Debbie Kruger
Writer FREELANCE OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN Interview transcript
Olivia Newton-John Interview

30 August 1994
Over lunch at Shelley Beach, Ballina, NSW

© Debbie Kruger

[ONJ has just come from playing squash, which she has recently taken up. She mentions she has to get away in time to pick up her daughter, Chloe, from school.]

It’s not often I get to just be in mummy mode, so I like to do it. We’ve been travelling a lot and she loves her school, so... She’s a real Aussie now, she has an Aussie accent and I think it’s great. ... I judge how long we’ve been here by how many bonfire nights we’ve been here for and we’ve been here for two. The first few months of course she was fitting in and everything, but within a week she had an Australian accent, and then we go back to America and she has an American accent, and then we come back here and she’d flip flop, so she’d fit in with the kids wherever she was.

Does she enjoy the notoriety?

I think she likes to fit in. But the last trip when we went back she said, "Mum, I don’t know if I’m going to keep my accent, I’m worried that I’m going to be American when I get back and I don’t wanna be." I said, "Well it’s just a decision, you know, you don’t have to." I said, "Look at me, I’ve lived in America for 20 years and I still sound like an Australian. It’s just a decision you make." So we got back and after three days, she went up to stay with her grandparents, and there’s no Aussies at all up there, she called me up and said, "Mum, I think it’s going to stick this time." So cute. And it did. She didn’t go back to it at all, she didn’t revert.

[On having occasional Americanisms in her own accent]. You can’t help it, I mean you’ve got to integrate for a start, and also my husband’s American, my daughter’s American, and everyone around me, but I didn’t pick up the full twang. I mean I have a lot of friends who sound totally American, who are Australian, but they sound more American. I don’t know why it is.

[I refer to my impression of the superficiality of articles about ONJ in magazines.]

Maybe now at this time in my life I’m more willing to go into a little more depth. I think I was as much as I could be protective of my personal life and about what I felt about things. I think I was much more like that a few years ago. I think after what I’ve gone through I’m a little more unafraid to say what I feel. I think I was, well, I guess I didn’t go into things unless I was asked, and if people got too close I think I would probably send them off because I didn’t feel... There’s not much in my life that is private, so the parts that are I try to really keep that way as much as I can. But this album that I’ve just done really kind of opens up a whole lot of stuff because I kind of discussed in my songs, and in the album itself I talked about my feelings about a lot of things. Not everything of course. If I gave everything in my whole life then what have you got left that’s yours?

[Talk about the Gum Leaf Mafia in LA]

Kipner’s a good friend, he lives around the corner and is married to a wonderful girl who’s a friend. And Thorpie lives in town, and the Farrars, and there is a whole network that still goes on.

I just want to touch on the very early days. Your career has now spanned virtually a quarter of a century. There are all these articles lauding the Rolling Stones, you know, aren’t they great, they’ve stuck it out for so long... Well, so have you. And so beautifully and professionally and true to yourself all the time, and so it’s probably relevant at this time to go back and see how you look at those very very early days. A bit of it was dragged up a few years ago when sadly all these Bandstand people were getting ill and dying, such as Peter and Judy and whatever.

[Interrupted by restaurant proprietor coming over to point out a whale playing off shore].

We went camping this weekend, and — there he is, there he goes, see him? Just breaching. Fantastic! Yeah, we were camping this weekend, cause we have a property on the beach down here, and we took Chloe and her best friend and we just camped out for the night, and there was one, like for an hour, just breaching right in front of us, it was unbelievable. We’re so lucky to see that.

I wasn’t on Bandstand, there’s this thing that people think that I was on Bandstand. But I don’t think I ever did Bandstand more than once.

It’s kind of like people think you live in Byron Bay.

Yeah I know. Which I put in my album, because I don’t want to say exactly where I live, and Byron Bay is like a place where people understand where I live. I don’t want people to know exactly where I live, because then they’ll find me, and this is the one place where I can kind of hide. So I say Byron for the people who don’t know the country, it’s like a bigger place to know. And I put Byron Bay on the album for where I wrote the songs because that was where I recorded them.

So you weren’t on Bandstand?

No, I can remember doing Bandstand maybe one time with Pat when we came back for like a visit, when we went to England and came back, but I wasn’t a regular on Bandstand. I did Sing Sing Sing and I did the Go Show.

Who hosted the Go Show?

Ian Turpie. When I was on, he was my boyfriend, when I was 15-16, and then after him it was Johnny Young.

Are you talking boyfriends or hosts of Go Show.

No, hosts, definitely hosts. I think Ian was the first host as well.

Do you mind if I move next to you because I love getting the sun on my back.

[She does a kind of grace over her food]. I do my own little grace, and you take the energy from the food into your body so your body’s prepared for it. And sometimes you can really feel energy from a salad or things that are alive, you can feel it much more.

So when was the Go Show?

The Go Show was... I’m not very good with dates, I’ll have to tell you that now, so you’ll have to check everything. I was 15, I was born in ‘48, so ‘63-’64, cause I went to England in ‘66. So we are talking the very very beginning.

Way back then, did you have any long-term aims about your career? Did you know where you were going, or was it very much that you went with the flow and hoped for the best?

You know, I have trouble remembering what I thought, but I kind of just enjoyed it, I think, and I kind of felt I had some kind of destiny but I didn’t know what it was. So I didn’t feel that there was any urgency. I think every kid feels that, though. I didn’t feel that I had to go after my career, I kind of, in fact, if you ask my friends, I wasn’t at all ambitious. I wanted to have the white picket fence and the dogs and the kids and all that. At one stage. And I really wasn’t that concerned with it, it just kept happening to me. I had very supportive people around me at all times who believed in me and what I was doing.

