Call Redialed: NEW Olivia Newton-John Interview: Don't Stop Believin'
"We only have this minute that we are in. Once it's gone, we can't change it. Tomorrow we are not guaranteed anything. We only have this moment which is a gift." - Olivia Newton-John
I am beyond excited and grateful to be able to catch up with one of my all time idols, the legendary and timeless Olivia Newton-John! Her music and life have been a constant source of inspiration and guidance for me.
On the heels of her memoir, Don't Stop Believin' being released, Olivia & I discuss everything from writing her autobiography to her extraordinary life.
1. I love the title of your autobiography Don't Stop Believin'. Like you, I keep a very positive attitude about life. With all the hardships you have endured, what do you feel has kept your outlook so positive? I think I'm lucky that I was kind of born, as my sister used to call me, Pollyanna [laughs]. She used say, kind of angrily, "You like everyone," and I would say back, "Well, you know, it's a choice. You see the good things in people or you can see the bad. I prefer to see the good. This doesn't mean I don't see the bad, I just choose not to talk about it.
I think I've always had a positive outlook. When I go through difficulties, I go through all the emotions everyone goes through: fear and worry and all those things. I believe you create your world by what you think, so it's important to keep those positive thoughts.
But you know, denial is really good too [loud laugh]. I try not to think about the bad too much and dwell on myself 24 hrs a day. I think that's important too. I take care of myself and do the things I should do, but it's not like, I'm obsessed with it all the time.
2. What was the most challenging chapter in the book to write? A lot of the time it was just trying to remember things because it's been a long time, but I would say the parts about loss: the loss of my sister, my mom, and Patrick's disappearance. These were very difficult at the time and are difficult again when you bring them back because they are always in your emotional body.
But, I've moved through them and I've learned to live with them as everyone does.
3. What did you learn about yourself from writing this book that you didn't know living through all the events in your life? I don't know that there was anything I didn't know, but because I live in the moment, I don't dwell of the past. I don't think about the past or what could have been because we only have now. We only have this minute that we are in. Once it's gone, we can't change it. Tomorrow we are not guaranteed anything. We only have this moment which is a gift, so I tend not to reflect back too much.
But when I was writing the book, I was of course drawn back into those moments. I had some good laughs. I realized what an amazing life I have had.
4. Speaking of your amazing life. You have accomplished so much in your life, what do you still want to achieve? Oh gosh. Total health. That's my main goal. I want to keep working with my Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre (ONJCentre.org) in Australia and seeing an end to cancer in my lifetime. That's my dream. I also want to spend more time with my daughter, my husband, and my dogs, which I'm doing right now and I'm loving it. I'm realizing that there's more to life than work.
5. There are so many artists having their catalog of music as the backdrop for a Broadway show, whether it be a biopic about their life or as the catalyst for an original story. Is this something that you would like to do with your music? I've thought about it and I've been approached several times, but I didn't like the concepts they presented.
I have ideas for it, but whether or not I want to put the time together and do it, I don't know, but that is something I could do in the future. There are so many of them right now, I don't think it's the right time for me to do it.
6. The music industry has changed so much throughout your five decade career. What has been the most challenging change in the industry to adapt to and what do you feel has been the greatest invention that has made things easier than when you first started recording? The machines that they use for recording equipment has become so much better and so much easier to use. We used to have to cut and splice tape for edits. I used to stick pieces of tape here and there and if you made a mistake, you ruined the whole thing. Recording was very touchy and delicate back then, but I did love the sound. The natural sound on tape you can't beat.
Now, recording is so much easier. You can record at home or from your iPhone. It's just amazing what people can do. You can make music anywhere.
7. One thing I learned from your book that didn't know was that "Physical" was originally written for Tina Turner. With so many albums getting re-issued/re-released over the years, after it's original debut, was there ever any discussion about re-issuing/re-releasing "Physical" and having you & Tina Turner record it as a duet? No [laughs]. I don't think she would want to do it anymore now than she wanted to do it back then. That thought was never there actually. You should have been on my creative team [laughs].
