone who has been unafraid to
completely reinvent himself. Mark Holden is the Carnation Kid turned courtroom barrister. A pop
star, then a Young Doctor, he spent 18 years in America as a successful songwriter and producer
from some of the biggest names in showbiz.

After a stint as a judge on Australian Idol, he's now in a real courtroom, becoming a barrister 38
years after starting his law degree. Mark, welcome to Talking Heads.

MARK HOLDEN: Thanks, Peter.

PETER THOMPSON: My learned friend, you've come today as a barrister.

MARK HOLDEN: I have, I'm in my tenth week since signing the bar roll. Yes, I'm a barrister.

PETER THOMPSON: And you look the part.

MARK HOLDEN: Thank you very much.

PETER THOMPSON: You used to be a Young Doctor, now you're a middle-aged barrister.

MARK HOLDEN: A middle-aged barrister? Thank you for that compliment because I thought I'd actually
passed middle-age.

PETER THOMPSON: I'd put it that 55 is the new 35.

MARK HOLDEN: Well said. Couldn't have said it better.

PETER THOMPSON: Now you've just gone through your first trial as a barrister.

MARK HOLDEN: Yes, I have.

PETER THOMPSON: Was it a trial?

MARK HOLDEN: It was an actual trial, and it wasn't a trial.

PETER THOMPSON: Did you get them off?

MARK HOLDEN: I don't know yet. The result's not in yet. Which for a barrister, particularly a baby
barrister, is tremendously exciting.

PETER THOMPSON: There are so many things you're known for. Most recently you were very widely known
for your role in Australian Idol as the reasonable judge.

MARK HOLDEN: As the reasonable judge? Gee, middle-aged and reasonable.

PETER THOMPSON: The person that gave specific help to contestants to make them feel better about

MARK HOLDEN: I approached Idol from the point of view of a person who had been an artist himself, a
songwriter, a producer, a manager, a record-company owner. I liked to give specific, useable advice
to the contestants because I was one of those people.

PETER THOMPSON: You've been there.

MARK HOLDEN: I was on Showcase in 1974. It's been handed on from New Faces, to Showcase, to Idol,
and of course, Australia's Got Talent.

PETER THOMPSON: The circus was in your family.

MARK HOLDEN: Yes. Holden and Sloggetts Travelling Circus was something my father used talk about.
And I thought that he was telling a porky. It was just too exotic and crazy growing up with a
father who was an architect for the Housing Trust and Mum, who was a teacher. To be told that there
was a circus in the family was wildly exotic and beautiful. At one point, one of the Holdens, when
I was living in Los Angeles, used to call me collect from a callbox in Albury-Wodonga and ask -
When are you coming back, when are you coming back? Cos he honestly thought that I was going to
come back and start the circus again.

PETER THOMPSON: Now, you really celebrate the family's role in the circus. But it was a bit of a
dark secret inside the family for a long time, wasn't it?

MARK HOLDEN: My father's mother regarded the Irish-Catholic circus family as not something to

PETER THOMPSON: But she'd married into it.

MARK HOLDEN: Well, yeah. She had. But she'd married into it with my grandfather who was gassed in
Ypres in World War One, and was sick. So Dad didn't get to meet the Holden side of the family all
that often. Perhaps just at funerals, really.

I remember as a child, we'd find ourselves around the piano late in the day on a Sunday with my mum
on the piano and my dad, the bathroom baritone, singing in full voice after three or four beers.

I went Westminster School in Adelaide. I was really encouraged to be a musician. I remember we were
given a room under a stairwell to rehearse our band. Last year they asked me if I would write a
song for their 50th anniversary, and I'm working on that song today.

When I left Westminster, I went to uni and I started a law degree. And to support myself while I
was going through uni I sang at various bars around town, but I also sang at the Pancake Kitchen
with my brother.

End of my third year of Law at Adelaide Uni, I did Showcase, which was a talent search program on
Channel Nine. I managed to get through to the grand final. I had been offered a recording deal with
EMI and three months before my final exams I took up the recording deal and put law to the side,
much to my mother and father's horror. My first album, Dawn In Darkness, was a complete flop. It
sold 2,000 copies, I think it was #23 in Armidale. It was my first big slap in the face.

PETER THOMPSON: And here it is. From the Armidale Record Library at the ABC, Mark Holden's Dawn In
Darkness. It hit #23. It did get up.