When I was young, ambition was a dirty word for a woman to have. I remember being out to dinner one night with friends and this guy said that I ambitious, and I was really upset for years about it. It was that symbol of if you were ambitious you were grasping do anything to get places, that was the kind of image that word had in those days if you were a woman, especially from this country. So that kind of freaked me out that someone would think that. And now I think it’s a great thing to be.

It occurs to me when I listen to Physical that it’s very much a statement being sung by a woman, for if not feminism certainly a woman’s choice to take the lead, whether sexually or emotionally or whatever. Maybe you weren’t thinking these things at the time, but it was quite interesting.

I knew it was a very commercial song, and I knew it was risqué and risky, and I think Grease had taken me to a point where I was able to do those things. But I got very freaked out about a week before it came out, and I called my manager, and said, "Roger, we can’t release this, I know it’s going to cause... what are people going to think...?" You know.

Is it true that Steve Kipner actually wrote it with Rod Stewart in mind?

I don’t know, you should ask him that.

Glenn A Baker told me that Steve Kipner told him that he wrote it for Rod Stewart, or someone like Rod Stewart and he went into see Roger Davies, and said to Roger, "Look would you get this to Rod Stewart?" And they were playing it in the office and apparently you put your head in the door and said “What’s that?” And they both said, "Oh it’s not for you, Olivia, go away." And apparently you dug your heels in said you liked it.

I don’t remember that. It’s a good story, I don’t think it’s how it happened, though. I’m not good with those kind of detail memory things as to how it actually happened. I just remember, I think Lee [Kramer] played it to me and it might have been him saying that I couldn’t have it. Lee was in partnership with Roger, they shared an office. ... Roger’s an extremely talented guy.... Lee was taking care of me and was just starting to take over Tina, and Roger was in the office kind of sharing the space, and through a set of circumstances he ended up managing both of us, and what he did with Tina was fantastic. And he was great for me too.

You starred in a film called “Funny Things Happen Down Under”. What was that?

A cute little children’s film. You can rent it, it’s still out. It’s a Christmas movie and I was like 15 and I sang a song. It was made outside Melbourne and it was children who had a secret club, and they had this shed that they held the club in, and the people who owned the shed were gong to sell it, and they tried to save up the money to buy the shed. So they were making Christmas puddings and... I was offered a part in it but my mum didn’t want me to leave school to do it, so I was only allowed to do this one little... I did a small part and I sang a song. Ian was in it.

You never actually made a recording in Australia, you never put down a record until you got back to England, is that right? And was that first one with Toomorrow, or was it in fact “Til You Say You’ll Be Mind”?

That’s it, that’s the one. I won a contest on Sing Sing Sing with Johnny O’Keefe, and the prize was a trip to England, and I didn’t want to go, cause I wanted to stay in Australia and my mum kind of dragged me, and I thank her for it now but at the time I was fuming. She said I needed to broaden my horizons. I had another year of school to go, and I didn’t really want to go, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I asked one of my favourite teachers what I should do, and he said if I was going to be thinking about singing that I should probably pursue that because it needed my full attention. There was a show called The Tarax Happy Show in Melbourne. There was a guy called Happy Hammond and he used to wear a tartan jacket and a tartan hat, and there was Princess Panda and Happy Hammond and Uncle Roy and they were like this little family, and it was a kids’ show. Anyway, Lovely Anne, who was one of the girls, who was getting married, and they asked me would I take over for the Christmas holidays while she was getting married. Which I did, and this was at Channel 7, and after that they offered me a permanent position there, so that’s how I started working in television.

But then I had to decide in January or February would I go back to school or would I stay and accept the job they’d offered me. And my mum wrote into the paper and people wrote in about would she leave or won’t she leave, and my mum wanted me to stay at school, and it became this public embarrassment. But I left. And then at the end of that year we went to England. She dragged me onto the boat and off we went. ... She stayed there, and we got a little flat in Hampstead, Perons Court. It was £9 a week and it seemed like such a lot of money at the time. My mum wanted me to go to RADA.

Was acting something that you had been contemplating that far back?

I did it at school and did quite well at it. I didn’t really have the ambition to go to RADA. I must say that while I’m telling you that my Mum dragged me, I did have a strong will and a mind of my own because I didn’t want to go and I didn’t.... And when I was 14 my mother took me to a singing teacher because she thought I needed lessons and this guy... I really remember this well. I went in there and sang for him for half an hour and left and told my Mum that I didn’t want to go, cause he wanted to change the way I sang and I wanted to sing the way I wanted to sing, so that was that.

What school did you go to?

Christchurch. I went to Uni High. Daryl Braithwaite was in my class at Christchurch. I used to pass notes to him. He was so cute. He’s still cute, but he was a very cute little boy.

You don’t keep in touch?

No. I’ve seen him at things, but... He gets embarrassed when I remind him of school.... He’s got a great voice.

So you went over there to the UK, and when you recorded this first one...?

I was working at this nightclub, I knew this guy... I can’t remember his name... I can’t remember the sequence of these events now... He was a singer and we’d met him over here before we went or something, and he was doing a show over there, so he asked me would I like to sing in this club, and it was a real sleazy place, it was horrible. I was so naive in those days, I was so young. I don’t know if you remember this, it wouldn’t have happened when you were young, but when I was like 15 if men swore in front of you it was like — oh!! — the magic word!! And I remember this guy swore on stage, and I said something like, well excuse me, and he said well if you don’t f-ing like it you can get off. And I was in tears, here I was this young girl in London, I was like 16, I didn’t know what had hit me, it was so sad.