8. Rapid Fire Questions:
Favorite color M&M? Oh my gosh, I hardly ever eat them [laughs]. The dark chocolate one.
Peanut Butter: Crunchy or Smooth? Smooth
Who do you relate to more: Sandy from Grease or Bitsy Mae from Sordid Lives? Sandy from Grease.
Favorite go to Emoji when texting? 😊 or ❤️
More on Olivia:
Olivia Newton-John’s appeal seems to be timeless. With a career spanning more than five decades she is still a vibrant, creative individual adored by fans around the globe. Born in Cambridge, England in 1948, the youngest child of Professor Brin Newton-John and Irene, daughter of Nobel Prize winning physicist, Max Born, Olivia moved to Melbourne, Australia with her family when she was five. Her first big break was winning a talent contest on the popular TV show, Sing, Sing, Sing, which earned Olivia a trip to London. By the age of fifteen she had formed an all-girl group called Sol 4 and, in 1963, Olivia was appearing on local daytime TV shows and weekly pop music programs in Australia. When she eventually took her prize-winning trip to London, she teamed up with her friend from Melbourne, Pat Carroll (now Pat Farrar), to create a double act, “Pat & Olivia,” and the duo toured army bases and clubs throughout the UK and Europe. Olivia cut her first single for Decca Records in 1966, a version of Jackie DeShannon’s "Till You Say You’ll Be Mine,” and in 1971, she recorded a cover of Bob Dylan’s "If Not For You," co-produced by Bruce Welch and fellow Aussie and friend, John Farrar, whom she continues to collaborate with today.
Olivia’s U.S. album debut, Let Me Be There, produced her first top ten single of the same name, with Olivia being honored by the Academy Of Country Music as “Most Promising Female Vocalist” and a Grammy Award as “Best Country Vocalist.” This proved to be only the beginning of a very exciting career. With more than 100 million albums sold, Olivia’s successes include four Grammy Awards, numerous Country Music, American Music and Peoples Choice Awards, ten #1 hits including “Physical,” (which topped the charts for ten consecutive weeks making it the #1 single of the ‘80s), and over 15 top 10 singles. In November 2015, Billboard Magazine listed “Physical” at #8 on their “Top 100 Songs Of All Time” list and in 2010 listed it as “The Sexiest Song of All Time.” In addition, in 2015 Olivia was ranked #20 on Billboard’s “Greatest of All Time Hot 100 Artists” and most recently was ranked #7 on Billboard’s “Greatest Of All Time Hot 100 Women Artists.”
In 1978, her co-starring role with John Travolta in Grease catapulted Olivia into super-stardom. This film’s best-selling soundtrack featured the duets "You’re The One That I Want" and "Summer Nights," with Travolta, as well as her mega-hit, "Hopelessly Devoted To You." To date Grease remains the most successful movie musical in history. Her other feature film credits include Funny Things Happen Down Under, Toomorrow, Xanadu, Two Of A Kind, It’s My Party, Sordid Lives, Score: A Hockey Musical, and A Few Best Men.
Throughout her career, the much-loved star, who danced with Gene Kelly in Xanadu, hosted the popular internationally syndicated Wild Life television show, was bestowed an O.B.E. (Order Of The British Empire) by Queen Elizabeth in 1979, has held many humanitarian causes close to her heart, particularly since the birth of her daughter Chloe in 1986. Olivia was named the first Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations Environment Programme and in 1991, served as the national spokesperson for the Children’s Health Environmental Coalition (CHEC), which was founded after the tragic death of Chloe’s best friend from a rare childhood cancer. Her devotion and shared commitment to CHEC’s (now Healthy Child, Healthy World) mission and goals enabled the organization to receive worldwide attention and support. (For more information visit www.HealthyChild.org).
