Since the film Shineshot him to fame, Helfgott’s star has hardly waned. Yet he has as many skeptics as admirers.

I pull into David Helfgott’s tranquil and secluded property just outside Bellingen in northern NSW with questions whizzing furiously around my mind: What will he be like? Will he be able to maintain a coherent line of discussion? How will he react to problematic questions about his turbulent life? Most of us who have seen Shine, the Academy Award-winning 1997 biopic that so poignantly dramatised his life, are aware that the renowned Australian concert pianist hasn’t had it easy. A difficult relationship with his father, prolonged periods of social isolation and economic hardship, and a lifelong struggle with a psychological condition known as schizoaffective disorder, make an interview with David Helfgott fraught with the risk of reopening deep emotional wounds.

I am warmly greeted at the front door by Gillian, his wife of 20 years, who then calls out, “David, you’ve got guests!” Moments later, David bursts into the room, a welcoming grin painted on his face, and I quickly realise that my ruminations have been a waste of energy. It may seem superfluous to say it, but...