As she ap­proaches her 70th birth­day, Olivia takes Chrissy Iley on a tour of her Santa Barbara ranch to talk heal­ing, why she won’t be watch­ing the TV show of her life and find­ing true love with hus­band John.

The Australian Women's Weekly - - Contents - PHO­TOG­RA­PHY by DE­NIS ET R US CELLO STYLING by MAT­TIE CRONAN

health, hap­pi­ness, and true love at last!

Olivia New­ton-John is in her kitchen – she lives on a ranch just out­side Santa Barbara – mak­ing pan­cakes with eggs from her chick­ens. We hug hello like we’ve al­ways known each other, which doesn’t seem in the least bit weird be­cause I have al­ways known her. Who hasn’t? Who didn’t love her in Grease? Who doesn’t know all those songs? Who hasn’t lived and breathed her var­i­ous life-al­ter­ing trau­mas: her breast cancer 25 years ago, her bro­ken re­la­tion­ships, her un­stop­pable spirit, her brav­ery and her defin­ing warmth? Yes, she re­ally is adorable in per­son. How did she know I loved pan­cakes? She tells me they’re very nu­tri­tious, made from just-laid eggs, and gluten free. She serves them with but­ter from grass-fed cows and al­mond milk cof­fee. Does this mean gluten, dairy and sugar are her en­e­mies now? “I never call any­thing my en­emy be­cause it’s a neg­a­tive emo­tion. I’m just not eat­ing them,” she laughs.

She’s rig­or­ous about re­leas­ing toxic en­ergy – es­pe­cially when it sur­rounds words. She’s not a cancer “sur­vivor” – she’s a cancer “thriver”. In May last year, Olivia was given the news that the pains in her back that caused her to post­pone her US and Cana­dian tour dates were not the sci­at­ica that she’d sus­pected. Her breast cancer had metas­ta­sised in her spine.

She seems care­free as she piles blue­ber­ries and black­ber­ries on her plate. “They’re very low in sugar ... Peo­ple say to me, ‘how can you go with­out sugar?’ I say, ‘when it’s about your health you just make that de­ci­sion.’”

Be­cause it’s life or sugar?

“Yes, ex­actly. An easy choice ... I have an amaz­ing hus­band who is in­cred­i­bly knowl­edge­able about health and plant medicine so I’m very lucky.”

As if on cue, her hus­band, John Easter­ling (sometimes re­ferred to as Ama­zon John be­cause he once had a com­pany that sold herbs from the Ama­zon) sits down at the ta­ble. He’s tall, rangy, hand­some, funny. He reaches to hold her hand as he forks up his pan­cakes with the other. They’ve been mar­ried 10 years. They love each other. You can smell it, touch it, feel it. “Ev­ery day I make Olivia a smoothie,” he tells me. “Ap­ple juice, reishi [a form of mush­room], cannabis leaves which I’ve trimmed from my per­sonal gar­den, some rain­for­est herbs. The smoothie sup­ports the im­mune sys­tem, detoxes and bal­ances hor­mones and sup­ports liver and kid­ney health. We start the day like that.”

When Olivia dis­cov­ered the cancer had re­turned, she was in so much

pain she couldn’t walk. Surely this was a dark time?

“We got lots of mes­sages from peo­ple say­ing, ‘I can only imag­ine what you are go­ing through,’” John re­mem­bers. “We thought, it’s stage four breast cancer, noth­ing to freak out about. We know what to do. We’ll just take care of it. So we went to this won­der­ful clinic in Ge­or­gia that has spe­cial ways of mon­i­tor­ing the sys­tem and does a va­ri­ety of IVs with herbs and min­er­als that get ex­tra­or­di­nary re­sults. The pain level went from a 10 to a one in days, and her en­ergy lev­els are back and the counts are good. This is a time in his­tory when there’s an ex­plo­sion of in­for­ma­tion and dis­cov­er­ies. We have to rise up.”

Olivia has used only “limited” con­ven­tional ther­a­pies. “I don’t take any pills,” she ad­mits. “Last year I did a course of pho­ton ra­di­a­tion which is very tar­geted to the prob­lem area. The clinic in Ge­or­gia sug­gested the ra­di­a­tion as a safety mea­sure be­cause, in the bone, it’s hard to get to. Since then I’ve only done natural heal­ing – plant medicine and herbs.”

