Born in Brisbane, Queensland, the daughter of an airport firefighter,Barrett entered and won the annual Dolly Covergirl contest in Australia in 1988, while attending San Sisto College, and started modeling at the age of seventeen through Europe. In 1995, she had her first television appearance as a cast member on MTV's The Real World: London; she later attended the British American Drama Academy in Oxford. She made her film debut in 1997 in Campfire Tales. Barrett appeared in the September 1998 issue of Maxim in an article promoting the new fall television series. Her appearance served to promote her appearance in the NBC primetime soap opera Wind on Water but the show did not last past the first season.