His story is the ultimate triumph over adversity, of hope over despair, and forgiveness over bitterness.
The X Factor New Zealand judge Stan Walker has always been open about his Once Were Warriors past.
His father took drugs and beat him, his siblings and his mother. He was sexually abused by a relative at the age of nine, started taking drugs himself, and
wanted to give up on life.
It took a powerful combination of music and faith to turn his life around.
Having gone through more in his 22 years than a person should in a lifetime, Stan incredibly has no regrets, resentment or anger – and says he owes it to both himself and everyone else to talk about what happened to him during his childhood in Mount Maunganui.
“I’m a pretty open person,” he says. “So it wasn’t initially a conscious decision to talk publicly about everything. But then I realised my responsibility. I had a platform, and I had the opportunity to help people who had gone through the same things as me, or anyone else who needed help.”
He’s aware of how some people see him. “I know that I sound cheesy,” he says with a smile. “And I know some people won’t get it. But it’s for real. I don’t know how else I can say what I say. Honest to God, I wouldn’t have taken this position unless it helped someone. And I’m trying to
use what’s happened with me to help my contestants.”
Stan’s become very attached to his category, the Over 25s. It’s something he didn’t expect, and something he thought would be a lot easier.
“This is challenging, man. I’m so invested. I’m an emotional guy!” he says. “Maybe that’s a bad thing. I realised the other day, when we were working through the performances – jeez, I love these guys. I didn’t think that would happen.”
Having been based in Australia since before winning Australian Idol in 2009, Stan says being back home in New Zealand has left him both re-energised and relaxed.
“I’ve put on weight, the food is too good here,” he laughs. “I have to be something else in Australia, but this is my home, so I’m not going to try. I’m going to be the real me. When I’m in Oz, my accent is a lot clearer, but I’m not going to try and sound flash here!
“I’m passionate about this place. I love New Zealand so much, and you can never, ever forget your roots.”
He’s got a few tiki tours planned while he’s based in Auckland, to see as much of his large family as he can.
While his mum and dad – who are still together after overcoming their difficult pasts – and four siblings live in Australia, Stan’s got many aunties, uncles and grandparents dotted around the country.
“I really have to go and see my nan,” he says. “Shout-out to my nan! I love her. She’s incredible. I’m really close to my family, they mean everything.”
At the moment, life for Stan has never been better. He’s currently dating The Voice Australia contestant Brittany Cairns, someone he describes as “awesome”, “beautiful” and “amazing”.
But being a judge on The X Factor has taken him to new heights. “I thought the peak of my career was after Idol, but this is the best job I’ve ever had.
Actually, it’s going to be hard to go back to Australia.” And although he knows that it will annoy some people, he’s quick to thank God for everything he has.
“When people think about Christians, they think, ‘Oooh… judgmental people,’” he says, with a wry smile. “But I’m just a real person. I’m like everyone else.
I’m crazy – probably crazier than normal people. But not crazier than Daniel [Bedingfield],” he adds quickly.
And mixed with the crazy is a thoughtful maturity that comes from a person at peace with their past and an understanding of how his own experiences can help him mentor his remaining contestants, Anna Wilson and Maaka Fiso.
“Whatever’s happening in here,” he says, pointing to his heart, “will come out. You need to use what’s going on as fuel. That’s what I ask my contestants: ‘What do we need to break down or face so you can be free on stage?’ That’s the key. Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”