In Cal­i­for­nia, cannabis and cannabis oils are le­gal and read­ily avail­able, but in Aus­tralia legislatio­n varies from state to state. “It’s crazy, isn’t it?” Olivia says. “It’s helped me a lot and should be avail­able for pa­tients, par­tic­u­larly those go­ing into pal­lia­tive care. We went to Aus­tralia to talk to the politi­cians about mak­ing it eas­ier for peo­ple to get it. I feel it’s my duty to talk about it as a cancer thriver my­self.”

It’s hard to get Olivia to talk about pain, even to re­mem­ber it. She takes a breath and re­calls, “I was work­ing in Ve­gas. I thought I had sci­at­ica. Well, I did have sci­at­ica. I don’t know which came first. I was in chronic pain and one day my girl­friend had a birth­day. Her favourite thing is ten­nis, so we all went and played ten­nis, and at the end of that day, I couldn’t walk. The prob­lem went on and on. It didn’t oc­cur to me that it could be the re­turn of cancer un­til a year went by and I was still in ex­cru­ci­at­ing pain. I had an MRI and we found it.”

It’s un­usual for breast cancer to re­cur so many years af­ter its orig­i­nal ap­pear­ance and, at the time of its dis­cov­ery, Olivia re­ferred to some dark mo­ments but now she’s wiped them away.

I tell her of a friend whose breast cancer metas­ta­sised to the spine.

She did chemo, which made her feel ter­ri­ble, but she was never of­fered an al­ter­na­tive. Olivia nods with em­pa­thy. “I un­der­stand. When I went through this, 25 years ago, even though I was ter­ri­fied of chemo and I didn’t want to do it, I chose to. I’m glad I did be­cause now I’ve had the ex­pe­ri­ence so when pa­tients at my cen­tre are go­ing through it I have com­pas­sion. I un­der­stand that it’s re­ally dif­fi­cult and it leaves you with a chemo brain for years. You’re re­ally kind of hazy. I’m still hazy or at least that’s my ex­cuse!” She laughs a re­ally sparkly laugh.

John and Olivia had known each other for about 20 years be­fore they had the coup de foudre mo­ment. I ask John, didn’t he have any thwarted long­ings when he knew her as a friend?

“No,” he grins. “We met at an en­vi­ron­men­tal show where I was dis­play­ing my botan­i­cals. Olivia and a cou­ple of mu­tual friends came to the show. They sam­pled some herbage and then they came back the next day. For years we sup­ported the same char­i­ties but that was it. We didn’t get to­gether ... But we’d see each other ev­ery year at func­tions and the more I got to know her, I thought, oh, she’s a re­ally nice per­son, she re­ally does care about peo­ple and an­i­mals and the rain­for­est.

“Then I was giv­ing a talk in Cal­i­for­nia. She came to it and I stayed

in her guest house. The next morn­ing, I was driv­ing to the air­port and drove off a cliff.”

“You see, he didn’t want to leave,” Olivia quips. “He went to hospi­tal and wouldn’t take any of their painkiller­s.”

It was dis­cov­ered John had a frac­ture in his lower spine. “I could barely move, so I stayed on her couch un­til I could travel again. Olivia had a dog, a set­ter called Scar­let. Dogs are very in­tu­itive and that dog stayed with me all night, bond­ing with me.”

Not long af­ter, Scar­let had pup­pies. John had just lost his dog so Olivia sent him a puppy. “She def­i­nitely picked the cra­zi­est dog for me,” he laughs. “I had never heard any of Olivia’s mu­sic. Her first stuff was just not my genre of mu­sic and I never saw Grease.”

What? John was the only per­son in the en­tire uni­verse that never saw Grease? “He was,” Olivia smiles.

Not long af­ter, Olivia’s assistant called and in­vited John to one of her shows. “You can bring your girl­friend,” she said. In­stead, he brought the puppy. “The lights went down and I heard this Peru­vian mu­sic and she walked out and started singing Pearls on a Chain, which is a very heal­ing song, and that’s when I recog­nised who she was. She’s a healer and this is her medium of heal­ing. All I could think was that I wanted to in­tro­duce her to other heal­ers who work in the Ama­zon. So, af­ter the show, I asked if she wanted to come to Peru and she said yes. I thought, ‘Oh no, I’m tak­ing her to Peru, I’d bet­ter watch Grease!”

Olivia shrugs off the healer tag. “It never oc­curred to me I was a healer.”

John smiles at her ador­ingly. “She heals peo­ple all the time.” And cer­tainly Olivia has long been in­ter­ested in heal­ing – both peo­ple and the planet.

