Stan Walker's 'impossible' story from horrifying childhood to fame and forgiveness

Māori singer and actor tells all in his book about his rise from poverty and abuse to healing and acceptance

• Warning: this article includes details some readers may find disturbing

Stan Walker performs during Good Vibes 2020 in Auckland.
Stan Walker performs during Good Vibes 2020 in Auckland. Photograph: Dave Simpson/WireImage
Stan Walker performs during Good Vibes 2020 in Auckland. Photograph: Dave Simpson/WireImage
Leigh-Marama McLachlan

Last modified on Wed 11 Nov 2020 19.56 EST

It is the day of his much-anticipated book release and Māori superstar Stan Walker is celebrating with a glass of red wine in the garage.

Not the fanfare you might expect for the release of his first book, but Walker says he never throws launch parties for anything. A hark back to his past perhaps – to a little boy who felt he was never allowed to be excited about his achievements or celebrate anything.

His autobiography, Impossible: My Story, tells the story of Walker’s horrific upbringing in Aotearoa – a childhood entrenched in violence, manipulation, and sexual abuse.

From as far back as he can remember, he endured beatings so regular and so severe, his bones were broken. The 30-year-old still bears the scars all over his body to remind him.

“We were brought up in a very hostile household,” he said. “If my dad was there – it was shut your mouth – be still.”

Stan sits back and scans the room. “Look in the garage right now. I think about what he would have used as a weapon.”

Stan Walker showcases designs on the runway during the Zambesi: 40 Years of Fashion show during New Zealand Fashion Weekend 2019.
Stan Walker showcases designs on the runway during the Zambesi: 40 Years of Fashion show during New Zealand Fashion Weekend 2019. Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

A portable wardrobe made of metal poles catches his eye. “He would get that whole thing and smash it on me.

“That broom there – that’s nothing. He would chuck that little desk at me. He would chuck the TV at me. If I made him that pissed off, he would pick up this glass table and smash it on me.”

Walker shot to fame in Aotearoa after winning Australian Idol in 2009. Since then, he has become a household name. The actor and award-winning singer has opened for international pop stars Nicki Minaj, and his idol, Beyonce.

He is affable, genuine, and content. But growing up, he said he was always scared.

Dark memories

Stan was raised in the Bay of Plenty, with his mum and dad and siblings. He loved being with his whānau (family). But their home life was a toxic mix of poverty, alcohol and drugs.

One of his nicest memories growing up was eating homemade chips and tomato sauce with his brothers.

“That was probably one of the best memories I had as a whānau in my house. Every other memory was being smashed up.”

Stan’s father was an alcoholic, drug addict and dealer, who beat his wife and children often.

“It was normal that your head is in the corner of the room. Your dad is stomping on your head. That was normal.

“It was always like that ... It just went from zero to hero really quick.”

But at eight-years old, things got even worse. A teenage relative began preying on him and for nine-months, he would rape and molest him at every chance he got.

“I thought that was my big brother, now becomes my rapist.”

He said the mental abuse took the biggest toll on his life, driving him to be suicidal.

“Can you imagine making an eight-year-old feel like it’s his fault, to the point that he feels like a creature?

“Making him feel like it is his doing as an eight-year-old, to the point that he feels like an abomination. For my whole life, I had to live with that.”

New Zealand has one of the worst child abuse statistics in the developed world. On average, one child dies every five weeks from violence in Aotearoa.

Figures show one in three girls, and one in seven boys, may be sexually abused before they reach adulthood.

Breaking the chain

Māori, the indigenous people of Aotearoa, are more likely to deal with both in their lifetime.

Walker said violence and sexual abuse is an insidious problem in many families, but it is not addressed because people do not want to talk about it, instead sweeping it under the rug.

He believes the scale of the problem for Māori is the result of intergenerational trauma, which stems from the loss of lands and culture forced upon Māori by colonisation.

Walker’s father was beaten. His father’s mother was beaten. But he refuses to continue to pattern.

Stan Walker poses backstage at a 2019 fashion show in New Zealand.
Stan Walker poses backstage at a 2019 fashion show in New Zealand. Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

‘I want to be a break in the chain’

By his mid-teens, Walker and his family were back living in Australia where they joined the church. The result was transformational.

Slowly, his father has turned his life around. And, through God, he said he found the will to forgive, not only others – but himself.

“I didn’t understand that I was not responsible until I did this book – and I was like damn, these kids are going to grow up thinking that they are partly responsible or responsible because of the manipulation that has happened.”

For the acclaimed singer, speaking out sends a message that victims can still achieve their dreams. And they can find peace.

“The reason why I do what I do, why I expose myself, is because I am free, and I want to see other people free.

“I want people to be liberated – to be hopeful that the best is yet to come – even if they are in the hell of their life – it is a season and seasons have to come to an end.”

Sharing hope

In November, Walker will begin a nationwide tour to promote his book. The sessions will be an intimate mix of discussions about his life and performing acoustic renditions of his songs.

The message will be one of forgiveness and hope. Stan and his father have mended their relationship and the family unit is strong.

“I really love my dad,” he said. “I have no resentment towards my whānau. I have accepted who I am. I have healed through everything. But I want to share my story.”

• In New Zealand the crisis support service Lifeline is www.lifeline.org.nz or 0800 543 354. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email [email protected] or [email protected]. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.