Olivia Newton-John: a focus on wellness and giving back
OLIVIA Newton-John is at a wonderful stage in her life.
The 67-year-old recently returned to her "heart home" in Byron Bay from Florida where she is currently based. Accompanying her was her husband, "Amazon John" Easterling, a successful importer of Amazonian herbal medicines.
"It's our home away from home," Olivia says of Gaia, the Northern Rivers health retreat she co-owns.
"Whenever I am in Australia I always have to make some down time there for me; five days there is like a month's holiday, reconnecting with the land and the spirit of mother earth."
For the first time in more than 20 years, Olivia's also back in the billboard charts. The remixed version of her '80s hit song Magic, recorded with her daughter Chloe Lattanzi and called You Have to Believe, is No. 2 on Billboard's dance club charts this week.
Olivia has found her happy place. "I'm so blessed to have had such a long and amazing career. Not only do I get to do what I love, but (laughing) people are still showing up to see me!" she says, acknowledging her role as Sandy in Grease as a game-changer.
"Grease is (still) such a big part of my life. It's wonderful to see how that film finds a new audience with every generation - I have everyone from grandmothers to their granddaughters in the audience every night."
When the English-born Aussie sweetheart is not performing shows in Las Vegas, she's deeply involved with her other philanthropic pursuits and passions, including Austin Hospital's Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre (ONJCWC) in Heidelberg, Victoria, which she established after surviving a breast cancer diagnosis in 1992.
Q: From the many philanthropic endeavours you are involved in, would you describe this chapter of your life as one of giving back?
A: I would say as you grow older and wiser you feel the need to give back even more. Philanthropic endeavours have always been very important to me. Even as a young girl growing up in Melbourne, I was involved in animal causes, and during my life, saving the forests and dolphins and whales. Of course now, my ONJ Cancer and Wellness Centre - that I am so proud bears my name - in Melbourne is a primary cause and passion. I think everyone needs to find something they are passionate about and do what they can to give back - as often as they can.
Q: Like most of us, you've experienced your share of life's ups and downs, but better than most you seemed to have turned your tougher times into positive outcomes - from breast cancer survivor to spearheading a dedicated hospital (ONJCWC) and co-creating Gaia Retreat & Spa. What was your motivation?
A: The Austin (Hospital) approached me about lending my name to a new comprehensive cancer centre. After seeing the state the old cancer wards were in, I knew I had to help. It was a huge undertaking. I was unsure, so I asked my mum what she thought and she said: "Darling, if this will help people you should do it." That was it!
During my own breast cancer journey back in 1992 I had the luxury of access to adjunctive therapies, so it was important for me to have a wellness centre on the hospital grounds so that everyone at the hospital could have access to the wellness programs. That became my passion. I am thrilled that in addition to state-of-the-art cancer treatments in the Cancer Centre, the Wellness Centre provides so many other wonderful programs to help heal the whole person, body, mind and spirit - from music and art therapies to acupuncture, oncological massage and more.
For Gaia, the conception is also connected to my mum. She had loved the Byron Bay area (as did I) and, after she passed away, my friend Gregg Cave and I were driving around the area and saw a for sale sign so we decided to look at the property. We both had a vision - a dream actually - to turn it into a place for our friends to gather and relax. Now it has surpassed both our dreams and has become an award-winning healing retreat.
Q: You are such a loved personality worldwide - and have been since the beginning of your career. Why do you think that is?
A: I am not sure really but I have to go back to my mum and my family. She instilled a real sense of self and respect and love for others and the world around you, which is what is really important in life. So I knew how important it was when I started to have some success to not get caught up in all of that fame and celebrity but just be that girl my parents raised.
Q: You perform regularly in Las Vegas, one of the most competitive entertainment precincts in the world. What keeps your audiences coming back? What keeps you motivated to continuously perform?
A: I'm lucky, aren't I? (Laughing.) I think that I've been very lucky to have had some wonderful songs throughout my career, from the country beginnings to today. Grease of course was a huge film. So with that and my other films, and the great songs thanks to amazing songwriters in my life like John Farrar, Steve Kipner and Peter Allen - all Aussies by the way - that keeps them coming back. My motivation is easy: every night when I am on stage, I know that in addition to singing for my amazingly supportive fans, a portion of every ticket sold, thanks to Caesars and the Flamingo, is donated to my Cancer and Wellness Centre in Melbourne. So every night me and my audience are helping someone going through the cancer journey.