“Af­ter my sis­ter passed away,” she ex­plains, “and af­ter I went through breast cancer, I wrote an al­bum. It was the first al­bum I’d writ­ten on my own, called Gaia. It was about the spirit of the planet. This was be­fore John and I were to­gether. One of the songs is Don’t Cut Me Down about the rain­for­est. We were on a par­al­lel path. Then I did an al­bum, Grace and Grat­i­tude, af­ter I went through an­other life cri­sis. Mu­sic is al­ways my heal­ing.”

Grace and Grat­i­tude was re­leased in 2006 and I won­dered if it was about her part­ner of nine years, Pa­trick McDer­mott, who went miss­ing and was pre­sumed dead af­ter a fish­ing ac­ci­dent in 2005.

“When I’m go­ing through some­thing, my way to ex­press it is through mu­sic,” she says. “So Grace and Grat­i­tude was an­other al­bum about com­ing through some­thing dif­fi­cult and see­ing the beauty in life, be­ing grate­ful for it and then liv­ing on. I have done three al­bums like that – not pop al­bums but they are kind of heal­ing.”

Olivia’s Spa in By­ron Bay is also called Gaia, voted con­sis­tently best

Spa in the world. “It’s a very spe­cial place, a heal­ing place and then there’s my hospi­tal [the Olivia New­ton-John Cancer Well­ness & Re­search Cen­tre in Melbourne] which is my pas­sion. I have been in­tro­duc­ing well­ness pro­grams in a cancer hospi­tal en­vi­ron­ment – in­tro­duc­ing the pa­tients who go there to the kind of ther­a­pies that I was able to have ac­cess to but most peo­ple can’t af­ford.”

The peo­ple in the hospi­tal have these ther­a­pies largely as an ex­tra to chemo. “My dream is that one day the hospi­tal will take off the word cancer and it will be a well­ness and re­search cen­tre be­cause there won’t be cancer any­more. They will have found the an­swer.”

Olivia doesn’t like the word cancer and she par­tic­u­larly doesn’t like the words “my cancer”. “It’s the cancer. You don’t own it. I don’t like it when they talk about fight­ing cancer be­cause that sets up a war in your body, which can cause in­flam­ma­tion, and that is the very thing you’re try­ing to set­tle down ... I use the words ‘win­ning over’ and ‘liv­ing with’ be­cause there comes a point where you can’t get rid of ev­ery cancer cell in your body. Every­body is deal­ing with them all the time. Some peo­ple don’t even know they’ve got it. It’s a nor­mal part of the cy­cle. Cells are pro­grammed to die. Cancer cells, too.”

I still can’t imag­ine that she wasn’t a lit­tle afraid when it came back.

“It’s un­usual, yes,” she says. “You do think, ‘ha, it’s over’. It didn’t oc­cur to me that it was that. I felt pretty good. I was work­ing and en­joy­ing my work and now I’m just stay­ing healthy and stay­ing strong, tak­ing a lot of sup­ple­ments. I did some shows last week. I’m tak­ing a lit­tle break from more shows and I’m not sure what

I’m go­ing to be do­ing for this year’s Grease 40-year an­niver­sary.”

One thing that she is go­ing to do is auc­tion off the orig­i­nal Sandy leather trousers. She has kept them

all these years. They are, of course, tiny but I bet she can still fit into them. Every­body had a char­ac­ter in Grease that they iden­ti­fied with.

“They still do. It’s un­be­liev­able. When I do the show there’s ev­ery age group. Grand­par­ents my age [hol­low laugh], their chil­dren and their chil­dren’s chil­dren. They all have some­thing to con­nect with.”

For the 25th an­niver­sary of Grease, John Tra­volta pi­loted a Qan­tas plane and Olivia was the flight at­ten­dant in full uni­form. She laughs with just a hint of nostal­gia, but quickly moves on to talk about the ONJ Cen­tre’s Well­ness Walk and

Re­search Run fundraiser.

“The walk is in Melbourne in Septem­ber. Peo­ple come from all over the world, some of my die-hard fans. They form lit­tle groups and com­pete with each other to see how much money they can raise. And for peo­ple who can’t come to Aus­tralia, there’s a vir­tual walk. It raises money also for the fam­i­lies be­cause to be a care­taker is dif­fi­cult and very wear­ing for peo­ple.”

That is said by a su­per care­taker. Meet­ing her for just a cou­ple of hours, you can see she’s nur­tur­ing to the core. What about her dark mo­ments? Who nur­tures her?

