Olivia Newton-John
Michelle Day

Being forced to stay at home during the COVID-19 lockdown has been something of a blessing for Olivia Newton-John. “I feel guilty for saying it, but I’ve actually enjoyed not being able to go anywhere,” the singer admitted down the phone from her California home during the lockdown. “My life has always been about being on planes and travelling and staying in hotels, so to be in one place for almost a year has been blissful.”

Olivia and her entrepreneur husband, John Easterling, live on a horse ranch near Santa Barbara. “And it’s been wonderful having so much time at home,” she says. “I’ve been able to do things like clean out cupboards and garages. I’ve also learned how to make bread, I’ve done arts and crafts-y things, and have hung out with my animals and my husband. I haven’t been bored for one second.”

Not that the 72-year-old multi-Grammy Award-winner, whose records have sold over 100 million worldwide, is resting on the laurels she’s earned from nearly six decades in the business. She’s recorded a new single, prepared a duets album and launched her own foundation to fund research into holistic care for cancer. The single, ‘Window in the Wall’, carries a message that’s dear to Olivia’s heart.

“It’s about having compassion for each other and realising that we all have different ways of thinking and just accepting that,” she explains. “There seems to be so much conflict and we have to realise we’re all humans sharing the same planet. We need to get along.”

It’s her first new record in a decade, although she says she wasn’t planning on making new music: “I didn’t think I was going to record anymore. I was thinking, I’m just going to enjoy my life.” Then she heard the track and loved it so much it made her cry. “It really touched my heart and I was compelled to record it.”

She opted to create the track as a duet with her daughter, Chloe Lattanzi. “And I think it’s turned out really quite nice,” the ever-modest Olivia says of the song, which was recorded separately. “Chloe was nervous about me being there so I went for a walk while she did her vocals.”

The duo has enjoyed some quality mother-daughter time lately, with 34-year-old Chloe staying at the family home for a spell and her mother practically cooing: “We’re great friends and we have so much in common with our love of animals and nature. I’m very proud of her.”

The ‘Physical’ singer has been very open about her health issues since she was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992.

The cancer came back in 2013 and 2017 and has metastasised to her bones, but she’s a fighter who now swears by the use of medicinal cannabis and other plant-based remedies with the help of husband John, who founded the Amazon Herb Company in 1990 and who is an advocate for herbal wellness treatments.

“In the past five years or so he’s been growing cannabis for me and I’m doing extremely well,” a very upbeat-sounding Olivia says. “I feel wonderful, I don’t have pain, I’m mobile and I feel healthy.”

Launched in October last year, The Olivia Newton-John Foundation is raising money for research and treatment programmes, with a particular focus on plant medicine.

“Having gone through chemotherapy and radiation thinking, There’s got to be a kinder way we can treat this, I wanted to find kinder treatments for cancer,” she says.

Some in the medical profession have expressed scepticism about the efficacy of such treatments. “There’s always going to be that, but we have to remember we started with plant medicine,” says Olivia.

With growing cannabis and its medicinal use now legal in most US states, Olivia adds: “When I had a recurrence of cancer and was in hospital a couple of years ago, I weaned myself off morphine [for pain relief] with cannabis and that was a major thing because I didn’t want to remain on a powerful opiate like that. I want to tell people, ‘Hey, you can do this and it’s safe’.”

Olivia feels re-energised when it comes to music, too, with a duets album in the pipeline. She’s keeping details under wraps for now but ‘Window in the Wall’ will be on it, along with ones from the vaults.

Her daughter Chloe is following in her mother’s footsteps as a singer and actress, although Olivia has never felt the need to advise her on her career path.

“I encouraged her to explore other avenues but it was kind of a natural progression. I saw no reason to discourage her because I’ve had a wonderful life and career.”

UK-born Newton-John, whose family relocated to Australia when she was six, started a girl band at age 14, switched to singing on TV shows, returned to Britain to cut records and became a star with a string of hit singles like ‘If Not for You’, ‘Banks of the Ohio’ and ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’.

“I just kept going and went with the flow,” she says of a subsequent career that has taken in chart-topping records, movie roles, a performance at the opening ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics and a 2020 UK damehood for services to music, cancer research and charity.

Then, of course, there’s the 1978 blockbuster musical Grease – the enduring love for which she puts down to “the cast, the choreography, the director, the energy of the story, great music, and a larger-than-life colourful and cartoonish feel”.

As for some in the Twitter-sphere denouncing it as outdated and sexist, Olivia is both amused and bemused. “I think it’s hilarious they take it so seriously. It was set in the 1950s and that was then, this is now.”

Career-wise, Olivia is happy to say: “I’ve fulfilled all my dreams and more, and everything I’m doing now is icing on the cake.”

As for her eternal optimism in the face of her ongoing cancer battle, she reasons: “You have to make a decision when you go through something like this.”

Olivia says that she believes there are always going to be challenges in life but it’s how you respond to them that determines the quality of your life. “Your mind and body aren’t separate and if you keep reinforcing negativity you’re going to reinforce bad health. That’s why I choose to be positive and grateful for every day.”

The views expressed in this piece should not be taken as medical advice. Any changes to the treatment of cancer must first be discussed with your treating medical specialist.

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