Table of Contents
Published by Hachette Digital 2008
Copyright © 2008 Tim Ewbank
The moral right of the author has been asserted
All rights reserved
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is available from the British Library
ISBN 978 0 7481 1025 4
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To the courage of Thuy, Jane, Celia, Ros, Audrey, Josie, Philippa
and young Jayne, and to Sarah of Lewes Homeopathy, East Sussex,
for the gift of our two children, Emma and Oliver.
The author wishes to express his deep gratitude to the many individuals who have made this book possible. Heartfelt thanks go to all those who have figured in Olivia Newton-John’s life who agreed to be interviewed for this book.
The author wishes to acknowledge many TV programmes as invaluable sources, notably
Enough Rope With Andrew Denton
, The Biography Channel, BBC Wales, and E! Entertainment.
Other additional important sources include
Los Angeles Times
New Musical Express
, Express Newspapers,
Cambridge Evening News
magazine, Mike Read’s book
The Story Of The Shadows
and Bruce Welch’s autobiography
Rock ‘n’ Roll I Gave You The Best Years Of My Life
In a book which contains many pop chart statistics, every effort has been made to ensure accuracy, and the author would like to acknowledge the Guinness book
British Hit Singles, Billboard
and the Only Olivia website.
For their co-operation help and encouragement, thanks are due to: Roy and Liz Addison, John Airey, Brenda Barton, Julian Beauchamp, Alan Brooke, Corinna Cowie, Keith Cronshaw, Barbara Davis, Ingrid Dodd, Jane Ennis, Carole Anne Ferris, Rod and Joy Gilchrist, Justine Harkness, Stafford Hildred, Kathryn Holcombe, Clive Jackson, Paula Jones, Jerry Johns, Robert Kirby, Moira Marr, Bryan and Vicki Marshall, Fraser Massey, Nick McMahon, Zoe Nauman, Garth Pearce, Arethusa Plouidy, Alan Rawes, Keith Richmond, Alasdair Riley, Rebecca Smith, Douglas Thompson, Alison and Paul Tissington, Lynn Trunley-Smith, Paula Trewick, Joy Wade, Cynthia Warrington, Bruce Welch, Millie Koong, Steve Saunders of Paradise Wildlife Park, Bill Barr, Cindy Blanchflower, Country Music Association, William Eve, Phil Hammond, John Kay, Alan Kingston, Fiona Knight, Charles and Alicia McCutcheon, Sarita Martin, William and Samantha Mertens, Peter Morris, Claire Sefton, David Sievwright and Rob Urbino.
Special thanks are due to Simon Kinnersley for access to his insightful interviews, to Juan McShane and Debbie Bradshaw of Melbourne for their kindness, to all at Sullivan’s Hotel, 21 Oxford Street, Paddington, Sydney, and to British Airways and Qantas for their comfort, care and courtesy when travelling to and from Australia for my research.
Grateful thanks to Robert Kirby of United Agents, and to Alan Brooke, Denise Dwyer, Mari Roberts, and all at Piatkus and Little, Brown Book Group.
Finally, heartfelt thanks to my mother Joy and to my two children Emma and Oliver for their love, support and patience during the writing of this book.
EVERY MORNING as she starts to stir after her night’s sleep, but before she even opens her eyes, Olivia Newton-John chooses to begin her day by offering up a simple but heartfelt prayer of thanks - for the gift of life. ‘I lie there for a few minutes and think about how fortunate I am to live another day,’ she says.
The enduring popularity of
, the most successful movie musical of all time, ensures that Olivia remains forever young in the minds of millions all over the world. So it may come as a surprise to many that on 26 September 2008, perennially youthful Olivia celebrated her sixtieth birthday.
No doubt special thanks were offered up by the singer on that day because, for a desperately worrying period in the 1990s, she must have wondered, in her darkest hours, whether it is a milestone which she would ever reach. ‘Surviving breast cancer has made me appreciate every moment,’ she now says, ‘and I do feel lucky to be alive.’
Certainly, Olivia Newton-John is nothing if not a survivor, and today she still radiates not only a girlish, lasting beauty but a serenity born of the personal journey of spiritual healing she has travelled and the inner fulfilment and tranquillity she has found along the way. All of which now allows her to believe she is truly blessed, despite a series of personal setbacks any one of which many would regard as devastating, and collectively would bring most mortals to their knees.
‘For me, breast cancer was a gift,’ she is now able to say with utter conviction. ‘I was so lucky to have survived. It left me with a lot of benefits I can now share with other people.’ Through the transforming power of her own illness, from which she is so happily recovered, Olivia has gone on to help thousands of women.