I did that for a little bit, and these guys must have come in and heard me sing. I can vaguely remember them, I can’t remember their names. Anyway they wanted me to do this cover version of this song, and I did it, and it was pretty terrible. I remember we had one review which said something like, sounds like it was recorded in a bathroom, and she should be an air hostess or something. Something like that... it was pretty devastating. That was my first record and that was a total disaster.

And then when Don Kirschner put this Monkees type group together, Toomorrow?

We recorded an album.

Is it true that it died a terrible death?

Mmmhmm (nodding). They spent a fortune on us.

And there was a science fiction film that went with it?

Oh you can see that, too, that’s pretty funny. It’s hysterical this movie. Harry Salzman who did all the James Bond movies, and Don Kirschner who was hot off The Monkees decided they would do a chain of movies, and find a new group and put us together. So I was the all-round Australian English — English at that time, I was claimed by England — kind of girl-next-door; there was an American kind of country western good looking guy, there was a black drummer from Philadelphia and there was like a Tommy Steele guy. So that was the group... Our group played music, and these creatures from another planet decided that our music was the only music that could keep their planet going, so they abducted us in a spaceship. It was really funny, now it would be like a cult movie cause it’s pretty out there.
We had a lot of fun doing it. They flew us to America. Things like this happened. My sister was my chaperone and we arrived in New York, called up Don Kirschner and said we’re here, and he said what are you here for you’re not due for another week or ten days, well I said they flew me over here I’m supposed to meet with you, he said no that’s not for another week, so they flew us down to Florida for a week’s holiday, all-expenses paid. That’s the kind of thing that happened. To me it was just totally...

So that was the first time you went to the States?


That’s interesting because when you did Grease I don’t remember there being anything in the publicity saying that this was not in fact you feature film debut.

Mmm, well, it wasn’t something I wanted to rave about.

So it wasn’t a kind of Lost In Space?

Not Lost in Space. Tone Deaf in Space. No, it was funny. I mean, the music wasn’t bad. Jeff Barry, who co-wrote “I Honestly Love You” actually co-wrote the music for that. And Phil Ramone produced it. So all the ingredients were there.

Reflecting back on the early seventies and particularly when you went to the States and had all this amazing success with Grammys and American Music Awards, your biog is just this never-ending list of all these awards you were winning year after year. Did you find you were getting caught up in the excitement of it all or were you even then able to keep some perspective and detachment and sort of look at this and go, this is weird?

Yeah, always. I never got caught up in it. Sometimes I wish I’d maybe got caught up in it a little bit because... maybe it’s being brought up in this country, I’ve always felt that I’ve had my feet very firmly planted on the ground, and I was brought up in a family of academics who were very... my father was, you had to do something really great to get praise, you know what I’m saying, it was like, when you got a Well Done from him that was like, ohh! You really earned it. So I was always very aware of the fact that I was very fortunate, I was very lucky, I had good people around me, I always felt very lucky and never really got carried away with it, never went into drugs and went crazy and.. I had a lot of fun. If you ask me what awards I have I couldn’t tell you.

You know you ‘ve got Grammys.

Yeah, that.

Cause that’s when I remember becoming very aware as a music follower... Certainly watching the Grammys and watching the American Music Awards and watching you winning country and pop categories and thinking that’s very interesting...

I lived a fairytale, really, when I think about it now. Had you interviewed me then you probably would have talked to a very different person from now. I mean we all change, we shed our skins like snakes every ten years or so, but I think that I had a very charmed life, I feel I did.

Did you deliberately aim to be a country recording artist, or was it purely coincidental that Nashville sort of took up “If Not For You” and made it a country hit?

I think my manager and producers at the time kind of guided me in that direction.

Who was managing you then?

Peter Gormley, an Australian, and he managed Cliff. And he loved that kind of music. I didn’t know what country music was, to tell you the truth, until I came to America. It was just the style of music that I was doing over there. I remember the first time I heard The Eagles, "Peaceful Easy Feeling," and Bruce Welsh who was also my boyfriend for quite a long time, he was just so in love with The Eagles, and I remember it was such a different sound, in England especially. That laid back...

So I guess around that time, working in the country genre, and you were still in England then, recording in England, were you becoming aware of or influenced by people like say Linda Ronstadt or any of the artists that were sort of making it on the country charts but were really pop artists as well?

Influenced... I think the ones that I admired mostly were Joan Baez, Dionne Warwick, Nina Simone, they were my first albums that I had. Cilla Black. Dionne Warwick was probably the one that I loved really loved. The songs were so fantastic. And her voice. She’s great.

When did you actually make the move to America?

I started going back and forth in 71 ... I hate dates. '71 was when I had my first hit record which was “If Not For You” and “Banks Of The Ohio.” And I went over to American to do that Dean Martin Show, which was hysterical, cause he only knows like five songs so you just have to do what he knows, but that was a great experience. I stayed at the Holiday Inn at Universal and it was kind of exciting. That was my first time in California. And then...Where were we? What was the question? I’ve lost myself totally now.

When did you move to America?

'73 or '74. Because I went over there in '71, I went back and forth for a little bit of promotion but I had my first big hit there in I think it was '74 with “Let Me Be There.”

“Let Me Be There” was '73, “Long Live Love” was '74.

You see I went over there for “Let Me Be There”, and did a little bit of promotion but I didn’t go back until “If You Love Me”.

So “I Honestly Love You” was recorded over in the States.

No, in London. I remember in a little tiny rickety studio, it was so small. The control room was upstairs and John Farrar was up there with the engineer and I was underneath and they had to sit still because it would creak, and you’d hear it in the microphone.

And how did you come across that track? Did Peter directly offer it to you or did John engineer that, or..?

I just remember it being in a pile of demos. You know we got songs that came over.

Had you known Peter Allen?


So all this talk about you having — as you say, the Bandstand fallacy...

