BLACK MAGIC WOMAN; ACTRESS NATALIE BASSINGTHWAIGHTE IS OUT TO CAST A SPELL WITH HER ROCK BAND.
She might have embarked on an international music career, but former Neighbours soap star Natalie Bassingthwaighte went to great lengths to play down her celebrity clout as superbitch Izzy Hoyland as she launched her four-piece band Rogue Traders in her native Australia.
Lead singer Natalie, 30 - who quit the soap last month - even donned a black wig in the group's first video to throw people off the scent.
"We were very aware of the whole 'soapy' thing and we didn't want the band to be about that," she says. "So we didn't make a big deal of it, kept it a bit of a secret and let the music speak for itself."
The trick seemed to work. Rogue Traders' debut single Voodoo Child shot to No 4 in the Australian charts and spent 12 weeks in the Top 10. Their two follow-up singles enjoyed similar success and the group's album Here Come The Drums has gone triple platinum. Not bad for 12 months' work.
"I've been involved with music for years," smiles Natalie. "It was acting that was the new experience for me. We've been thrilled by what we've achieved so far.
"I just love performing and the adrenalin rush from doing it on stage in front of a live audience is just outrageous."
Now Natalie and her boys are hoping to emulate their Aussie success here in the UK. Voodoo Child is released on Monday with the album following a week later. The energetic, sexy track is already getting plenty of airplay. Its exciting in-your-face electropunk is reminiscent of Blondie in their heyday with an Elvis Costello sample, while Natalie's husky rock vocals are a million miles away from the candyfloss of Ramsay Street.
"It's nerve-racking coming over the UK because we just don't know how the music is going to translate," she says. "We're going to do the best job we possibly can and enjoy the experience. It's going to be a challenge but it's exciting.
"I love Pink's new album - her voice is great. I think the Killers are great and I've always admired Madonna. My taste changes on a daily basis.
"I know Neighbours is huge over in the UK but I haven't been there since I joined the cast so I don't really know what to expect. I think the show's got great appeal. The sun's always shining, there's a bit of fun, a bit of laughter but also a good share of drama."
When Natalie filmed her final scenes for the soap on June 2, she was shocked to find herself getting emotional.
"I'd been really cool about leaving and excited about having a bit of time off and concentrating on the music," she says.
"But then it suddenly hit me in the last couple of weeks and I started to feel really strange. By the time I came to do my final scene, I was falling apart.
"I've met some extraordinary people and I'm going to miss them so much. People like Alan Fletcher (Karl Kennedy), Pippa Black (Elle Robinson), Jackie Woodburne (Susan Kinski) and Natalie Blair (Carmella Cammeniti) I am going to miss incredibly.
"Izzy's been a great character to play because she's got so many dimensions to her. There's the bitchiness, but also the vulnerability."
Natalie grew up watching Neighbours and was slightly daunted about joining the cast. She vividly recalls her first day on set three years ago.
"I remember watching Scott and Charlene when I was younger, so when I joined the cast I was a real Neighbours groupie," she confesses. "I saw Ian Smith who plays Harold and was like, 'Oh my God!' I made a complete idiot of myself."
Now that she's thrown herself into Rogue Traders full-time, Natalie has an action-packed schedule over the next few months and won't have much time to relax. It's just as well that her boyfriend, Cameron McGlinchey, is the band's drummer.
"It was one of those things," she smiles. "Neither of us were looking for it and when it did happen it kind of took us both by surprise.
"We were worried that it might be a really bad move, but in the end nature took its course. It's been a fantastic last eight months. We get on so well, have a great time and are deliriously happy together. Not only is Cameron a brilliant person but he's also extremely talented and I admire any great musician.
"Yes, we've spoken about the future but there aren't any marriage plans yet. We're so busy."
She has, however, managed to squeeze in time to catch some of the World Cup.
Natalie is a football convert and tried to catch the game whenever Australia were in action.
"I'd never watched a full game of soccer in my life," she admits, "but I've really got into the World Cup. I saw Australia play Brazil and then get knocked out by Italy in the last minute, which was heartbreaking. I think I was the loudest person in the pub for that one. We can be proud of the boys."
As for the future, Natalie's not turning her back on acting for good and would like to try her luck in Hollywood at some point. And as far as careers go, she wouldn't mind a slice of fellow Aussie Kylie's success.
"Any girl would love to have the success she has had," she agrees. "Kylie's a fighter, but also the ultimate professional. She's got such a great spirit. I'd love to have a crack at America. I'm actually going to LA to set up some meetings. You've got to give it a go I think."
Voodoo Child is out on Monday, Here Come The Drums on July 17. Rogue Traders play London's Shepherd's Bush Empire on Tuesday.
ON SET: With Dan O'Connor' PAL: Actress Pippa Black' ROGUE'S GALLERY: Natalie with boyfriend Cameron McGlinchey (left), James Ash and Tim Henwood