MARK HOLDEN: In Armadale. Here's the annoying thing. Nobody's stolen it, it's still there 30 years

PETER THOMPSON: It shows you it wasn't all that popular.

MARK HOLDEN: That's right. Yeah, it was a big disappointment, that one. It was entirely original,
all the songs I wrote as a kid. But it took me, got me out into the world. It got me into the game.
And it got me out of law, actually. The decision that I'd made was-

PETER THOMPSON: I was going to ask you about this, son.

MARK HOLDEN: Yes. Yes, Dad?

PETER THOMPSON: When you fronted up to your mum and dad and said - I'm dropping out of law with
three months to go.

MARK HOLDEN: They weren't happy campers. They didn't understand it. Particularly my father. Having
grown up, still the ripples of World War One, really. It's extraordinary the insecurity that he had
from his father never working.

PETER THOMPSON: Back in those teenage years you were actually learning music through Handel's

MARK HOLDEN: Handel's Messiah. (SINGS) The trumpet shall sound...

Hmm, now you're putting me on the spot.

PETER THOMPSON: This is Australian Idol.

MARK HOLDEN: (SINGS) And the dead shall be raised, be raised incorruptible.

But anyway, that's my memory of it 40-something years later. Pretty ordinary isn't it?

PETER THOMPSON: It complicated getting into pop?

MARK HOLDEN: It did complicate it. And in fact if I'd only stuck with it, I'd know how to do it by

In 1974 I had the great opportunity to work for YPP, Young People's Programs, on the ABC. And I did
Target and worked with the beautiful Jane Fennell. Then while I was doing Target, I listened to
Never Going To Fall In Love Again, recorded it, and low and behold it became a hit. 1976, suddenly
I found myself as a pop star.

In 1976 I was offered the role of Dr Greg Mason in the Grundy's production of The Young Doctors.
And it just became this massive hit. And you'd do one take. That's it. It was a sausage factory
like crazy! It was not quality acting at any level, but it was enormously good fun. And it
generated hits. After that, my second, third and fourth singles became hits.

In the late '70s, I had two great film opportunities. One was called Blue Fire Lady and I was the
kind of boy-candy, really, is I guess what I was! In Newsfront, I was the guy that represented the
change from the '50s to the '60s.

PETER THOMPSON: Back in those early days you were told that you'd have to overcome the handicap of
a pretty face.

MARK HOLDEN: Well, I've overcome that, finally.

PETER THOMPSON: What was meant by that?

MARK HOLDEN: Well it is, you know. There's an ease when you're a pop singer or a soap opera person,
which I was both, when you've got a pretty face. And it's not a good thing to get away with those
things because you actually don't learn the craft of a great character actor-

PETER THOMPSON: It's like having too much money, too early, is it?

MARK HOLDEN: Sort of, yeah. And what you don't realise at the time is that it's transitory.

PETER THOMPSON: You were to spend time later managing a producing others. But what about the
management and production of you? Peter Threlfall, for example.

MARK HOLDEN: Peter Threlfall, I met on Showcase. He was coaching one of the opera singers, and a
couple of the other performers, and he started coaching me. And I really responded to his


MARK HOLDEN: Well, "You don't have a great voice, Mark. So you're going to have to make the words
means something."

PETER THOMPSON: That's a pretty hard thing to say to a young person - you don't have much of a

MARK HOLDEN: Well, he was right. Absolutely. I don't have.

PETER THOMPSON: Did you think, oh, yes, you're right?

MARK HOLDEN: Well, I did, really. What I had to do was overcome it with image, which I did. Peter
and I constructed this image of the Hardy Amies suits and the wing collars, and the carnation. That
was totally an accident. On the way to Countdown one day and the girls didn't know me, they were
screaming for John Paul Young, which really annoyed me.

PETER THOMPSON: How irritating!

MARK HOLDEN: It was. I thought - how am I going to overcome that? Well, what do you do with a girl?
You bring her flowers, or course. Colour had just come in. What a concept. And so we thought - red,
and OH&S meant no thorns. Carnations!

PETER THOMPSON: It's interesting how these things happen, isn't it? What about the grandfather

MARK HOLDEN: The thinking in those days it was AC/DC, it was all those kind of bands. T-shirts,
flannel shirts and jeans. And that creature, Carnation Boy, cut through.