No, no connection to the song at all. What happened, my memory of it happening, but as I say I don’t have a great memory for things like this, I’m not good at trivia, as I call it... is that John found it in a stack of... you know, every time you make an album, in those days people would send you their songs, and it was in this stack. I don’t remember anything other than that, but you should call John.

Do you think it’s selective... Do you think it’s stuff that you would have remembered in more detail say t en years ago, or were you just never interested in detail?

I’ve never really, you know, I mean, if you ask me when my baby was born I could tell you things that are important, but things like that... It’s only important in retrospect, at the time that it’s happening you don’t realise its significance very often, so therefore I don’t remember that. I’m very sentimental, but I don’t remember what awards and what years and ...

So doesn’t it amuse you that other people remember those things?

I think it’s wonderful that people do that, I think I’ve probably just got a dreadful memory, that’s probably the truth. I do remember hearing it. I do remember hearing it in John’s apartment and thinking what an incredible song it was and I loved singing it, and I remember when I sang it for the first time and we used the first take, so you know I remember that. I just don’t remember exactly how I got it.

How much of what you were doing in the '70s from recording ballads like that to later on doing Grease and Xanadu in 1980 was because of the guidance and direction of your management, and how much of it was stuff that you yourself thought, I want to do that?

I have to say in the very beginning the songs, the hit songs, like for instance “If Not For You”, I didn’t like that song.

You weren’t a Bob Dylan fan?

No, not really. I loved Joan Baez, but I wasn’t a fan of his because I like more melodic singers, and I really wasn’t... I liked his songs, I loved “Blowing in the Wind” and ...

He just doesn’t sing them beautifully.

No. So I wouldn’t buy his albums. It’s like I loved the Beatles but not the Stones, you know in those days you were either one or the other, you were a rocker or a jazzer and ...

In my day you were Sherbet or Skyhooks.

There you go (laughs). So I didn’t really like it and I didn’t think I sang it well, so when it was a hit you know I had to really say it was my management, and Bruce Welsh and John Farrar who produced it, that were really the ones that thought that was a good record for me cause I wouldn’t have probably... In those days I loved singing those big dramatic ballads, you know, talk about being sentimental.

The kind of stuff that Dionne was doing.

Yeah, yeah, exactly. "If we only have love" and all these really over the top songs that were much too old for me.

In which case “I Honestly Love You” would have been right down your alley.

Yeah, yeah, exactly, exactly.

As opposed to “Long Live Love”, which —

[Rolls eyeballs] Which I didn’t like either, and that was really hard for me because I wanted another song to win, cause you know, when you do Eurovision, you sing six or eight songs once a week you sing on TV, and it was on Cliff’s show, and people would write in and vote for the one they wanted. So the people voted this one. And I knew it would be it, because it was the most ... I wanted this other song called “Angel Eyes” to win, that I loved, it was such a beautiful song, anyway, it didn’t win. So then I had to go sing it for the country, not liking it, which wasn’t easy.

And is that hard for you, singing material that your heart is not really in?

Yeah, sure, I think it is for anybody. When I did it, cause I took it on as a commitment, and I did my best job I could.

So then as the '70s progressed, how much of it was management (now Lee Kramer)?

He didn’t have any decision in my songs, really. It was really John Farrar and myself, and I have great great respect for John and for his songwriting and producing and so we had a great thing going there, because he wrote the most beautiful songs for me and I was lucky enough to get to sing them. And then we’d pick other people’s. But basically in those days it was just him and I would sit down and sometimes we’d involved someone else from the record company, but in those days record companies were much more into trying to build careers, longevity, it wasn’t like now...

They try to make you fit into their vision of where they want you as a catalogue on their repertoire.

Yes, here I now feel that just make a whole lot and they know one of them will hit, or they... I mean, there’s a lot of talented people who are around now, incredible singers, especially women, and they’ll last. There will always be the ones that’ll last. But there’s also a lot that get churned through, you know. But in those days they seemed to care a lot about longevity, and they’d build careers, so the people in the record industry then I had more respect for than I do now. There seem to be a lot of businessmen now. It’s really a business. Look, I was naïve, and maybe I was very naive then, but I really believed that they cared about me.

Who was your record company then?

MCA. Artie Mogul was the guy who was A&R, and he was great, he really was great.

And whose idea was it to do Grease? Were you approached by...?

Yeah, I was approached by them. I went to a dinner party at Helen Reddy’s house. Helen Reddy and her then husband, Jeff Wald, were really great to me, and when I first met them, I went to see Helen, I think I went to see her show, and I went backstage to meet her, it was in Miami, and she just had a big hit with “I Am Woman” and all this stuff, and she said to me, "Look if you’re going to have success in America you really should move here." And really I think I heeded those words, she said you really need to be here and be available. So I moved, so I always said to them that I thanked them for that advice, and when I first came to America they were very good to me.

So anyway, they were having a dinner party, and invited me, and Lee, and Alan Carr was at the dinner party, and he apparently was taken by me, I don’t know, I was messing around or something, and he thought that I’d be right for Sandy. I had seen the show in England, I saw it with Richard Gere when he was playing Danny Zucko. Anyway, they called up about the... I was in London, I guess I was touring England or something, and someone else was with me... maybe my agent... maybe Billy Sammeth, because Billy was taking care of me, he worked with the management company then, he was very young. So they asked me was I interested in it, and John Travolta was going to play Zucko, and I’d seen him on Welcome Back KotterSaturday Night Fever wasn’t out yet — and I was kind of nervous because of Toomorrow, I was so freaked out because of that movie that I said, yes, but I’d like to do a screen test because I want to see if I can do it before I commit to it and I want to see that I really can do this cause I didn’t want to make another mistake. So we did a screen test together, and John and I, there was a chemistry right away, we clicked, and so I did it.

