Matilda composer Tim Minchin – the family man

The fact that Tim Minchin is a devoted family man married to his teenage sweetheart makes him even sexier.
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Tim Minchin helped conceive my third child – which means he can add embryo whisperer to his prodigious list of creative achievements. My daughter’s cells started dividing after a date night in February 2010 at Melbourne’s Palais Theatre, where my husband and I watched a barefoot Tim Minchin work a piano to freakish effect, slaying the audience with a string of catchy, acerbic tunes about inflatable dolls, Catholic hypocrisy and reusable supermarket green bags.

Almost seven years on, Tim learns of his part in my little girl’s existence and seems delighted.

“Wow, that’s amazing,” says the 41-year-old musician, comedian, actor, composer and polemicist. “I got all your eggs and sperm dancing.”

A few minutes later, Tim’s own little girl, Violet, drops by before skipping off to play with her cousin, singing out, “Love you, Dad!”, as she leaves. Tim brought her on this trip to Australia as a 10th birthday treat, leaving wife Sarah and seven-year-old son Caspar at home in Los Angeles.

Chatting at a beachside bar in Sydney, Tim is wearing ripped jeans and biker boots, his louche gingery lion’s mane streaked with grey. He may be jet-lagged after his long flight only 24 hours earlier, but he still manages to be friendly and thoughtful, meandering over such thorny terrain as rationalism and religion, and sharing a world view that’s become almost as famous as his musical talent since a 2013 university graduation speech he gave went viral.

This trip, though, is all about his musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s much-loved children’s book, Matilda.

The Royal Shakespeare Company production – about a girl genius who outwits her ignorant parents and despotic schoolmistress – has become an international smash since it opened in the UK in 2010, bagging a record seven Olivier Awards and four Tonys. The show’s current Auckland season runs until October 22.

Scouting for someone to write Matilda’s music and lyrics, the RSC took a gamble on the edgy Australian comedian known for his musicianship and clever wordplay, but Tim also happened to be a lifelong Dahl fan who had approached the novelist’s estate for the musical rights to Matilda when he was 25.

Although comedy let him showcase his talents, theatre was always his first love.

“Musical theatre takes a story and ratchets it up,” says Tim. “And it’s dangerous because it can just be tits and teeth and razzamatazz.”

Matilda, though, is all heart; in fact, it may have cured him of cynicism.

“Comedy is all about being arch and above stuff – my first draft of Matilda had quite a lot of that winkiness in it,” he says, but the director urged him to pull back on the irony. “Matilda, maybe for the first time ever, made me believe that I’m allowed to be sincere.”

Since Matilda, Tim has penned the acclaimed musical version of the 1993 film Groundhog Day and played Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar. He has also appeared as a cokehead rock star and recreational nudist in the US TV series Californication.

In the space of a decade, Tim has gone from being a wedding-band muso to the toast of London’s West End – a phenomenal rise fuelled by a brutal work ethic and what he describes as “evidence-based” ambition.

No wonder he wasn’t rattled when he turned 40.

“The freak-out usually happens when you feel like you haven’t done the things you thought you would have done,” he says, “and my life is the opposite.”

He is devastated, though, by Donald Trump’s presidency – “I’ve never been so sad about anything in my life, not even a death in the family.”

According to Tim, even satirical efforts to undercut Trump haven’t worked.

“Maybe the pen is mightier than the sword,” he says, “but demagogues seem mightier than the pen at the moment.”

Matilda is about standing up to bullies, which makes it topical for children, but there’s a takeaway for adults, too. Although it doesn’t push a political agenda, it is a critique of anti-intellectualism.

“In every book Dahl wrote, the characters are always reading Dickens and someone is talking about the evils of television… so I was just agreeing with Dahl’s arguably slightly elitist [view that] no, we’re not allowed to give up on saying books and knowledge are good,” says Tim.

Matilda is the world’s only superhero, apart from maybe [Harry Potter’s] Hermione Granger, for whom knowledge is everything.”

Tim with Matilda cast members during the 2015 Sydney season of the musical.

The son of a surgeon, Tim grew up in a close Perth family, staging concerts with his older brother and two younger sisters. He took piano lessons, but mostly taught himself, and still can’t read or write music.

Ever the pragmatist, he thought he’d probably become a teacher, but every gig he did, from the first time he wrote songs for the stage at 17, garnered enough praise to convince him he had talent.