PETER THOMPSON: You're pretty grounded on one level. You've done law until the cusp of finishing.
You've embraced this world, how big-headed are you? Or grounded?

MARK HOLDEN: In those days? Um...

PETER THOMPSON: Can't remember!


PETER THOMPSON: Pretty big-headed is my hypothesis.

MARK HOLDEN: Yeah. I think I did realise after three or four years, that this was a finite period.

PETER THOMPSON: It was about this time that you became a dad to your son, Cane. So this is the peak
of your pop idol period in Australia. Did it turn you into a domestic dad?

MARK HOLDEN: Sadly it didn't. I have become a domestic dad with my second child, Katie. There is a
hole that being away created that I don't have with my daughter. I think there's a number of
fathers out there that can relate to that. I'm not alone in that, I don't think.

Mark on TV: "Hard day at the office here in Hollywood. Coast to coast on Countdown."

I left Australia in 1980 to go to America, essentially to leave the Carnation Kid behind because I
knew every pop star has a cycle. Just as surely as the star ascends, the star falls. And I wanted
to dig deeper and reach further. Got to America, put a single out, and it completely flopped. And I
found myself in America having left Australia with a top-ten record, a hit television show. I found
myself in Los Angeles with a flop, saying to myself - what do I do now? Do I go back and finish my
law degree? Do I go back to Australia with my tail between my legs? At that point I decided - No,
I'm going to dig in, and I'm going to write a hit song. And at exactly that time, this whole song
arrived in my head called Lady Soul.

And this opportunity to work with the Temptations, it went onto Motown's Greatest Hits collection,
and also the Temptations' Greatest Hits collection. That was just so life-affirming. Over the next
few years I worked with Fleetwood Mac, Belinda Carlisle, Milla Jovovich. The oddest juxtaposition
of people I worked with - Donnie Osmond, on his Soldier Of Love album. At the same time as I was
working with Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols.

I made that transition of not just writing songs and pitching them for other people, I would create
the projects. So that was the evolution of becoming a producer and becoming a businessman.

PETER THOMPSON: You had this insight that what you had couldn't last in Australia. This is a
remarkable transformation. You whiter that white guy, with the carnations...

MARK HOLDEN: Exactly, Carnation Boy.

PETER THOMPSON: ...allowed entree into the black-music world.

MARK HOLDEN: Once I got into America and started writing songs, this feeling, this groove, this
deep-soul feeling - I just found myself more and more attracted to it. One of the greatest memories
in my life was sitting in the studio with the Temptations. They were trying to work out the
harmonies of my song, Lady Soul. So I sang Lady Soul, the melody, while the Temptations were
working out their harmonies around me. Oh, I get a chill up the back of my neck even thinking about
it now.

PETER THOMPSON: How did that song come to you?

MARK HOLDEN: I read every Jung book, and I analysed myself. I spent a whole year writing down every
dream, every day. And meditating. And at the end of that year, I came to the conclusion that I was
going to be a songwriter, I was going to hang in and be a songwriter. And low and behold, I had a
song in my head.

PETER THOMPSON: The lyrics, and the melody?

MARK HOLDEN: Everything. The whole chorus, just as a piece of music was in my head, playing to me.
It was a gift from life. Making that kind of music was just wonderful.

PETER THOMPSON: That door was to slowly close. And there are a couple of things that came along
that were, in a sense, signals of that. The Rodney King beating by the police in LA was one of
them. Why was that a turning point?

MARK HOLDEN: Where Rodney King got the brick, and was beaten senseless, that corner was right near
one of the studios that I worked in, in Watts.

PETER THOMPSON: It became unsafe, but also attitudes hardened.

MARK HOLDEN: Attitudes hardened because at that point, what I was doing was R & B music. It then
became less possible for me to actually make a living in that world as the hip-hop/rap world took
off. I went from the sublime to the ridiculous. I went from deep R & B to the Hoff. David

PETER THOMPSON: Why did you two click so much?

MARK HOLDEN: Because he is a suburban bloke. He is a guy from a place just like where I'm from. He
had done The Young And The Restless, he was Snapper on The Young And The Restless. I was young Dr
Greg. He was so much fun to be around. We were having hits.

(SINGS) Wir Zwei Allein Heut Nacht


PETER THOMPSON: When did you write that one?