So of course at the time you didn’t know how phenomenal Saturday Night Fever was going to have been and that the whole Robert Stigwood machine... The whole movie musical soundtrack thing in 77-78, I mean nothing’s ever surpassed those two.

Hasn’t it?

No. Saturday Night Fever was bigger in terms of record sales, but I think in terms of an enduring cult status, I think Grease is bigger... [School kids acting out the film to the soundtrack, like Rocky Horror Picture Show] It has become this absolute cult. And then with the Megamix coming out a few years ago...

Yeah, that was a surprise. That was amazing. It’s really amazing to me, cause I keep meeting little girls who love it. [Orders an Eccocino].

[We share a piece of cake and she admires the edible flowers that garnish it].

Was Grease a really happy experience?

Oh fantastic. I think that’s why it works.

I remember when you came out for the 2SM Grease Ball, do you remember?

I think I do remember that, it was at a town hall or something?

Yep, Paddington Town Hall.

Yeah, I remember that. It was a phenomenon. I mean, everywhere around the world we went, it was like...

I keep going back to this management thing, because I guess the thing that really does stand out is “Physical” and you were very much being managed by Roger then, and suddenly you come out with this... I mean really I think the most radical thing you’ve ever done physically is cut your hair off for “Physical”, and —

Which was done the night of the awards show, which awards show was that, I think it was the Grammys, no...

And you’re like me, I mean, your hair basically is the same year after year, and then suddenly... And it looked great, I mean it worked, and there you were doing aerobics bit and all that stuff. But I mean, really, that was about as radical as you’ve ever gone with an image change, far more than all this stuff that people say , well you were trying to be a sex siren when you did Totally Hot and all of that.

That was radical compared to how I was before... like Sandy 1 and Sandy 2, that was the most radical change, and from that I was able to do Totally Hot, which before that I couldn’t have done it comfortably.

And wear the lycra tights. It’s amazing what a fashion statement that became for a while.

I know.

So how instrumental was Roger in that change in 1981?

Well he really... I wish I could remember the whole story cause there was some drama when I thought I wasn’t going to be able to do it at some point, but I can’t remember it now. Yeah, he encouraged me because I was freaking out about it, I was very nervous as to what it was going to do. Matt really liked it, cause we were together then, and he thought it was a great song. And it did cause controversy, it did, but it was a success, and I guess with success you can handle controversy.

So it was a kind of joint effort. Who produced that? John Farrar? So it was really a team thing?

I think so. I knew it was risky, but I knew it was either a hit or a total flop, it was not in between, it was like either. Cause there was such a reaction to it. People reacted to it so strongly. It was pretty risque for those days. Now it’s so tame, but in those days, it was pretty.

Was Xanadu an enjoyable experience?

Yeah, it was.

It wasn’t as critically accepted as Grease.

It wasn’t a very good movie, I mean the music was very good. Jeff Lynne is great, and John’s music, I though his integration of the '40s and '80s was really clever... I thought it was clever, I thought all the music things were good, but I thought the script was terrible, and it was really a shame, because the premise was really good, but the director [Robert Greenwald] was... Half way through the movie, I asked him what kind of music he liked and he said he didn’t like music [laughs], which I thought was some kind of an omen.

I guess it came close enough after Grease that you got a lot of the follow-on audience, it just didn’t have the durability.

It’s popular on video, it did really well on video, and kids really love it because it’s kind of virtually nice, but the story line wasn’t good. I did well in the fantasy area.

[Wasn’t asked to do Grease II, which starred Michelle Pfeiffer]

They talked to us, we had a meeting about it, and then we never heard anything more about it, and the next thing I know they’re doing it with other people.

I certainly remember all the hype with Two of a Kind, that the chemistry was great so you did it again... I absolutely loved the song, “Twist of Fate,” and the film didn’t do all that well.

Yeah, it was great music, but it was the same thing, the script wasn’t good. We were so anxious to work together I think we rushed into it. It was like, you know, we thought we could make it work, but you can’t, if it’s not on the page it’s not on the screen. Which I’ve learnt now. The music was good, and we had fun, but it just didn’t happen.

Well, one of the things that has kept going over and over in my mind is the fact that artists such as Madonna, even Kylie now, are kind of reinventing themselves, metamorphosing, to keep themselves what they believe to be relevant. I sometimes wonder if artists in fact underestimate the public. And what I’ve really admired about you—

“You’ve stayed boringly the same the whole 25 years!!” [laughs hysterically]

Not boringly, no, other than donning the lycra tights and doing the sex siren for Totally Hot, and actually “A Little More Love” is my second favourite song of yours, I absolutely adore that song, and I thought the video worked, and I remember you came out and toured at the time...Other than that and the haircut for “Physical,” you haven’t changed very much, you’ve worked different material in a way that smacks of your integrity, and I think that is to be admired, I think to endure for over twenty years, to be true to yourself, okay, people will say well it’s middle of the road. But what is wrong with being middle of the road? And in fact, if people use the word “boring,” and particularly say the Rolling Stone mentality, what is “boring”/ How do you define “boring”? Do you ever think about that? And people’s perceptions of you?

Oh yeah. I know that I’m sure. They used to call me white bread, that was the main thing, you know. Thank god white bread is popular. But, no, look, I’m not an outrageous person. I could no longer keep up... I admire Madonna for what she does, I think she’s very brave and she’s very bold. That’s just not me. I couldn’t do that and be true to myself. In fact, really doing... Even doing “Physical” was... it was my idea to make the video funny, because if I had tried to do it straight I couldn’t have pulled it off, it wasn’t true to myself... I couldn’t have been sincerely saying “baby let’s get physical,” because it would have reeked of fakeness, you know. And the times that I failed were usually those times where we went too far, like for example “Soul Kiss”...