Olivia pauses ... “It’s in­ter­est­ing you say that. I’ve about four friends who are go­ing through cancer now. I stay con­nected with them. I don’t think about mine. It’s not on my mind con­stantly. I do all the things that I should be do­ing on a reg­u­lar ba­sis but I like to sup­port other peo­ple be­cause I’ve been there be­fore and I am still here. I think that gives other peo­ple hope. If I can en­cour­age them by say­ing, ‘come on, I’ve done it be­fore, we can do this to­gether now,’ it makes me feel good.”

Other things that make her feel good in­clude help­ing the planet. She’s worked on tree-plant­ing projects that have planted 24 mil­lion trees in Aus­tralia (and count­ing) and more than 50,000 trees in the UK. She has writ­ten a cook­book – Liv­wise: Easy Recipes for a Healthy Happy Life – and has su­per­vised the Gaia cook­books.

She is also work­ing on her au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Don’t Stop Believin’, to be pub­lished in Septem­ber. Was that fun or mis­er­able?

“It was cathar­tic. I worked with some­one who helped me be­cause it would have taken me at least 10 years if I’d had to do it by my­self. It’s stories from my life, pos­i­tive ones. There is also a movie of my life that’s been made in Aus­tralia with Delta Goodrem play­ing me,” she gri­maces, re­fer­ring to the Chan­nel Seven biopic, Olivia New­ton-John Hope­lessly De­voted To You. “I prob­a­bly won’t watch it. When they told me they were do­ing it, I was hor­ri­fied, be­cause de­spite the fact I’m well known, I’m kind of pri­vate and my pri­vate life, even though it gets into the pa­pers, is not some­thing that I want to talk about. I worry about the peo­ple in my life. It’s not their fault they were mar­ried to me or were my boyfriend, so I didn’t want it to hap­pen. But then I re­alised it was go­ing to hap­pen whether I wanted it to or not. So I de­cided to make some­thing pos­i­tive out of the neg­a­tive and I asked that any money that would come to me would go to my hospi­tal so that way I can do it and feel I care about it.

“I love Delta. I think she’s a re­ally good ac­tress and a great singer so that made it okay, be­cause we’re friends. In the be­gin­ning, she called me and asked, ‘Shall I do it or not?’ First I said, ‘I’m not sure,’ and then I said, ‘Oh, you do it’.

“I haven’t read it and I don’t know how ac­cu­rate it is be­cause it’s a movie and peo­ple weren’t there at ev­ery mo­ment of my life but the money will go to the hospi­tal so some good has come of it.”

It’s time to give one of her chick­ens, Goldie, her an­tibi­otics.

She’s re­cov­er­ing from a toe am­pu­ta­tion in a separate coop with her sis­ter. “It’s easy,” she says as she scoops the golden-feath­ered crea­ture up in her arms and buries a pill in Goldie’s favourite sour­dough bread. The other chooks – 18 hens, two roost­ers, all man­ner of breeds, colours, speckly bits and feath­ered feet – live in a man­sion of a coop. We feed them cheese, salad, blue­ber­ries and just a lit­tle of their favourite bread. Olivia’s chick­ens eat bet­ter than most peo­ple. She’s also res­cued two minia­ture horses which are so small only the chick­ens can ride them. How did this great res­cuer of wild things come to be?

She was born in Cam­bridge, where she lived un­til she was five be­fore mov­ing to Melbourne. Her par­ents were aca­demics. Her fa­ther a pro­fes­sor, and her mother the daugh­ter of No­bel prize-win­ning sci­en­tist, Max Born.

“What I got from them was work ethic. They both worked re­ally hard. My mum wanted me to fin­ish school or go to The Royal Academy of Dra­matic Art in Lon­don. I did none of those things. I got a job on TV in Melbourne when I was 15. I was lucky. I got to learn the ropes young, rather than go­ing to school and then learn­ing them. I was in­ter­ested in singing and I’ve had a re­ally blessed life. I’ve been lucky with my man­agers, my pro­duc­ers...”

In fact, her cur­rent assistant has been with her since Grease and she still works with John Farra who wrote all the songs from Xanadu and many other hits.

“I’ve worked with Steve Kip­ner and Peter Allen many times. I’ve al­ways worked and I’ve al­ways worked hard. Even in the be­gin­ning with Pat Car­roll, when we were Pat and Olivia, we worked all the crummy clubs, stay­ing in lo­cal digs. We had fun. I never thought, this is hor­ri­ble. This was my re­al­ity and we had a great time.

