SYDNEY, NSW / Sydney Morning Herald / Life & Style / People / September 13, 2010
Into the light ... Grace Knight summons the courage to forgive.
By Rachel Browne
"I thought, 'Oh god, there's all the PR that comes with this and I don't know if I want to put myself through that,"' she says.
Yet, here she is, a few years down the track, sitting in a nondescript hotel room in Darling Harbour, central Sydney, discussing her work.
It's a raw account of a childhood marked by poverty, alcoholism, brutal violence and, most disturbingly, sexual abuse by her father.
As she notes in the introduction of the book: "It was confronting for me to write this story. It feels sickening that the public knows things about me that I've spent most of my life pushing to the back, trying to ignore their existence."
Grace Knight (born 23 December 1955, United Kingdom) is an English-born, Australian vocalist, saxophone player and songwriter.
So what finally convinced her to put pen to paper and expose her private past in such a public way?
It was a conversation with a psychologist friend, Sally McDougall, who persuaded her to reveal her story in the hope that it might help other survivors of sexual abuse.
"Sadly, Grace's history of abuse, rage and life struggle is not unusual," McDougall writes in the book's foreword.
"Every day as a clinical psychologist I deal with clients for whom abuse by family members has shaped their adult lives ... It is the inability to let go of this demon that prevents them from becoming the person they want to be."
The key difference for Knight is that she did manage to overcome her childhood torment, although it took more than three decades.
"I felt like I had slain the dragon," she says. "I felt obliged to write my story because it is a topic in society which is very taboo and it's very difficult for people to talk about. That makes it very difficult for victims to come to terms with."
Born in Manchester in the last week of 1955, Knight was the youngest of three children for Grace Boyle and Charles Knight.
Her Scottish father had ambitions for a singing career while her Irish mother struggled to make ends meet, raising Knight and her siblings Irene and Charles. Alcohol abuse and violence were constant companions.
"I still have scars on my knuckles," she says, proffering a closed fist as a reminder of the scraps she had as a child.
But, as she recalls in her book: "For all that was going on around me, the violence and the screaming matches, the shame I carried and the beatings I received, nothing was more soul-destroying and petrifying than waking up to dad leaning over me in the dead of night."
The sexual abuse, which started when Knight was five, is described unflinchingly in the memoir, as is the legacy which stayed with her long after she left her family and moved to Australia in 1977.
For those who know Knight as a 1980s pop princess with the Eurogliders and more recently as a respected jazz singer, it's hard to reconcile the confident public persona with the woman she describes in the book: shattered by low self-esteem and struggling with close relationships.
"Music was fantastic for me," she says. "It gave me a role to play. As Grace Knight, lead singer of the Eurogliders, I could actually develop a character, give that character traits and become that person.
"It was fantastic to receive love from an audience en masse. It was a lot easier for me to receive love from them than it was in an intimate relationship."
For a long time, music and its close associates drugs and alcohol provided comfort but it was only when Knight confronted her demons head-on that she found salvation.
She considered making her father accountable, dragging him through the court system and shaming him for his actions.
But in the end she chose to forgive him. By this stage her father had remarried, moved to Greece and was nearing the end of his life. Instead of railing against what he'd done to her she fed him soup and prayed for him.
"I knew that with each kindness I showed my father, it bred something really beautiful inside me," she says.
"I realised that my father had his own demons. He was a hurt human being. I talked to him and found out more about his background.
"But forgiveness is a very powerful thing. As a victim, even though I can intellectualise and say to myself, 'Grace you didn't do anything wrong, you were a five-year-old victim, why would you need to forgive yourself?' - I don't even know the answer to that.
"In forgiving myself for the humiliation I carried around my whole life, I was able to forgive him.
"With each kindness or each caring touch I gave him before his death, it helped me to grow as a person. And I loved him, I loved him, I really wanted more of him when he left."
While Knight's father has been dead for nine years and she has healed, one can't help but wonder how the rest of her family must feel about her picking at the old scars in her book.
She politely deflects the inquiry: "I would rather not address any questions about my own family."
She gave a copy of the manuscript to her 22-year-old son Jacky but laughingly admits that he hasn't read it.
"It's sheer laziness," she says. "My son encouraged me to write down my story. I gave him the manuscript some time ago. I think he's not at that age when he's interested.
"If he's not hugely interested then I'm OK with that. I get the feeling that he might need to be a bit older to actually, you know, fully understand.
"I would rather he didn't read it until he's got a few more years under his belt. I don't mean that there is anything in there that I am ashamed of. There is nothing that I can't talk about in front of my kid."
She separated from Jacky's father a long time ago but they remain on good terms.
Knight, who now lives in rural Victoria, says penning Pink Suit for a Blue Day - named after the Eurogliders' debut album - has given her the writing bug.
She is working on two more books as well as continuing to perform regularly. A one-woman show and an album based on her book is in the works.
Given the fact she was thrown out of every music class she attended as a young person, she beams with pride at her professional endurance.
"Thirty-five years I've been going now as a singer," she says. "I'm thrilled about it - I'm a survivor."
In more ways than one.
Pink Suit for a Blue Day is published by New Holland Publishers, $29.95.
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