“Soul Kiss” was a bit Madonna-ish. But before Madonna did it.

Yeah, it was. The material kind of put me in that direction and I could hear that that was good, but it wasn’t me and I think if you try to be other than who you really are...

I wonder with someone like Madonna whether she knows who she is, because I think... I think she’s burnt herself out at the moment, and I’m not a fan of her anyway, but I’ve always followed artists who might do the same thing over a period of years, like The Eagles, like Chicago, but I feel that they have integrity, and that that comes through in their material, whether they’ve written it or not.

Well, there’s no gimmicks, you know. I lot of these people have gimmicks and nowadays a lot of people rely on gimmicks, but you know they won’t last.

What’s your opinion of Kylie’s career?

I don’t really know much about it to be honest, I haven’t really followed it. I think she’s done very well, but I don’t really know her music that well. I think she’s a very pretty girl.

[Talk about how Kylie was the singing budgie and about how now she’s Cool.]

I don’t think I’ve ever been cool, except with Grease... maybe when Grease was happening. But I don’t think I’ve ever had that image of cool. I don’t think so, but it doesn’t matter.

Do you not think that perhaps there is something very cool about having stuck it out, being true to yourself, been through the things that you have been through in the past four or five years, and come out shining and come out with what you believe to be a product that is probably truer to yourself than anything you’ve ever done? That’s cool.

I just don’t think I’ve ever been in that kind of cliquey thing, do you know what I’m saying. I’m in a different, as you say, middle of the road kind of thing, which is fine with me. But I think that wherever you have success it’s great. I think the great thing about music, is that there’s room for everybody. When you’re acting there’s like one part but twenty actresses want it. But with music everyone can do their own interpretation of the same thing.

Well exactly, and I was really impressed with this comment which you wrote about “The Way Of Love,” and obviously you’re talking about beliefs, and whether that’s about spiritual beliefs or whatever, but I find that you can get as specific as musical tastes. People are so precious about their musical tastes... I’ve always believed that there is room for as much diversity in music as there is diversity in the community and in the world. So why do you think it is that people are so precious about music. Do you think it is something that people identify with incredible closely?

It’s like young people I think, with each generation they have to be different to the last one to prove to the last generation that they are different. So they have to get a little more outrageous and a little more different so, and in being different they often end up all liking the same... it’s cool to like the same groups and the same band and that makes you cool. 'Cause of course when you’re a teenager it’s very important to belong, you know, to a group. But I think yeah, everyone has their own taste in music. It’s what I say, everyone has the right to like what they like and believe what they like, but people are like that about music.

They are, and I find it really amusing.

That’s the best way to look at it. There’s a girl that Matt plays in the car, Sarah McLachlan, that’s an unusual album, I like it. I mean, there are a lot of great singers at the moment, girls, Mariah Carey and Toni Braxnan and Whitney and there’s lots of great girls. And then on the other edge there are girls like this girl, interesting sounds. It’s all a matter of taste, and it’s also a matter of what you heard when you were a teenager, I think, it kind of moulds your tastes and what you like.

How difficult was it for you over the years, particularly say in the '70s when you were younger and maybe still a little bit naive, to encounter the kind of criticism that you would have got in say Rolling Stone, which was basically very dismissive of what you were doing... and you weren’t the only artist, I mean, they were very particular, either something was cool or it wasn’t cool.

I don’t think I’ve ever got a good write-up in those kind of magazines. I think there were times when it really bothered me, and then I guess I learnt just to either not read it or just to realise I was never going to get a good write-up. They used to say that the kiss of death was a good write-up in the Rolling Stone, if you wanted good record sales it was the kiss of death to get a good write-up in the Rolling Stone, that meant you wouldn’t sell very many, but they’d love you. So that’s really how we looked at it [laughs]. But once you got a good review there then you’re on your way out. I guess it was a way of coping with it, but very often it was true cause they usually liked the groups that no-one’s ever heard of or that no-one buys very much.

What has been and particularly what is now the feeling about you, if you can speak from that point of view, in the States as compared to here? I mean, here you’re our Livvy, Aussie’s golden girl, and whenever you’re here you’ve come home and this is where you belong, and we love you and all that stuff... Is there are different profile that you have over there?

No, I’ve talked about it, but I haven’t... what have I done about it over there/ Not an awful lot. I did one women’s show and I’ve done a People Magazine, but not in depth... I don’t think I’ve done much about it. Probably only the people that are really interested in me would know.

Do they know that you’ve been recording an album out here?

Not yet, cause I don’t have a company there yet, so, no not really. I wanted it to come out in Australia first cause this is where it all, where I made it, and conceived of the idea and everything, so no, I don’t think so.

Just getting back to the media, how much do you despair of the attempts by some of the media to attach some sort of trauma or drama to you? I mean I take it that it’s kind of their way of trying to normalise you, because up until say the demise of Koala Blue and it’s almost like you had a Saturn Return or something... well, I know that you meditate now and whatever, and so you’ve obviously thought a great deal about why things have happened to you. I mean things happen to everyone...

But, as I was saying to you before, I think I had a very charmed life, and everything seemed really perfect. Obviously it hasn’t always been perfect, and there are things in my life that have been far less than perfect, and they’re not stuff that I want to share with the world, you know, but everything seemed to crash at once, and I think it’s all part of a growth, all part of... What is that saying, it’s not what happens to you in life it’s how you deal with it. And I think these things that have happened to me have happened to millions of people, and I think it happened for a reason, and I think if they hadn’t happened I wouldn’t be here today talking to you about this. I hope that these songs can help someone in some way. Cause I was going to write a book about my experience, about breast cancer, and try to talk to women about how to get through it and the way I coped with it. But it came out in music instead, cause that’s just the way it happened, it wasn’t anything I planned, it just happened. But I’ve probably lost total track of what you’re asking me now...

