The battle that left John Farnham “curled up in the foetal position”

He opens up about his darkest moments.
Loading the player...

John Farnham laughs as he recalls the first time he set eyes on the extraordinary woman whose unwavering love helped bring him back from the brink when he almost lost everything.

WATCH BELOW: John Farnham performs You’re the Voice

“I was history,” he says of that life-changing moment dancer Jillian Billman swept past him with a mane of long, dark hair. They were backstage at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne where John was performing in Charlie Girl.

It took three months for John “to get a kiss” from the leggy brunette with the winning smile, but what a kiss it must have been, because it was the beginning of one of the sweetest unions in Aussie showbiz history.

Two years later John and Jillian wed at St Matthew’s Anglican Church in Melbourne. 

John and his wife Jill
John and Jillie will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary next year. (Credit: Twitter)

“I’ve always fancied myself as a family man and I always wanted to get married,” John declared on the way to the church, admitting he couldn’t wait to have someone special to go home to. 

“Someone I know I love and I know who loves me.”

That romance remains at the heart of John’s world, especially as he and Jillie (as he calls his wife) prepare to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary next year with sons Robert and James.  

WATCH BELOW: John Farnham stars on Home and Away

Loading the player...

“I’m a lucky man, I’ve got a good life,” John candidly admitted in an interview in 2011.

“The most important thing in my life is my family and the second is when I get to play with the band. I love making music.”

John, who celebrated his 73rd birthday earlier this month and has famously retired numerous times only to later stage comebacks, hasn’t performed in two years – preferring to spend time with his family.

He’s also been rarely seen in public since the “devastating” loss of his best mate and manager, Glenn Wheatley, who died of complications from COVID in February. John was absolutely heartbroken.

John Farnham and Olivia Newton-John
John has remained close with Olivia Newton-John (Credit: Getty)

It was Glenn and wife Gaynor who risked everything and sold their family home to fund John’s 1986 comeback album Whispering Jack. John and Jillie were almost broke at the time. John had left Little River Band and was unable to get a record company to back him. 

The extraordinary act of love from Glenn brought the two men and their families even closer.

John even confessed that before ‘You’re The Voice’ became his biggest hit single and Whispering Jack topped the album charts, he thought his career was over.

Once again, it was Jillie who inspired John to keep going, never losing faith in trying times – of which there were plenty!

John crowned King of Pop
John was crowned King of Pop five years in a row! (Credit: Twitter)

The couple had to sell their home and car to survive those lean times in the early 1980s, when the man crowned TV Week King of Pop five years in a row from 1969 to 1973 had fallen from favour.

“I don’t think there is anything that puts more of a strain on a relationship than financial problems,” admits John, who says he was left curled up in the “foetal position” with depression until Jillie pulled him back from his dark place.

It was also Jillie who helped him regain his health when he was forced to cancel his national tour three years ago after being hospitalised with a severe kidney infection. 

He gave up smoking and cut back on alcohol, spending most of his time with Jillie and the boys at his Wonga Park farm north-east of Melbourne.

John and Glenn
John was devastated after the loss of his best mate Glenn in February. Instagram (@nathanodowdtapp)

“I live a pretty boring existence really,” he says.  

“If I’m not working, I go fishing. If I’m not working or fishing, I might ride my horse.”

If you or someone you know has been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, help is always available. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit their website.

Related stories