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'One of the hardest decisions of my life.' When Tina Arena turned 16, the life she'd known was over.

Tina Arena was just nine years old when Australia came to learn her name. 

The singer burst onto our scenes on the children’s talent show Young Talent Timewhere she would become the longest-serving cast member between 1974 and 1983.

"I just remember being an elated, young kid living the dream. You know, my life was so surreal at that time," Arena told Mamamia's Extraordinary Stories podcast.

For years, Arena sung and danced her way into Australia's hearts, unaware of just how popular she was becoming. 

"I just found every moment exciting. I didn't have the intellectual capacity at that time to sit there and go, 'Oh, my God, I'm on national TV and everybody knows me.' I had no idea. All I was, was a kid, having fun dressing up dancing, singing, and just doing what I love."

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But as she approached her 16th birthday, she knew - just like other contestants - her time on the hit show would inevitably come to an end. 

"I did struggle with it. In the beginning I did. I was like... I’m 16, I've got to go. And it was confronting only because it had been so familiar and something I loved so much, but I really was equally ready to move on as well," she explained. 

"I remember the time I made the decision to move on, it was it was a massive decision for me. Probably one of the hardest I've ever made in my life."

Looking back on her last ever show, the 53-year-old said, "It was an incredibly surreal day and I do remember that there was a real there was a sadness, unfortunately."

"I had been the longest serving cast member and my departure was imminent. And I think everybody really struggled with it. But I think that the people that struggled with it the most were probably [Host] John [Young] and myself... it was difficult for him, it was difficult for the crew, it was a tough day."

"I really felt the weight of leaving. And I also realised what a privilege it was to have been a part of that show."

Leaving the Young Talent Time family behind, Arena knew her life would forever change. 

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"As soon as I stepped off that stage, I knew that my world would never be the same again, that a part of me would never be protected like that again. And I was right.

"And that was hard, knowing that I was leaving the shore and going out into open water. And in open waters, there's some pretty big fish. So I was like, well, two options here - float, tread water [and] stay alive, or just be mauled."

But despite her worries about the future, Arena kept quiet. 

"I don't think I ever really did confide in anyone with those fears... I internalised a lot after that," she explained. 

"I never really found myself in a situation where I could talk to somebody about it, or I wish now that I had it, I wish now I have spoken to a counsellor or somebody to say this is how I feel, you know, helped me through it. You know, today we would do that. But back then. No, we didn't do that. And I just soldiered on."

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But finding success as an adult performer for the first time wasn't exactly easy, especially when people still viewed her as the child they knew from TV. 

"The struggle was real to me because all of a sudden, I wanted to be accepted as an adult performer and I didn't really accept the fact that there really was a process that I had to go through in order to get to that place. I was rather impatient."

Arena eventually "learned to be patient" and started playing live music. 

"I was really learning my craft in a very traditional manner," she said. 

In 1990, she released her album Strong as Steel before releasing her hit 1994 album Don’t Ask - which remains one of the highest-selling Australian albums of all time.

She's now one of Australia’s most successful singer-songwriters, selling more than 10 million records worldwide.

And that's not all. 

She's made it into the ARIA Hall of Fame, sang 'The Flame’ at the Opening Ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games and became the first Australian to be awarded the Knighthood of the French National Order Of Merit, for her contribution to French culture.

Looking back, she says her years on Young Talent Time, helped prepare her for her career in entertainment like nothing else. 

"I actually don't think that a better platform or an apprenticeship in entertainment has ever existed since Young Talent Time. It was an extraordinary education, and inside insight into how a career works."

"It [was] absolutely exhausting. But we were kids having a great time... we were having the time of our lives."

Feature Image: Getty/Mamamia.