What your feelings were about the media. I just found that particularly when this appalling story came out about how you were building a separate home on your property so that Matt could live close to Chloe, but you were separating and blah blah blah, and it was almost as though, do they need to do this to Olivia so that she will fit into their idea of what a superstar should be like, that a superstar has traumas in their life?

That was really... Matt doesn’t even understand how that guy worked that out of their conversation, but it was a guy that he was talking to that he was told was pretty above the board and it turns out he wasn’t. I don’t know. It was pretty shocking, you know, those things upset the family. Matt and I can deal with that stuff, but when you have a little eight year old girl that can read, it’s not fair, and I think that’s what rotten. When I read things about other people, I always think, what about the kids, what are the children thinking when they see this about their parents in the paper. It’s unnecessary. It sells papers, that’s the truth, you know, they can put a headline that’s kind of negative, they’re going to sell more papers. That’s the sad story of the human race that we kind of... There’s something about reading about other people in trouble that makes them feel better about themselves.

Exactly, I was going to say, do you think that the media latched onto stuff like Koala Blue going down and your father dying and the cancer, almost with a sense of glee, oh at last we’ve got something meaty to write about Olivia!

Oh, sure, yeah, it made me human.

Do you write one of those articles about what the person’s wearing and that they stop to put on lipstick, are you like that?

That’s a bit kitsch; now that you’ve said it I won’t. I’ll probably mention that we stopped to look at the whale. [Hysterical laughter from both of us]. I would like to write about the impression that you’ve made on me as someone I’ve admired for 20 years who I find myself sitting down having lunch with. But, no, I wanted to give you an opportunity to express yourself and I wanted to treat you as a mature serious artist and woman, beyond the tabloid coverage that you get. Well, obviously it’s been important for you to open up about the breast cancer partly because it’s changed you so much, and also because it’s an educative thing for people?

Yeah. I think it’s very important to... I mean when it first happened, I realised that the press were like hounding me, because they’d got whiff of something, and they were like hounds at the door, and so I said to Billy, you know what, I’m just going to make a statement, let’s be open about this, cause if I try and hide this it’s going to get really nasty and they’re going to create these horrible illnesses that I have and have me dying all over the place, and it’s better just to be honest, and they have nothing to say, you know. So that was really the beginning, once I opened up and talked about it, it took away any mystery and from what I can tell from a lot of women, helped them with what they were going through, which is really important. To me it’s important, cause I think when you’re going through that it’s really great to have a networking of other women. You know, when it first happened I was given the name of a woman to call who’d been through it and she told me what to expect, and the treatment and all this kind of thing, and then there was a group of us that would meet for lunch, the Breast Cancer Lunch we’d call it [laughs], we’d meet every six weeks and talk about how we were feeling and what we were going through — that was in America — but it’s really important to let other women know that they’re not alone. It’s like divorce, it’s like any major trauma, once you’ve met other people that are going through it or have been through it it really helps to know that someone else has been there, and she made it, I can do it, you know.

Is a sense of humour important? Because some friends of mine in Byron who are a comedy duo, Mandy Nolan and Barbara Kinsella, said they’d gotten in touch with you and that you thought that they actually wanted to do something comic about it, and you thought that was a great idea, and in fact that hadn’t been their intention, they wanted to make a serious film about it.

I know [laughs], but that’s what I thought they were saying to me.

I was interested to hear what you had to say about that, and I mean for instance, how far can you go? Can you go as far as Steady Eddy?

I think it’s wonderful what he’s doing... Steady Eddy is actually managed by a friend of mine, the guy who produced my album, Murray Burns’ girlfriend, Ingrid. I think it’s very important. In fact that’s how I really dealt with it in the first couple of weeks. I laughed, I put cancer in every song I ever sung, and I wrote it all down, I started writing a story about all this, the first couple of months I wrote everything down about what I was going through and what I was feeling, and the laughter, and I would call friends up and make jokes and they were like, didn’t know how to take me, it was like, what’s wrong with her, she’s making jokes about it. But it was my way of coping. In fact when it first happened and I thought I better call up my close friends and tell the immediate group that I see on a regular basis about it, and some of them were so shaken that instead of them boosting me up, I’m going, "I’m gonna be alright!!" I was having to support hem. So in the end I asked my sister and two of my girlfriends if they would call people, and tell them I’m gonna be fine, but I don’t have the energy to support everyone else.

So you never thought, this is it, I’m going to die.

No, I mean, there were moments, there’s always that fear of the unknown, especially the first... but really my friend Nancy, who had lost her daughter, Chloe’s best friend Collette, said to me, she was with me in one of the doctors’ offices, she said you know you are going to set the mood for this on how everyone’s going to react and if you are up and positive, that’s how people are going to be around you. I actually felt that way anyway, but it was really good words, because I realised that people take the lead from you.

Well you’re a role model.

Yeah. I mean the first night when I went home when I was waiting for the tests there was some fear there.

That’s normal, it would be unhealthy if you didn’t have any.

But after that I just made a decision, that I was going to be okay.

I had what’s called a Radical Modifier [Mastectomy on one breast.]

Did you at any time feel that your womanhood was being challenged?

No, I was never attached to my body like that, not to my breasts anyway. I mean, I never had large ones so there was nothing. I didn’t feel that, no. I know that some women really are shaken up by that thought. I was too busy just being on positive mode to let myself even dwell on that kind of thought.

And were you very straight with Chloe about what was going on?