Her charmed life has not been without its share of upset. In the early 90’s, Olivia successfully overcame her first journey with breast cancer, which inspired her self-penned and produced album, Gaia, her most personal album reflecting upon her experiences with cancer. As a breast cancer “thriver,” Olivia has become increasingly well known and respected for talking openly about her personal journey with breast cancer and for promoting public awareness of the importance of early detection for more than 25 years. This led her to announce her partnership with Austin Health and the creation of the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre (ONJCWC) on the Austin Campus in her hometown of Melbourne, Australia. In April 2008, Olivia led a team of fellow cancer survivors, celebrities and Olympians on a trek along the Great Wall of China and raised more than $2 million to find a new way to treat cancer and build the ONJCWC. After continuing the fundraising efforts and helping to raise nearly $200 million, the ONJCWC, opened in June 2012, and provides a comprehensive range of services and facilities for cancer treatment, education, training and research including a wellness center for the mind, body and spirit (ONJCancerCentre.org). In 2014, Olivia was thrilled when the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute opened on the grounds of the ONJCWC. The strategic co-location of research laboratories and research-training within a clinical environment enables clinicians and researchers to work together to integrate clinical medicine with basic and translational cancer research for the ultimate benefit of cancer patients.
Olivia continues to give back to the community generously and has been acknowledged many times by charitable and environmental organizations for her ongoing efforts, among them: the American Red Cross, the Environmental Media Association, the Women’s Guild of Cedar’s Sinai Medical Center, and the Rainforest Alliance and Concept Cure. In 1996 she created National Tree Day, which is responsible for planting more than 20 million trees in Australia. Most recently she co-founded One Tree, One Child, an international school initiative with the goal of having every child under the age of ten plant at least one tree.
In the new millennium, Olivia’s international recognition continues to grow. She was invited by the Vatican on behalf of Pope John Paul II to perform at the “Jubilee Celebration for the Sick and Healthcare Workers” and, she was thrilled to perform at the Opening Ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympics to an estimated global viewing audience of four billion people. Adding to this Olympic experience is what Olivia feels is one of her most memorable moments - the honor of carrying the Olympic Torch during the Olympic Torch Relay.
In 1983, as an entrepreneur with a desire to bring “everything Australian” to the world, she opened her first store, Koala Blue, with her friend and former singing partner, Pat Farrar. Her passion for Australia was proven once again when Olivia and Pat launched their distinctly Australian wines under the iconic homegrown Koala Blue brand, to proudly bring the “taste of Australia” to the rest of the world in 2002. That year Olivia was also inducted into the prestigious Australian Music Hall Of Fame at the 16th Annual Aria Awards.
In February 2005, along with her business partners Gregg Cave, Warwick Evans and Ruth Kalnin, Olivia opened Gaia Retreat & Spa in Byron Bay, New South Wales, Australia, as an ideal place to renew, refresh and restore. Gaia has received numerous awards since it opened including the Conde Nast Traveller Readers’ Spa Award Winner for the Favourite Overseas Hotel Spa: Australasia & South Pacific; Best Health Retreat award at the Gourmet Traveller Travel Awards, as well as TripAdvisor’s Traveller’s Choice Award for Best Relaxation/Spa Hotels in South Pacific; and the World Travel Award for Australia’s Leading Spa Resort and Australia’s Leading Boutique Hotel, among many others. In 2014, Gaia also became a member of Virtuoso, the travel industry’s leading luxury network spanning over 26 countries and 9,000 travel advisors. TripAdvisor named Gaia #3 of the “Top 10 Celebrity-Owned Hotels in the World,” putting Olivia in the company of fellow hotel owners, Robert Redford, Bono and Robert De Niro.
Some of Gaia’s most recent accolades include the World Travel Awards 2018, Australasia’s Leading Boutique Hotel (Continent Winner); World Luxury Spa Awards 2018, Best Luxury Spa Retreat (Continent Winner) and Best Luxury Wellness Spa (Country Winner); World Luxury Restaurant Awards 2018, Luxury Spa Restaurant (Global Winner). Gaia’s unique wellness & healing ethos has truly set it apart by offering guests total flexibility to personally tailor their retreat experience. Gaia’s award-winning Day Spa is “home” to some of Australia’s best healers and therapists, with leading wellness consultants, yoga instructors and fitness coaches available to meet the guests every need. Add to this Gaia’s highly acclaimed world class spa cuisine, which has received numerous awards, including, most recently, the 2018 World Luxury Restaurant Award for Best Health & Wellness Cuisine (Global Winner).
