Urban Street Flair Music star reveals his life under lockdown with wife Nicole Kidman
Country rocker Keith reveals why he asked 14-year-old busker on Grafton Street to join him on stage at 3Arena
AS he strutted down Dublin's Grafton Street last year, superstar Keith Urban was stopped in his tracks by the sound of young Irish busker Sam Clifford.
Hours later, Sam, then aged 14 and from the city's southside suburb of Ballinteer, found himself on stage performing with Urban in front of 10,000 fans at the 3Arena.
As he launches a new album this weekend, The Speed of Sound - Part 1, Keith tells the Sunday World that he saw himself in young Sam that chilly afternoon on Grafton Street.
"I very much did," he tells me. "I absolutely did, and I love that kind of getting your hands dirty, getting in there, getting the experience, doing what it takes.
"I've done all kinds of things, from being in a little theatre group when I was seven years old playing in a shopping centre on school holidays, to doing different talent contests that my mum would drive me around to, to playing on street corners.
"Like Sam, I was just saying 'yes' to everything and playing anywhere I could. You have to have that passion, and having supportive parents helps too.
"I had that, but at the end of the day they were only going to support me if I stayed motivated and kept practising and playing and really working hard. I'm very, very grateful to them for that."
Looking back to his encounter with Sam on Grafton Street, Keith says: "I stood and watched him for a little while. I was going to go up and introduce myself, and then he stopped playing and I thought, 'gosh, I'd like to have heard a little bit more of him', and I walked off.
"I had this niggling feeling that I should go up and introduce myself. I got quite a distance away and a little voice in my head said, 'just go back, introduce yourself, say hi.'
"So I walked back and saw him packing his stuff up and I saw what I thought was his mum there helping him, and I was so touched by the whole do it yourself attitude and vibe he had going on.
"I went over to him and I particularly loved that he agreed to come and play with me that night, even though he didn't know who I was.
"I didn't tell him where I was playing. I said, 'I'm doing a gig tonight, do you want to come and sit in?' And he said, 'Oh, I'd love to!'
"And then his mum said, 'Do you know who he is?' And I don't think he knew who I was, which was fantastic. So the fact that he didn't know who I was, didn't know where I was going to play, and I said, 'do you want to play?' and he's like, 'yep', that's fantastic, it's just great. I'm glad I listened to that good inner voice."
New Zealand-born and Australian raised Urban (52), who has two daughters, Sunday (11) and Faith (9), with his Hollywood actress wife Nicole Kidman, was in lockdown with his family at their Nashville home at the start of the pandemic.
The country rocker says it gave him time to enjoy family life. "It really did, and it was this rolling bittersweetness at the time," he tells me.
"We knew right away this is an extraordinary time to be with our family, of course, but there was also this underlying awareness of why we've got this time and the kind of experiences other humans around the world are going through. The hell that people were going through day and night all over the planet always tempered it just a little bit. So it was a summer of bittersweetness."
Nicole, or "Nic" as he calls her in the interview, has been a rock in his life, particularly during his battle with booze in the early days of their marriage.
Next month, Urban will be 14 years sober and he says: "It's really just part of life for me now. I don't even think about it any more. I just live in a different way. It's been 14 years in October and it feels like the way you feel when you've left school and you've gone out and joined the workforce. Years and years later you look back and go, 'oh, that's right, I used to be in school once.' But it seems like a long, long time ago.
"I don't miss it in much the same way I don't miss school. It was something I had to go through, went through and now I'm not there any more, I'm somewhere else. I live a different way and I'm very, very grateful every day."
Keith's new album includes collaborations with Pink and Nile Rodgers of Chic.
He says he's always excited to try out new things whenever he's making a new record. "A friend said, 'you've got a beginner's mind.' That's exactly what I have," Keith tells me.
Down the phone I thought he said "a Guinness mind." He bursts into a fit of laughing when I say this. "I've had the Guinness mind before, no question," he adds.
- Keith Urban's album, The Speed of Now - Part 1, was released on Friday.