Parkinson

Initial airdate: 2005 (April 10)
Initial broadcaster: ITV
Country of production: UK
Duration: 35 mins
Type: interview/performance

Transcript

Michael: My next guest is the singer who became a global superstar when she played Sandy in Grease, since then she's dealt serious illness, failed business ventures and divorce in the manner of a true survivor. Today in her sixth decade she's back on the road, touring with a new album. Ladies and gentlemen, Olivia Newton-John.

Michael: You look amazing, very good.

Olivia: Thank you, you too.

Michael: Well it's interesting now reading about you because there's all this milk toast and white bread stuff that's been said about you and that's been your image. Do you object to that at all?

Olivia: I think I was just happy to have any kind of image really. I'm sure at times I would bemoan in and go I wish I was taken seriously, as we all do when we are young. But looking back I'm just very grateful that I had any kind of success and image. And since then I've done things to kind of eradicate that a little bit I think!

Michael: Well was it difficult resisting temptation when you came to England because it was the sixties, the swinging sixties wasn't it?

Olivia: Yes it was.

Michael: All that sex, drugs and rock and roll. Were you never tempted at all?

Olivia: Which part of that are you asking?

Michael: Any or all three?

Olivia: I think I avoided part of that! (Laughter) I don't know. My friend Pat and I were a double act and we were touring round England in a mini bus and seemed to manage to avoid all the drugs and we knew they were there but I think they put blinders on us or something because we managed to avoid them.

Michael: You played some fairly seedy places, tell me about them.

Olivia: Well my friend Pat, my partner Pat Carol was sent out on some jobs and we decided to join up as a double act and we went down to this club in London and it was kind of in a basement and it was called Raymond's Review Bar, I don't know if members of the audience have heard of it. (Laughter)

Michael: We all know Raymonds Review Bar.

Olivia: But we didn't know what it was, so we were just naive in our little pink mini skirts. And we noticed there was a girl swimming around in a fish tank behind us with just with a mermaid bottom on and nothing else. And we thought this is kind of strange, but thought nothing more of it, being young and naive as we were. Did our show to a few men in raincoats and at the end of the show Mr Raymond came out, paid us cash and said, thank you very much but I don't think it's going to work out for you here. So that was kind of the crummiest place we played and it's hilarious when I think of it now because we had no idea what was going on.

Michael: And then of course you became a huge superstar in the record and pop industry and then became this huge film star. Did you ever want to be a film star?

Olivia: I don't really think it was in my psyche, singing was my thing. And I'd made a movie in Australia when I was about sixteen where I just sang a song basically and I did a movie but it wasn't great and I didn't have any great aspirations for films. I didn't really think about it, it just kind of happened in a marvellous way.

Michael: How did you get Grease? Did you go for it? Did you audition for it? Did you go, I must have that part?

Olivia: No, I was kind of the reluctant Sandy because I met Allan Carr who was the producer, at a dinner party. Helen Reddy who was kind of the first Australian lady to forge her way across into England and America. And Allan Carr was at the dinner and he was looking for Sandy and I guess he'd seen me and wanted to meet me and I was very reluctant because I'd made another movie in England at Pinewood a few years before, called Tomorrow, which was a space musical in a band that was put together kind of a la the Monkeys and it was a bit of disaster really. So I thought I'm gonna leave the movies out and concentrate on my music. Also I was concerned because I was twenty-nine and the role was for a seventeen year old. I look back now and think, what the heck was I worried about? But at the time I was freaked about this. So I said I'll consider doing the movie but I'm not sure so if you can get me a screen test, with the leading man and I like it then I'll do the movie. So the leading man was John Travolta, so it worked fine!

Michael: And an unknown at that time.

Olivia: No he wasn't really known.

Michael: No because the film that made his name wasn't yet released. Let's have a reminder of this movie, one of the famous clips from it.(Excerpt from Grease) (Applause)

Michael: I mean, can you account for the continuing cult that surrounds that film?

Olivia: I do concerts and in the front row there'll be little girls, seven or eight years old in their little skirts being Sandy, with their grandmothers who came to it the first time. It's really quite amazing.

Meera: How did you get into those trousers? (Laughter)

Michael: I wanted to ask that question!

Meera: Did you swallow a tapeworm?

Olivia: I was really skinny, you know I look at pictures of myself back then and my sister and I were both really slim. And those pants did have a little stretch in them. They were from the fifties, they were made of that shark skin material, I've still got them, I wouldn't dare try to get them on now! And the zip had gone so they had stitch me into them every day, so I didn't drink anything from morning till evening.

Michael: And then of course you had this extraordinary episode in your life when, in the early nineties when you were diagnosed with breast cancer, your father died, your marriage broke up, your Koala Blue business venture went bankrupt. I mean what else could have happened to you?