Citing her own experiences, she has become an outspoken advocate for early detection. And she continues to campaign tirelessly to raise funds for a wellness centre to be built in her name at Melbourne’s Austin Hospital where patients can go, before and after therapy, to pray, meditate, have a cup of tea, relax or simply talk to others in a similar situation.
movie, followed by the video of the film, the DVD and the countless screenings and rescreenings by television stations around the globe, have ensured that for millions Olivia will always be the prim college cheerleader Sandy who turns into a sexy vamp in the last reel to win the heart of John Travolta. It’s more than thirty years since Sandy and Danny giddily drove out of Rydell High’s college carnival in an open-top pink roadster and off to a pre-Vietnam war optimistic future, but for Olivia, hardly a day goes by without somebody mentioning either Sandy or John Travolta. Successive generations have warmed to the movie in the most remarkable fashion, and every mention of the film is a reminder to Olivia of the pleasure
has given to many millions over the years. It’s her legacy, and she’s proud of it. But in the thirty years since she was sewn into the black skin-tight pants to knock Danny dizzy at the fairground Shake Shack, the singer’s own life has undergone a transformation, which in its own way has been almost as startling as Sandy’s.
Back in 1978 Olivia was one of the most successful and popular female recording artists in the world. Her records sold millions, her concerts were sell-outs and at her peak she was receiving 2,000 fan letters a week. Her success made her wealthy beyond her wildest dreams and she lived in extreme, albeit unostentatious, comfort in her home in Malibu, California, surrounded by a menagerie of cats, dogs and horses, all of whom she adored. The years that lay ahead looked as rosy for her as Sandy’s, until fate took a hand.
In those days she was under pressure from others to make hit singles, to fill concert halls, to pull in TV audiences, to promote each new album, to notch up ever higher record sales. Today she makes the records she wants to make, when she wants to make them and with the message she wants to put across. These days, performing live is a joyful experience for her. ‘There are moments when you are in the light and it’s just you and the music,’ she said recently. ‘It’s a spiritual experience. You’re suspended in time. It’s like a meditation.’
That’s a far cry from the days when she would be so wracked with nerves before a concert she felt physically ill. She was terrified of forgetting lines to songs she had sung a hundred times and the stress was tangible and unpleasant. It was a feeling of anxiety, she said, which started in her spine and settled in her stomach to the extent that she felt as though she had swallowed a block of ice.
Today, in concert, she sings without fear the songs she loves, the songs she wants to sing and for the sheer joy of using the musical gift she has been given.
Along with the fear of performing has gone the guilt she was prone to feeling about having wealth and a nice home. ‘I was slightly embarrassed because it all came to me in a way that seemed so easy,’ she once said of her career. ‘I did work hard for a long time, but since I always enjoyed it there was never any clawing to the top. I always had people behind me who believed in me and pushed me.’
Olivia’s path to stardom was never a zealous thrust for fame. Her sister Rona, who acted as her trusty chaperone during her early chart successes, remembers driving past a vast billboard bearing Olivia’s name advertising her concert at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas in the mid-1970s and Olivia turning to her and asking: ‘Who
That girl is now a sixty-year-old woman who has had chart-topping hits in dozens of countries, who has sung for the Pope, for US presidents, and for four billion TV viewers at the opening of the 2000 Sydney Olympics. She’s won countless music awards and starred in the best-loved movie musical of all time.
For the sake of a video to plug one of her records, she has been filmed lazing in a bubble bath wearing a Marilyn Monroe wig and pulling her fully clothed then husband Matt into the water. She’s coped with the bankruptcy of her business Koala Blue. And she’s fallen down the stairs of the royal bathroom at Buckingham Palace on her visit to receive her OBE award.
She’s been a UN ambassador for the environment, and travelled the world for the nature TV series
, in which she’s fed tigers, released a bald eagle back into the wild, interviewed Mikhail Gorbachev and ridden wild horses.
But she’s also the woman who has known the joy of deep love as well as the sadness of divorce, the joys of motherhood and the despair of miscarriages, the fear of cancer but the strength to grow from it rather than weaken. She has experienced inexplicable loss with the mystery disappearance of a lover on a fishing trip, and she’s felt the pain of a daughter’s battle with anorexia. She’s had a life-threatening illness, and by confronting the possibility of death, she has shed an innate dear of dying. She is very much alive and her life has been, and continues to be, fascinating.
‘My parents’ divorce made me feel insecure. I tried to blank out what was going on and I was always the happy child trying to keep everyone else happy’
OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN was born on 26 September 1948, in Cambridge, England, and there was much rejoicing in the household of her parents Irene and Brin at the arrival of their beautiful new baby girl.