After graduating with an Arts degree, he studied at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts and then moved to Melbourne with Sarah in 2002. There he scored acting jobs, wrote the odd musical and played in cover bands, but he spent much of his 20s struggling to pay the rent and keep his self-esteem afloat.

“I would wake up sometimes,” Tim recalls, “and sit on the bed and just think, now what?”

Staring down the barrel of his 30th birthday and keen to start a family, the atheist decided to just be himself and write a solo show addressing the stuff he cared about – sex, religion and quackery – in witty, oddball songs. He took Darkside to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2005, won the Perrier Best Newcomer award and decamped to London for the next eight years. A star was born.

Through it all, Sarah has been by his side, although she is apparently no booster. In fact, when he landed the Matilda gig, her reaction was, “Shit, I hope you can do it.”

When Tim gets a bit ranty at dinner parties, it’s Sarah who tells him to stop. A former social worker, she sounds like she has a highly-tuned bullshit barometer, and Tim seems almost in awe of her.

“People love her, but she doesn’t need them to love her,” he says. “She’s just this independent, self-contained unit. She’s smart and funny, but she’s not like me – she’s not trying to prove herself. And she isn’t jealous of me. She’s just kind of well-adjusted. It feels an absurd question to ask, ‘What’s her role in my success?’ That’s like saying, ‘What role is your twin in your existence?’”

The pair met in their final year of high school and started going out the first year of uni. When Tim suddenly became the thinking woman’s crumpet at 30, the thrill of late-breaking sex appeal was not lost on him.

Monogamy is a struggle, he says, and it’s something they talk about.

“I think marriages get in trouble when people have unrealistic expectations of each other’s internal lives – if you think you’re never going to want to f*** someone else, you’re an idiot,” he says.

“I didn’t think anyone would ever want to sleep with me and now lots of people do. The power of that is lovely, but you’d better be ready to say no.

“Monogamy is a choice you make – a series of sacrifices for the sake of something you value more. I value family hugely. Sarah and I both come from non-broken homes, and I want to model my life on that idea… ”

Tim with wife Sarah and children Violet and Caspar in 2012. “I value family hugely,” he says.

The Minchins live in what Tim describes as a quiet, peaceful household, where arguments between the pair are rare and never escalate beyond terse words.

“Not everything’s perfect in our lives – but we get through it in a fairly methodical way,” he says. “It sounds very unromantic.”

Without a nanny or PA, Sarah “works her guts out” keeping their lives in order, while Tim is away half the time with his musical commitments. After the emotional upheaval of leaving London, Caspar has finally settled into LA and Violet has blossomed, but the plan was always to move back to Australia by Christmas 2017. Tim wants his kids to grow up in Australia, close to family and the ocean, like he did.

How he will manage his career, however, is another thing because although he wants to make theatre and film in his home country, he knows his ambitions stretch beyond its confines.

Asked what drives him, he jokes that it’s second-child syndrome – “a need to prove to everyone that I’m special”.


“Oh yeah, I think I’m a bit broken.”

Tim has a charming way with self-deprecation, but also a sizeable ego. Criticism stings and yet he put himself in the conservative crosshairs last February when he released Come Home (Cardinal Pell).

In the oddly infectious song, he urged the top Catholic clergyman to return to Australia to testify at the Royal Commission into child sex abuse, branding him a “goddamn coward” and “pompous buffoon”.

Columnist Andrew Bolt called it a “hymn of hatred” and labelled Tim “unfair and cruel” – but the part that really seems to rankle is that Bolt apparently described him as “pudding-faced”.

On the flipside, Tim has been inundated with support. One woman, who was midway through a court case against her abusive uncle when the song came out, thanked him for making her feel less alone.

“It sounds melodramatic, but I’ve heard that again and again,” he says. “Because it’s such a taboo subject and you feel so ashamed as a survivor, this little moment of ‘mainstreamification’ of their plight was really meaningful for them.”

Not that he wants to sound self-congratulatory.

“I don’t think what I do is important and vital to the world at all,” he says. “I think I just make some stuff.”

Anxious not to seem pretentious, he puts on his new hat a bit later and asks, “Does it make me look like an arsehole?”

He needn’t worry – every woman I know seems to have a crush on him. It’s hard not to fall under his spell when you interview him because he asks questions back and seems interested in the answers – and then he gives hugs at the end.

The interview over, a make-up artist does touch-ups for the photo shoot. Tim suggests she go heavy on the mascara, then checks the mirror when she’s done.

“Pudding-faced,” he says, with a certain note of satisfaction.

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