Q: How important is Gaia to you and how much involvement do you have in the venture?
A: I am still very much involved in Gaia and its development and evolution. Gregg and I found the property over 12 years ago and it holds a very special place in both our hearts, along with our other directors, Ruth Kalnin and Warwick Evans. On my last visit in September we signed off on some very exciting ventures, especially with the release of our own certified organic skincare range, Retreatment.
Q: Gaia recently won The World Spa Awards for Best Oceanic Day Spa and the World's Best Day Spa. How does that make you feel?
A: Winning these awards makes all of us feel very proud, knowing we have a brilliant team at Gaia - a team of healers, chefs and staff who consistently come to work with heart. It does raise the bar and put the pressure on every one of us, but in these exciting moments one should always stay grounded. Remember the importance of always going back to basics, be a leader not a follower and stay true to delivering an authentic spa experience - that is something we do well.
Q: For most women, aging can be tough, there's pressure - especially in the entertainment industry - to maintain youthful looks at any cost. What are your tips to feeling and looking your best?
A: My tips are pretty easy. I am very aware of what I put in (and on) my body so I try to do as much organic foods and skin care as possible. I also exercise every day - either going for a hike with my husband and dog or playing tennis - I just make it a point to get out in nature at least once a day. I also love to feel the sun on my face for about 10 minutes if I can - it's a great source of vitamin D. As for my skincare regimen - as I mentioned, our certified organic skincare range at Gaia, Retreatment, keeps my skin feeling wonderful. Aging is inevitable , so you need to have love and laughter in your life - your inner happiness is what shows most of all, and I am the happiest I have ever been at this time in my life.
Q: What are you genuinely passionate about today?
A: I'm passionate about many things. In addition to my wonderful husband John, and daughter Chloe, my animals and friends - wellness is my passion. I think if we took the time to focus more on our wellness we would have less issues with illness and disease and the like. I also continue to be passionate about our planet and all animal life. We need to take care of the world we live in - it's the only one we have so we have to cherish and protect it.
Q: What really makes you laugh?
A: I love to laugh and there is humour in every situation if you want to see it. Laughter keeps you young. My daughter is very funny and always entertains me - I love Ron White too. So many things make me laugh but, probably when I do something silly - that is just, well silly. You have to be able to laugh at yourself.
Q: When you're not performing or helping to raise funds or awareness for your dedicated causes, how do you like to spend your time?
A: That's easy. Just relaxing at home with my husband and animals and, spending time with my friends, my daughter and her fiancé James, and my grand dogs Peanut and Jelly.
Q: Do you consider yourself Australian? And are you still friends with Johnny Farnham and other Australian entertainers you grew up with?
A: Australia is my "heart home" and I love every minute I get to be back here. As for Farnsie, yes, we are great mates. He was a guest at my ONJ Gala for my hospital last year and then turned into a wonderful tour that we did earlier this year, Two Strong Hearts. I'm thrilled that the CD debuted at number one and the DVD has been number seven for seven weeks - oh, and we just got an Aria Award nomination. Some other close mates include Barry Gibb, and he too just supported the ONJCWC by being our guest star at this year's gala. It was a magical night that raised a lot of funds for the ONJCWC.
Q: You very much blazed the trail for Australian actors and entertainers to try their luck in the US - was it very hard at the time?
A: It was different - not sure if I would say it was hard as I didn't know any different. I had so much fun! Since there really weren't that many other Aussies who had a lot of success in the USA, except possibly Helen Reddy, it was more about the wonderful songs and producers that I had early on in my career. If you had told me when I was starting out that I would be recording songs by Aussie writers and producers in London that would be country hits in America I would have never believed it.
Q: You currently have a hit with your daughter Chloe Lattanzi in celebration of the 35th anniversary of Xanadu, putting a hip new spin on the 1980 hit song Magic. How was it collaborating with your daughter and do you see yourself working with her more in the future?
A: I am so excited. Chloe is such a beautiful talented young woman and I am just thrilled to see this song together being such a success. She wrote new verses with Dave Audé and Vassy (another Australian songwriter) and John Farrar let us use the original chorus. It was, pardon the pun, "magic" the way it all came together. And here it is number two on the Billboard Dance Chart. I am so excited - probably more so for Chloe because it's her first Billboard hit. As for working more together, I hope so - she's so talented.