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Pianist David Helfgott shining for Australian -

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ELIZABETH JACKSON: It was the 1996 film 'Shine' that brought pianist David Helfgott to international attention.

He was a child prodigy who went on to study at the Royal College of Music in London only to have his career end abruptly after a mental breakdown.

Now he's back touring Australia, as Kesha West reports.

(Sound of David Helfgott playing the piano)

KESHA WEST: Sixty years after he first sat at a piano, David Helfgott is still playing.

And those that know him best say he's playing better than ever.

GILLIAN HELFGOTT: He's playing better now than I've ever heard him in 30 years, and the virtuosity is still there, the spontaneity.

KESHA WEST: Next month, Gillian Helfgott and her pianist husband will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary.

For her it's been three decades of joy, some challenges and a lot of music.

GILLIAN HELFGOTT: It's busy and it's noisy. He's got a beautiful sort of child like personality, but he does ask a lot of questions. And, of course, he has the radio on; he plays the piano at the same time.

(Sound of David Helfgott playing the piano)

KESHA WEST: David Helfgott is back in Australia for his most extensive national tour yet - that has taken him from Cairns to Perth, over to Tamworth and down to Wangaratta, with plenty of small and big cities in between.

The tour will end in Sydney on November 15th.

David Helfgott's been giving performances all over the world since Scott Hicks's film 'Shine' in 1996 thrust the talented pianist back into the public eye after mental illness almost ended his career.

SCOTT HICKS: I think the most exciting and gratifying thing about 'Shine' for me was that it gave David back fragments of a lost career.

KESHA WEST: Director and friend, Scott Hicks, puts a lot of the credit for David Helfgott's comeback down to Gillian.

But over the years since 'Shine' she's also been accused of being controlling and of exploiting her husband.

An idea Scott Hick's finds ridiculous.

SCOTT HICKS: (Laughs) I mean, if you think of exploiting as being sort of 24/7 darned hard work on someone else's behalf, that's about the only way that I could describe it.

KESHA WEST: Gillian Helfgott says she has, however, had to get used to speaking for her husband.

David Helfgott almost never gives interviews.

But during our phone interview with Gillian, he accepts a request for a quick hello.

DAVID HELFGOTT: Hello, hello, hello.

KESHA WEST: It's a pleasure to talk to you, David. Can you tell me how much you love piano playing?

DAVID HELFGOTT: Of course I love playing the piano; I'd rather do that than anything, because I'm born to a piano [inaudible] about a billion years ago, born to a piano.

And I think it's just my identity and I fell in love with the piano; it was a love affair that began a long, long time ago, a billion years ago, about 60 years ago - a great span of time.

KESHA WEST: Gillian says imagining him without a piano is not something she wants to do.

GILLIAN HELFGOTT: It's just too horrible a thought to even contemplate. The piano is his life; it's his being. As he said, it's when he feels complete as a person, when he's sharing his music.

He says he's going to play til he drops.

(Sound of David Helfgott playing the piano)

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Gillian Helfgott ending that report from Kesha West.