“Even though we came from an aca­demic back­ground, my sis­ter too be­came an ac­tress. In the be­gin­ning she was what we laugh­ingly called

“When they told me they were do­ing the TV biopic I was hor­ri­fied.”

a chap­er­one. She was funny and cheeky and gor­geous.” Is she say­ing she led her into more trou­ble? “Yes, ex­actly! But she kept me out of too much trou­ble and we def­i­nitely had fun. I think I was more her chap­er­one if the truth be known.” Sadly, Olivia’s sis­ter passed away five years ago from a brain tu­mour.

“In the be­gin­ning,” Olivia says,

“my fam­ily re­ally wanted me to go univer­sity. I didn’t have the brain or the fo­cus. I could do it now but then

... I had the de­ter­mi­na­tion. I didn’t set­tle down till my thir­ties. I was afraid of mar­riage be­cause my fa­ther had three mar­riages and my sis­ter had three so I was ner­vous and fi­nally I have the per­fect hus­band. I am so happy.”

She re­minds me she was 59 when she found the love of her life, though she still has a good re­la­tion­ship with her first hus­band, Matt Lat­tanzi. “We’re good friends and Chloe

[their daugh­ter, who is now 32] is liv­ing up in Port­land near him. He has a won­der­ful wife that we both love and we’re all friends. Life is about love and for­give­ness and mov­ing on. He’s still the fa­ther of my daugh­ter. We ac­tu­ally made a pact very early on, even be­fore we got mar­ried, that if we had a child we would never al­low any­thing to come be­tween the re­la­tion­ship with the child and we’d never make her part of a pawn thing that peo­ple do. We’ve watched our friends go through divorce.”

What does she look for in a friend? “Ev­ery­one’s different. I have a wide and di­verse range of friends. A lot of them go back to when I was re­ally young. Peo­ple I can trust and have fun with. When I go back to Aus­tralia I stay in touch with them and my fam­ily, my sis­ter’s chil­dren and my brother – he likes to be out of the lime­light.”

I didn’t even know she had a brother. “Ac­tu­ally I have two. A brother and sis­ter from my fa­ther’s sec­ond mar­riage. They live in Syd­ney. He is a doc­tor, a pain ther­a­pist. My sis­ter works in ad­min­is­tra­tion. My fa­ther was a pro­fes­sor of lan­guage. He worked at Bletch­ley Park, crack­ing the codes in the Sec­ond World War. He spoke per­fect Ger­man and had an in­cred­i­ble ear. He was a good singer so maybe I got it from my dad. He won schol­ar­ships to Cam­bridge and spoke Ger­man with a per­fect ac­cent. When he joined the air force they made him the in­ter­roga­tor of Ger­man pris­on­ers of war [in­clud­ing Ru­dolf Hess].”

Her life here couldn’t be fur­ther from academia. It’s all about liv­ing and work­ing with the land. “I get up, feed the chick­ens, col­lect the eggs and make sure they’re okay,” she muses con­tent­edly. “I used to have a full-grown horse but since my re­oc­cur­rence last year I haven’t been game enough to ride. I don’t know if I should. I have to make sure ev­ery­thing has grown back in be­fore I do that. It could be good for me but I’m not con­vinced. My in­stinct will tell me. My in­stincts are pretty good.”

We take a walk in the pad­docks. It’s hard to imag­ine that this year Olivia turns 70. She doesn’t look 70, not that I’m sure what 70 looks like. With her trade­mark blonde hair in a tou­sled, long bob, she strides across the pad­dock with de­ter­mi­na­tion. De­spite be­ing so warm and open in her spirit, there is part of her that is guarded, that doesn’t eas­ily trust, but I don’t see that part to­day. I must have told about three peo­ple that I was do­ing this in­ter­view but word spread and dur­ing the time I’m there mes­sages from all over the world are com­ing in for her. Some of my friends ac­tu­ally know her and are send­ing her love, and she sends love back very gra­ciously. Olivia is to­tally unas­sum­ing and if she must sometimes be self-pro­tec­tive, she does it in a re­ally classy way. When I hug her good­bye, it’s a real, proper hug: Dare I say it, a heal­ing hug.

“Life is about love and for­give­ness and mov­ing on.”

Pho­tog­ra­phy by Denise Tr­us­cello


Clock­wise from left: Olivia and one of her beloved chick­ens; with daugh­ter Chloe as a baby; tak­ing a stroll at home with hus­band John.

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