Olivia: It seems to happen that way.

Michael: Doesn't it? And you're still here.

Olivia: Yes, I'm still here.

Michael: Tell me first of all about when you were diagnosed with cancer. I mean, what were you feeling at the time, was it shock horror?

Olivia: Obviously fear is the first thing. Fear, denial, shock, you go through all those things. And especially the first few days when you don't know has it spread anywhere else or what is the diagnosis going to be? And then determination that I would survive this and get through it but you know, I had to go through surgery and chemotherapy. But I had a young daughter and that was really my main focus, was I need to be here for her. I didn't actually tell her about it because my best friend had lost her daughter the year before to cancer and that little girl was Chloe's best friend so to her cancer meant you were going to die so we made the decision not to tell her about it so that was difficult but the right choice for that time.

Michael: How much do you think is the recovery not due to, but helped by the mental attitude? By the business of this isn't going to get me?

Olivia: Women at this time feel very alone very often and it's wonderful if you can get together with a peer group who have gone through it. My doctor, my oncologist put me in touch with another woman who'd had the same treatment so that I could know what to expect.

Michael: What did she say to you?

Olivia: She said it's not as bad as you imagine that it's going to be. She was already six months on the other side of it, she'd finished her course. Just knowing that was helpful, that she'd got through it and survived it. Because I had this fear and I know a lot of women have this but I was too embarrassed to tell anyone, I thought that they'd put the needle in and I would die. I thought that I'd be allergic to the chemotherapy and that was a huge fear. So even to get through the first one was like, yes. And my friend Nancy who'd lost her daughter was an incredible support to me at the time. She took me to the movie, she said we're just going to do normal things and we went to a movie right away afterwards and shopping and girlie stuff and it was like everything in life that are difficult. They just make you stronger in the long run, if you're lucky enough to survive them.

Michael: But at the same time I did the catalogue there of the things that befell you. The divorce happened at the same time, didn't it?

Olivia: Yes.

Michael: And you come from divorced parents so you'd been aware of what could happen so I suppose been cautious about committing yourself and hoping that this was forever.

Olivia: I waited till the last minute and still messed up! No I really, I wanted to have a child and I wasn't sure about marriage so kept putting it off and putting it off and you know there's no guarantees in life and it just wasn't right but we're still friends and we raised our daughter together, well she's grown now but we raised her together and she was the gift that came out of that marriage.

Michael: Well, and this is meant in the best possible way. Do you need a man in your life?

Olivia: That's an interesting question, I've never been asked that before.

Meera: It's good to have someone to take out the rubbish and things! (Laughter) The cat litter tray, I hate that.

Olivia: Need is a very strong word, I mean if you've gone through very difficult things and you find out that we come in alone and you go out alone in this life and you survive things on your own but it's wonderful when you find someone who cares for you and I know that I have a lot of love and I'm very fortunate that way.

Michael: The problem is the successful woman and the career. The career balanced against the children, the man, the marriage and all that and that's the conflict that women have isn't it? Which thank God men don't have. It is tough yes?

Meera: It's like the many-armed Indian goddess. You are juggling, there's many arms that you need.

Olivia: It is very difficult. I'd like to have thought when I started out and I was a singer and I came to England and I thought I was going to have the white picket fence and the dogs and the children and it didn't actually turn out that way and my career became a real force in my life, I really loved it. And then when my daughter was born I thought I was going to retire and then when I had cancer I thought I was gonna retire but every year I think I'm gonna retire but there's always something. It's so stimulating and so interesting and we were talking earlier about being creative. The creative force is a very strong force, it's hard to stop. You know eventually there'll be a time (pretends to have no teeth) when I just can't do it. (Laughter) But right now I love it and I get to meet wonderful people and travel and you know it's like a drug.

Meera: But also a truly strong man is never threatened by your success, a truly strong man will love you for what you're doing.

Olivia: That's true.

Michael: Alright, well let's come right up to date. Because you've done a new album and it's an album that have played a particular part in your life.

Olivia: Yes, these songs are a tribute to the women singers and songs that have played a big part in my life. Going back to when I was sixteen and Joan Baez who was idol. I used to sing Where Have All the Flowers Gone? It was the only song I could play because it was so simple, a couple of chords on the guitar. I used to play that in a little coffee bar when I was a girl. And then I won my first talent contest with a song called Anyone Who Had a Heart which is a song Cilla Black sung.

Michael: Bacharach and David. I was actually in the studio when Cilla Black did her first television performance. But so you're going to sing that song. So your band awaits you over there. Olivia Newton-John. (Olivia performs Anyone Who Had a Heart)

 

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