connie smith |
MY DINNER WITH OLIVIA
Olivia Newton-John at CARMEN'S BANQUET CENTRE, Hamilton ON
photograph by Reg Beaudry
I stood in line in a roomful of fans and VIPs to have my
photo taken with her. After introducing myself and
explaining I was the one who would be interviewing
her, she told me she was glad we were doing it this
way instead of a long, boring speech. (As if, for her
adoring fans, watching Olivia Newton-John do or say
anything could be boring!)
How do you prepare for an interview with an icon?
She is arguably one of the most storied recording
artists/actors/activists in the world; star of the most
successful movie musical in history, whose journey
with breast cancer almost 20 years ago spawned a
new direction in music and life, dedicated to helping
people everywhere facing adversity in their lives. It
was this journey that brought Olivia Newton-John to
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
So I read a biography on her, scoured websites,
articles, watched her movies and listened to her
albums...well not quite all...there are now
41...counting her latest Christmas album with John
Olivia had sent her Grease co-star and long-time
friend, a text that their 1978 smash hit , “You're the
One That I Want,” had just become the best-selling
duet in pop music history.
Travolta suggested they do an album together in
honour of the occasion. The pair reunited after 30
years to record "This Christmas", with proceeds
benefiting a foundation in aid of children with
disabilities named after John's late son, Jett; the other
to support the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and
Wellness Centre that opened this past summer in
Melbourne, Australia, where the Cambridge,
England-born star grew up.
I was ready and I also had a gift for Olivia; one that
has travelled around the world with me. It is a framed
photo of her father, Brin Newton-John, a wellrespected
professor who appeared on a TV show in
Newcastle, New South Wales back in the 60's. One
of the young cameramen in the photo was my
husband Dave, when he was breaking into the
industry. Dave Wilson became an award-wining
producer and director at CHCH-TV in Hamilton.
When I saw this photo, I knew I had a mission.
Last February, NBN celebrated its 50th anniversary
on the air and alumni from around the world returned
for the celebration.
Quick digression: ONJ's brush with breast cancer
also inspired a new holistic approach to life. She coowns
an award-winning retreat and spa in Byron Bay,
Australia called "Gaia" which means Spirit of Mother
Byron Bay was a bit of a trek up the famous Gold
Coast from Newcastle but a perfect chance to visit
Gaia and its famous proprietor. Alas, as it turned out,
a planned meeting and interview was not to be. The
very day and a half set aside for Byron Bay conflicted
with a last minute publicity trip to Europe for Olivia.
Months later, upon word that Olivia was coming to
Carmen's as the special guest at a fundraiser for the
new CIBC Breast Assessment Centre, I reconnected
with Olivia's publicist. Carmen's, host of the
fundraiser, ”Singing a New Tune”, asked me to
conduct a Q & A … and I would finally get to present
So I began with thanking Olivia for coming to see
me! (Haha). She loved the photo and our enchanted
She learned of her diagnosis with breast cancer the
same weekend her father died. She never asked
“Why me?” “Why not me?” was her response when I
asked how she dealt with the news.
Sitting three down from her at the head table, I
glanced at her as she sipped wine and enjoyed her
meal. Does she watch what she eats, I later asked.
“I believe in moderation”, she replied, “and living well”.
And living well she does these days in Jupiter, Florida
with her second husband John Easterling, owner and
founder of Amazon Herb Company.
There were questions from the audience:
“How hot was John Travolta?” Olivia graciously
referred to the fun they have working together.
I ask, “Is it true you were sewn into those tight black
pants everyday?” “Yes they were before spandex.”
In a tribute to the Pink Ladies of Grease, a Hamilton
Pink Ladies Club donned their satin jackets they
proudly wear for the BrightRun, an annual event in
support of Breast Cancer Research in Greater
Was it also true that early in her career as a young
teen in London, she inadvertently ended up
performing in a strip club? Yup. She sang with a
friend Pat CarrolI and somehow got booked into this
strip club to perform. She laughs, “We weren`t asked
She talked about the thrill of dancing with Gene Kelly
in “Xanadu” and singing before a TV audience in the
billions during the Sydney Olympics.
As for her other greatest thrill? Olivia's 26 year-old
daughter Chloe is fine... “sorting things out” as she
attempts to follow in her famous mother's singing and
acting footsteps and yes, at a still glamorous 64, she
is looking forward to becoming a grandmother one
Olivia heads back on the road in December to
complete a U.S. tour followed by a U.K. Tour in the
New Year, her first in 30 years to celebrate 40 years in
music. And before every concert she and her crew
will form a spirit circle to express their Grace and
Gratitude, one of the songs she sang that night and
words she now lives by: her “motto”. The other song
she chose to sing was “Magic”.
A fan asks what's her advice to women fighting
breast cancer or any serious challenge today.
Women must empower themselves and put
themselves first, she says and not feel they have to do
it all…please everyone all the time.
A woman Olivia once encountered in a ladies room
after her battle with breast cancer became public, told
her how she had breast cancer 20 years ago and is
fine now. Olivia says that was the moment she knew
she would be fine too. Nearly 20 years later Olivia
Newton-John is very fine indeed.
She refers to the innocent schoolgirl role in the movie
that made her so famous as “Sandy 1” who
transforms into the not-so-innocent ready-to-take-onthe-
world “Sandy 2”. Today “Olivia 2”, stands as a
beacon of hope and wisdom to women travelling that
same path everywhere.
The Carmen's event raised $60,000 for Hamilton's
new CIBC Breast Assessment Centre. Olivia we
love you. We honestly love you.
is a Hamilton freelance journalist
and part-time media instructor at Mohawk College.
She can be reached on FB, LinkedIn, and
Find out more about Olivia at olivianewton-john.com.