There was a time entertainer Brendan de la Hay wasn’t all that comfortable expressing his feelings on stage.
It was when he was a 17-year-old theatre student. But he found a creative way to overcome this challenge, which later helped shape part of his signature look as an international cabaret performer.
“I started creating characters who wore lots of make-up and masks,” said the 28-year-old. “Initially, it was my way of getting around this fear, but now I am completely at home on stage and with the audience.”
Known for his extravagant stage presence and colourful costumes, the performer is widely recognised for his characters Valere and Cruello de Vil.
Both characters were first introduced to audiences when he was a contestant on Australia’s Got Talent in 2013, where he got through to the finals.
Most recently, he’s been in the public eye as part of the 100-judge panel on Channel 7 reality-TV singing show All Together Now.
During the show, he has been able to show off some of his colourful wardrobe — he has three rooms at home filled with costumes (one dedicated to shoes).
“I remember when I was 17, I went and saw a Moliere play adapted by the Sydney Theatre Company called The Bourgeois Gentleman and became obsessed with the costumes that were designed by Julie Lynch,” de la Hay said.
“I borrowed one of the costumes for my character Valere and kept going back to borrow it until they finally just said, ‘Here, keep it’. Last year, they had a huge costume sale and I ended up buying all the costumes from that show.”
The actor has appeared in productions including TV drama Love Child and performed in arts and music festivals around the country. He lives in Sydney in a warehouse he shares with two friends.
Typical Saturday morning
Normally, I will be sleeping because it has probably been a late Friday night at work. Then, when I get up, it’s all about brunch.
Secret domestic skill
I love organising drawers and Tupperware cupboards — I am that person. I’m very finicky about where I like things placed.
I can’t go past jazz, and my favourite artist is Julie London.
On my bedside table
A candle, a lamp and my mobile phone. I keep it quite minimal because when you live in a warehouse filled with costumes, it’s already manic enough. I also have some books and am a huge Oscar Wilde fan. I love his cheekiness.
Favourite spot to relax
We have a great backyard where we have some fabulous graffiti-style artwork on the walls. It’s also super green with lots of plants.
Ideal night in
A drink with friends in the lounge while playing music and singing. I just love a good singalong.
Happiness at home
Creating and collaborating.
My favourite things
This is where I come up with all of my ideas — my place of inspiration. All those drawers are filled with everything you can imagine, from glitter and stickable butterflies to rhinestones. While doing the show All Together Now, I found the airconditioned environment I was working in for so many hours was causing my make-up to run. I decided to take a different approach and just stuck things to my face so I didn’t have to wear make-up. I had a different look for every day. When it comes to costume design, period dramas are my favourite. There was so much freedom of expression back then — men were fabulous and peacocks and wore outrageous things.
This is a portrait of me as my cabaret persona Cruello de Vil. The artwork was painted in 2015 by current Archibald Prize finalist Kathrin Longhurst. I met Kathrin at a friend’s soiree filled with amazing artists. I felt like I was at a Studio 54 party because I was surrounded by so many famous people. Kathrin is such a creative inspiration and has become one of my closest friends. She was born and lived in East Germany, when the wall was up, and her paintings are usually very politically charged. I think it’s really important as a creative to not surround yourself with identical artists, otherwise you don’t expand and grow.
These banjos belonged to my grandfather, Oswald Owen, and my great-grandfather, Sidney Owen. Sidney was an amazing musician and played with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. He also owned quite a few music stores. Oswald wanted to become a musician but when World War II started, it was no longer a viable option and he became a tailor. The family had to close their stores during this time as well. When I was born, my mum decided I would learn everything. I studied piano and cello and had singing lessons. My grandfather also taught me to play the banjo.
My family live in Bargo, near the Southern Highlands of NSW. I have two brothers — one is in the army and the other is an electrician. We are so vastly different, but all musical. My mum has a beautiful singing voice and is the one who inspired my love for music. This photo was taken next to the cubby house Dad built for us when we were kids (de la Hay is pictured left, front). I used to enjoy climbing inside and singing to myself. Today, I feel the real joy in being a performer is seeing some form of change in the people who are watching me; whether (the performance) is making them feel happy, laugh or cry.
These wigs belong to my stage character Valere. He was the first character I created, and, in many ways, he is an extension of me. People often think I am playing someone else when I am on stage, but I’m really not. I’ve just taken a section of myself and blown it out of proportion. The blonde wig (fourth from left) was designed by Tim Chappel, who designed the costumes for the film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. I wore the pink one (centre) when I performed in front of the princess of Thailand in Hong Kong on New Year’s Eve in 2014. My wig is always the finishing touch, but I have to say, the shoes are what really get me into character.