MARK HOLDEN: We wrote a song called A Star Looks Down. Those songs, we've got a number of songs
that were in Baywatch. They're going to circle the universe generating royalties 70 years after I'm

PETER THOMPSON: I'm sorry I'm not related to you.

MARK HOLDEN: It's a beautiful thing. The Hoff is the gift that keeps giving.

I arrived in America in 1980. A couple of years in I met this fabulous girl, Anna. We've been
married, we've been together for 25 years and we have a beautiful daughter, Katie. And a singing
dog, Jazzy. As soon as my wife became pregnant, I said - that's it. We're going home. We moved back
to Australia in September of '96. I wanted to bring up my daughter in Australia, I wanted to plant
her in this soil.

See what the wind's like. I think if we head out to where that boat is.

Back in Australia in '96, I started my law degree again. Low and behold, in the middle of that,
Jack Strom and I discovered Vanessa Amorosi, and she became a bloody great big hit! I co-wrote
Shine with Vanessa. And Absolutely Everybody was the song of the Olympics. So that was an
extraordinary moment for me, apart from the fact that it was a hit in 17 countries.

Idol was most certainly a happy accident. Given that it was finding new talent, singers, all the
things that I love. It was just incredible.

PETER THOMPSON: Reading the story of your life, it's a page-turner because there's so many parts to
it, so many different chapters. As a former pop idol, how much do you feel for these young wannabes
that go on shows like Idol?

MARK HOLDEN: I completely feel for them. I absolutely and totally feel for them. I am them, they
are me. The path that they are on, I was on, I'm still on that path.

PETER THOMPSON: You're on it again, in a way.

MARK HOLDEN: I'm on it again, absolutely. I'm a baby barrister, I'm starting again. It's all new. I
am that person that's trying to break in.

PETER THOMPSON: What threads it all together in your mind?

MARK HOLDEN: Um, my wife says, that I've only ever done things that I like. I've never done
something that I don't want to do. She thinks that I'm utterly selfish. And I think she's right.
I've been very lucky that I've turned my mind to the things that interest me. And I've been able to
make them work. I've been able to turn them into a livelihood, into a life. And I think that's what
it is. I just follow my instinct, follow my nose. I don't really know where I'm going next. If a
year ago you'd told me I was going to be a barrister, I would have gone - excuse me?

PETER THOMPSON: Late in your dad's life, and he died quite young, didn't he?

MARK HOLDEN: Yeah, he did. He died in his early 60s.

PETER THOMPSON: He said to you, he'd wished he'd been a DJ.

MARK HOLDEN: He did. It was one of the last things he'd said to me. That he'd always really wanted
to be a DJ. It was a complete shock to me! Because he loved music, he loved it, but he was too
afraid to take that leap. As I say, I think absolutely in response to his own father's not working,
and illness, and the poverty that they experienced from being on, I guess what was some sort of
pension. My response to that was the opposite. Each generation responds as an opposite to the last.
So I got rid of the security and threw myself into an utterly insecure world to force myself to
figure out how to do it.

In November of 2009, at the tender age of 55, I became a barrister. Only took me 38 years to get
there, but I finally got there. The law, coming around at this part of my life where I can now
challenge myself again and learn again and start from scratch again and force myself up another
hill. It's something that I can do where age is a positive, rather than - well, you're wrinkled and
fat, we don't want you on telly, we don't want to see you. I want to continue chipping away at the
law, and continue chipping away at being a barrister because I feel useful. When I go to Colac
Magistrate's Court and do a plea for a kid, I feel useful, I feel like I'm contributing, and I feel

PETER THOMPSON: The well-worn track for meeting clients is you get referrals from solicitors. Is
that going to be the case for you, given your other personas?

MARK HOLDEN: Well, you have a clerk, and I'm on Foley's List so work comes through the clerk. But
people recognise me, and this young woman said to me - Oh, Mark, how's the law going? I said - I've
just been at the Broadie Mag. She said - I'm in the Broadie Mag next week, can I have your card?
And another one where at the end of an intervention order I managed to get, the person for whom I
got the intervention order came up to me at the end in front of my client and said - can I have
your autograph? I said - I just don't think it's appropriate.

PETER THOMPSON: You're getting serious now. It's been great sharing your life with you. Thank you,
Mark, for coming on Talking Heads.

MARK HOLDEN: Thanks, Peter.