Olivia Newton-John is easily Australia’s most loved and internationally famous female recording artist – and this week she makes a welcome return to the Aussie music charts.
She says she’s been excited to work with some sensational Aussies to produce a great remix of her 80’s Xanadu hit Magic: The Peachy and Murphy remix was released this week and after just 24 hours is already at #5 and rising on the Australian dance charts, and at #39 on the overall music charts.
More than four decades after her career began, Olivia seems as popular as ever.
Same Same chats with her about her biggest passions, performing at Mardi Gras and what she thinks about gay marriage.
Olivia, or ‘ONJ’ as she’s often affectionately called, has lived a life that is as dramatic and exciting as the best soap opera.
This English-born Aussie icon started out as a folk and country singer, finding success in the music industry early, including over in America. But it wasn’t really until she starred alongside John Travolta in the classic film Grease that she exploded onto the international stage in a big way. Then of course there was Xanadu, where she danced and sang alongside Hollywood icon Gene Kelly. And of course who could forget her massive 80’s hit Physical?
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg of the amazing ups and downs she’s faced. In between all of that there were marriages, divorces, children and motherhood, a battle with breast cancer, a husband who faked his own death, a once booming business that lead to bankruptcy, performing at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, recording top selling albums and performing sell out concerts… all of which she’s handled with grace and professionalism.
“Everyone’s life is challenging in some way,” she reflects. “Everyone has difficult times. I’ve just had to live mine in the public eye which has been… well not ideal sometimes. But I’ve got a very full life and I love every second of it. I’ve always done what I love… I’m proud because what ever I’ve attempted, I’ve given it my best.”
AMERICA LOVES OLIVIA
Adored in Australia – she’s the artist that Kylie Minogue said she aspired to be like – But Olivia is loved all over the world too. Even Oprah’s a fan, and the last season of #1 hit US show Glee dedicated two whole episodes to her and her music.“I hadn’t seen much of Glee, and I no idea how big the show was at the time I was asked to do it,” she says of her guest spot. “Of course I was honoured to be asked anyhow, but it was only after I got there and started recording that I realised not only the scale of the show, but how much my music was being celebrated.
“Jane Lynch was hilarious. The whole thing was quite extraordinary… very humbling too.”
Check out Olivia performing ‘Physical’ with Jane Lynch on Glee:
With so many artists trying to break the US market and failing, I asked Olivia for her thoughts on cracking America.
“Well before Grease and Xanadu and all that, I was a country singer,” she explains. “I used to do a lot of country… and ballads were what I was known for. I did quite well with that and I toured a lot. In a way it was country that first got me known in the US. I did things the hard way… playing shows and touring in a bus through America. I have to give credit to Helen Reddy. She was really a pioneer… she advised me that I needed to move to the States to make it happen… It was tough to begin. I took her good advice, and worked hard. The rest is history.”
ONJ THE GAY ICON
Hers is a story which includes a legion of loyal gay ONJ followers. Olivia excitedly tells me how there have always been enthusiastic and very loyal gay fans along every step of her musical life. In 2008 Olivia gave her Aussie gay fans a surprise they’d never forget, appearing in a magnificent performance at Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras party with David Campbell.
“I’d been to Mardi Gras in Rio, but [Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras] is something different altogether. Surrounded by a sea of hunky shirtless men… wow! It was fun… it was unlike anything I had experienced before. There was a lot of love in that crowd. And I loved it. It was marvelous,” she reminisced.
Check out video from her Mardi Gras performance below:
There was something else about that Mardi Gras that she remembers well – her appearance on the Australian episodes of US comedian Kathy Griffin’s reality show My Life on the D-List. In it, Griffin drops the C-bomb to Olivia saying “G’day C**t features!”
See Olivia meeting Kathy Griffin below:
“You could see the shock on my face… I certainly wasn’t prepared for it,” Olivia laughs. “I think Kathy is great… very funny and I was excited about appearing on her show… but when I think back to that experience, that moment is the only thing I can really remember. That and the lovely fashion guy Carson from the Queer Eye show. He was just lovely.”
I mention Olivia’s daughter Chloe, who is not only following in her mother’s footsteps in music but is also shortly due to be married. The singer has a smile in her voice when she talks about it. With the issue of same-sex marriage equality so important to us in Australia at the moment, I asked her how she felt about the subject.
“It’s a shame to hear that,” she considers. “As far as I’m concerned, Love is Love. That’s what I think. Love is Love and it should be shared and celebrated.”
Olivia is known for her tireless activism as much as her work in the music industry. Early on she established herself as a passionate and vocal spokesperson for children’s health, cancer awareness, environmental and animal rights.
She then shifted her focus to cancer charity work when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in the early ‘90s. It a difficult time when most would retire into a private world, Olivia stood proud and put both cancer and her personal battle into the public eye. She won not only her bout with illness, but the respect and the hearts of millions.
So when I asked the singer what issues and passions were most pressing to her today, the answer was no surprise. The Olivia Newton John Cancer and Wellness Centre is dedicated to providing the very best in medical care and treatment, combined with global research programs for new and alternative treatments.
She also mentions environmental conservation – particularly rainforest and water habitat conservation.
Olivia works tirelessly to lift the profile of her chosen causes through recording, performing, guest and special appearances. “I believe in focusing on the things that I can do something about. So that is what I do,” she tells me.
“My wellness centre is at the forefront of my thoughts at the moment. It’s been a long time coming and is now just a year away from completion. As someone touched by cancer in more than just my own life, I know that this centre is going to make a huge difference to people’s lives and that means a lot.”
A MAGIC MOMENT
That brings us back to her new remix of Magic that she released a day ago on Dancing with the Stars. Created in collaboration with DJ Dan Murphy, producer Steve Peach and the creative collective at WACCI, all proceeds from the single are going to her Wellness Centre.
Murphy will be filming the video for the song this weekend – the biggest music video ever made in Australia with a cast of over 300 people.
Listen to the remix below:
“I’m so proud to be involved,” Olivia smiles. “I only just heard about how well the remix is doing and about the video that Dan is creating! I think it’s wonderful and the video sounds so exciting! I cant wait to see it. It’s very generous too for those involved to give their time and help the cause.”
For the past few years Olivia has been spending her time living between Florida and her properties in Australia, but when I ask her about her homelife she laughs: “I live most of my life on a plane at the moment. There’s always so much going on!”
Appearances, interviews and performances abound for her. In a life and career so full and fulfilling I wondered if there was still anything new she was really keen to try.
“To have a week off with absolutely nothing to do… no work for a whole week… or two or three,” she daydreams. “It feels like forever since I’ve had some time off and it’s something I’ve promised myself this year. I’d like to spend some time at home and put on some jack Johnson or Brazilian music… perhaps something relaxing and meditative… It’s what we like to do. We went on holiday to Hawaii a couple of years ago for a couple of weeks.
“I think a holiday like that is definitely in order.” She turns to her husband. “Don’t you think so?”
The Peachy and Murphy Remix of Magic is out now through iTunes and all proceeds with all proceeds from sales going to the Olivia Newton-John Cancer & Wellness Centre.