In 2006, Olivia received the AO (Officer of the Order of Australia) in the Queen's Birthday Honours List for her services to the entertainment industry as a singer and actor, and to the community through organizations supporting breast cancer treatment, education, training and research, and the environment. In 2010 Governor General Quentin Bryce invested Ms. Olivia Newton-John AO OBE as an Officer of the Order of Australia at a ceremony in Canberra. That year she also received the “Lifetime Achievement Award,” presented by friend John Travolta at the G’Day L.A. Gala.
Olivia’s 2007 holiday recording, Christmas Wish features both new and classic holiday favorites and duets with such Grammy winners as Barry Manilow, Michael McDonald, David Foster and Jon Secada, to name a few, and was called one of the “Best Holiday CDs of 2007” by USA Today. That year she also premiered her first concert special for Public Television – Olivia Newton-John: Live From Sydney! filmed at the historic Sydney Opera House with the Sydney Symphony. A two-hour DVD release of this stunning performance, featuring additional concert footage and Olivia’s personal tour of some of her favorite spots in Sydney, was released by Capitol/EMI in January 2008 and subsequently became a favorite concert special on PBS. In 2008, Olivia began co-hosting and co-producing the PBS series, Healing Quest and, she reprised her film role of Bitsy Mae Harling from Sordid Lives in the LOGO series to rave reviews.
In 2008, Olivia married “Amazon John” Easterling and, together they are spreading the word about the importance of preserving the Rainforest and the health values found in the botanicals of the Amazon. They currently serve on the Board of the ACEER Organization (Amazon Center for Environmental Education and Research) to help the indigenous people of the Amazon gain ownership and title to their land. In September 2009, they also joined forces with Prince Charles’ The Prince’s Rainforest Project to further stress the global importance of preserving the Rainforest.
In 2010, Olivia appeared as herself in two episodes of the hit series, Glee, adding another Top 100 hit to her credits with a new version of “Physical” sung with Jane Lynch. In October 2010 Olivia starred in the breast cancer docudrama 1 A Minute and, the Canadian film Score: A Hockey Musical. Her 2012 film, A Few Best Men, garnered her some of the best reviews of her film career. The soundtrack to the film features dance remixes of classic hits such as “Sugar Sugar” and “Daydream Believer” recorded by Olivia and remixed by some of the hottest club remixers in the world. In addition the CD reunited Olivia with her longtime producer and songwriter, John Farrar, on the single, “Weightless.”
In addition to starring in films and on television and writing books and music, Olivia continued to spend time in the recording studio. Her healing CD, Grace and Gratitude: Renewed (2010), debuted at #2 on the Billboard Magazine New Age chart. Billboard celebrated Olivia’s new music by saying, “Newton-John is soulfully committed to every word she sings, and fans will be taken by the plush arrangements, melodic warmth, and of course, the artist’s regal vocals.”
Olivia released her second book, LivWise: Easy Recipes For A Healthy, Happy Life (Murdoch Books) in Australia in 2011. (Her first book, A Pig Tale, an environmentally-themed story written for children, was released in 1993). In LivWise, Olivia explains her belief in the importance of eating a healthy diet in order to maintain wellness and balance and, Olivia’s proceeds from the sale of the book benefit the ONJCWRC. In 2012, she reunited with John Travolta to release This Christmas, a holiday CD collection that was also a fundraiser for both the ONJCWRC and The Jett Travolta Foundation. That year Olivia was also named one of Australia’s “National Living Treasures” by the National Trust of Australia, and in 2013 she was bestowed her own stamp as part of the “Australia Post Legends” stamp series.
In April 2014, Olivia began her residency at the Flamingo Las Vegas with Summer Nights, a musical journey through her career in movies and music. To coincide with the show, she released Hotel Sessions an EP collection of songs recorded in hotel rooms in Melbourne over a ten-year period with her nephew Brett Goldsmith. The CD is dedicated to her late sister Rona Newton-John, who was always supportive of Olivia and Brett working together. Due to the popularity of the Las Vegas show, a 2-CD set, Summer Nights – Live in Las Vegas was released. The show, original scheduled for one year turned into a hit three-year concert residency that received acclaim from both critics and fans. Olivia was thrilled that a portion of every ticket sold to her Flamingo shows benefited the Wellness Programs at the ONJCWRC.
For Newton-John, 2015 proved to be a chart topping and award-winning year. She topped the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart with the #1 hit duet, “You Have to Believe,” with her daughter Chloe. In April of 2015 Olivia toured arenas in Australia with fellow Aussie icon, John Farnham, with the aptly titled show, Two Strong Hearts. A CD of highlights from this sold-out tour debuted at #1 on the Aria Album charts, where it remained in the top spot for three weeks. The CD went on to receive an Aria Award nomination and, the live DVD held the #1 spot on the Aria DVD chart for 10 weeks.
In 2016 Olivia released two recording projects back to back. The first, LIV ON, a collaborative, inspiring new CD with friends Beth Nielsen Chapman and Amy Sky is intended for those who wish to transcend loss while walking a journey toward new-found meaning and hope. In addition, Olivia reunited with John Farnham for the holiday release, Friends for Christmas, which topped the Aria Chart.
In 2017 Olivia revealed the very personal news that her breast cancer had returned and metastasized to her sacrum. The outpouring of love and support from around the world prompted the following statement from Olivia: “I am really grateful for and touched by the worldwide outpouring of love and concern. Thank you. I am feeling good and enjoying total support from my family and friends, along with a team of wellness and medical practitioners both here in the US and at my Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness and Research Centre in Melbourne, Australia. I’m totally confident that my new journey will have a positive success story to inspire others!”
2018 proved to be a big year for Olivia. In addition to focusing on her health and recovery, Olivia joined John Travolta for a special Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Grease 40th Anniversary event to celebrate the milestone. She also released Hopelessly Devoted: The Hits on SONY Music Australia and, recorded two duets with fellow Aussie Delta Goodrem, “Let Me Be There” and “Love Is a Gift,” for Goodrem’s ONJ tribute CD, I Honestly Love You. Olivia also reunited in the studio with long-time friend, Sir Cliff Richard, for the duet “Everybody’s Someone,” their first recording together since 1995, for Richard’s new CD, Rise Up.
In May 2018, Olivia, who hails from a family of academics, was thrilled to receive an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, in recognition of her significant and ongoing support of cancer research and holistic health, as well as her outstanding achievements in the entertainment industry.
Immediately following in November 2018, it was announced that her Gaia Retreat & Spa claimed the coveted 2018 “Global Hotel of the Year” honor at and international gala ceremony which recognizes and honors the world’s finest hotels for their luxury offerings and delivery of exceptional guest services.
In February 2019 Olivia is proud to release the skincare range, Retreatment Botanics, inspired by the heart of Gaia Retreat & Spa. The natural, luxury formulas are Australian made, vegan, certified palm oil free by the Orangutan Alliance and contain powerful native extracts. “We created a range you can take home and enjoy a Gaia Retreatment any time,” says Olivia.
2019 is already off to a great start with Olivia receiving the appointment as a Companion (AC) of the Order of Australia (General Division) – the highest Australian honor, for her eminent service to community health, particularly people living with cancer, through support for medical research, and as a songwriter and performer. The Order of Australia is the principal means of recognizing meritorious service of its citizens and outstanding members of the community at a national level.
Other upcoming events in 2019 include the 7th annual Wellness Walk and Research Run benefiting the ONJCWRC. The annual Wellness Walk and Research Run is now a global event, helping the ONJ Centre provide an environment that supports the whole person – body mind and spirit – giving patients and their families the best chance to win over cancer.