No I wasn’t. And to some degree regret that decision. I didn’t tell her because she’d lost her friend to cancer, and to her that word just means you die, so I thought I’m not going to tell her I have cancer, she’ll freak, you know. So I would just arrange it so that on the days I had chemotherapy she would be at a friend’s house, and maybe stay over just when I was at my worst, and then tell her I didn’t feel well for a few days, and there would be another three weeks and she would forget that. But she knew, I mean, she knows now.

Did she ever give you a hard time, you didn’t tell me the truth, Mum.

Yes, she did. I got through it, I was fine, and we came to Australia, and one of the kids here told her that he’d read it in a magazine, and she came running home one day and said "Is this true, Mum?" And I said "Yes." And, "Why didn’t you tell me?" And I said, "Because I felt that you’d worry too much about me." And she said, "Well I could have taken care of you, Mum." And she was very upset with me that I hadn’t told her the truth. So we kind of made a pact that I would never do that again, which I haven’t, I’ll always be straight with her, but I was trying to...

If she’d been eight then, maybe...

Yeah, if she’d was eight then, she could have dealt with it, but being six, and just going through her loss, it was too much.

Can I just ask you about your marriage? I remember when you got together with Matt, especially when you got married, obviously there was a lot of scepticism about partnering up with a man who was 11 years younger than you, and you’ve defied them all and you seem to have this amazing partnership. And I[‘m thinking now, particularly as I’m the age that you were when you met him, was it difficult along the way being with somebody who was literally from another, had grown up in a different decade, and were there a lot of compromises and allowances you had to make for each other along the way? Anything worth noting that was interesting, difficult, amusing?

Yeah, I mean I would talk about people that he didn’t know because he was so much younger, and there was a gap. Yes, there’s always allowances, both sides.

What was it about him that really, and that still does obviously, strike you as so attractive in many ways? Because I think now, could I see myself with a 21 year old guy? And I think maybe if a 21 year old guy came up who had all the qualities it would work, and is that literally just what happened, that his age was irrelevant?

His age was irrelevant. I thought it was relevant in the beginning, I remember I was very freaked out about the age, because I had friends who’d married or had boyfriends 10 years younger [laughs], eat my words, I would say to them, "What do you see in these guys? I mean, why, they’re ten years younger, and...." And then, they say you should never speak, cause you don’t know, you just don’t know When I’d had boyfriends who were older, a couple of years younger, but never, you know. And I was pretty freaked out about it, and we kept it a secret the first year, we didn’t tell anybody, and just hung out together and I was terrified of commitment anyway.

Really? Cause you’d been in long relationships.

[Laughs] That’s why. I wasn’t ready. I’d been with [Lee Kramer] for quite a few years, and I’d always been in long relationships. And Matt was like a breath of fresh air, I guess, he was so vibrant and unjaded and accepting, and treated me totally as I was, and wasn’t jealous or threatened by me. I mean a lot of that was his youth also, you know. There wasn’t any of that. And when I went to meet his family, I was just Matt’s girlfriend, there was no problem.. Because I’d had problems with parents in other relationships that were worried because I was a star, a celebrity, and all this kind of thing, and there wasn’t any of that, it was just was I the right person for him, you know, they were really good people. And I saw that and I really liked that, and his parents are still together and happy and they have nine kids.

Well that obviously speaks volumes for your marriage...

Yeah. Look, let’s not kid ourselves, all relationships are hard, and all relationships take a lot of work, and you’re going to go through periods that are really difficult because you grow and change, and we’ve been through incredible stress together, but we’re working it out, working through it because, you know, it’s important. And that’s all part of your growth, too. How accepting you can be, how understanding you can be with each other, through all kinds of different changes in your life, and countries and situations, you know.

Do you think Australia has been welcoming to Matt?

Mmm, I think it has. He loves it. He loves it here. In fact, I really have to thank him from bringing me back because when he was offered Paradise Beach, he said one of the reasons he took it was because he really thought it would be good for me to get out of America and come over here for a while and get on the farm and just be normal for a while. And that’s really how we came back. If that hadn’t happened, we probably wouldn’t have come back.

When did you buy the farm?

1982 or 1983. He came out with me actually when I was looking. It was a funny story. We flew into Lismore and it was really really rough, and... I was actually looking for just an investment property, and I drove past this one and it was like, oh this is beautiful, do you have anything around here, and the agent said yep, drove in, fell in love, bought it — that’s not like me, I’m a Libran, I’m usually like oh maybe this and maybe that, and weighing a situation for weeks and hours and days, and... Anyway, and I bought it, and then every year I’d come and sit on the property and look at the view and go one day I’ll build a house here, and one day, and then in the “one day” future I have I’ll be able to come and spend some time. And I’d come like every year or two. And then about six years later the farm adjoining came up for sale and it had a little house on it, so I was lucky to be in a position to buy it and I bought that and then we fixed that up, and that’s where we’re living.

Was there anything particularly about the region that spoke to you?

Well it really was the physical beauty. I love green rolling hills, and the green rolling hills and the red soil, that rich lush soil which I love so much that I knew would grow anything, and the palm trees and animals everywhere, it was just gorgeous. It was like England with good weather [laughs].

Do you think that there is something here beyond just that physical beauty?

Oh yeah. There’s a wonderful feeling up here, I feel totally... Like within two days, if I’ve been on a round the world trip, like in the last six months I’ve done a lot of travelling, and I can be here and within a day I feel totally relaxed, and there’s a real peace and.. Australians anyway have a way of allowing you, you just can be yourself, there’s no hype. And it’s not to say America isn’t wonderful, it has been wonderful to me, and I owe a lot to it, cause I lived there a long time and I loved my home there, but there’s an energy there that you feel like if you’re not doing something you feel, ahh, I should be doing something, you know.

What are the living arrangements? Do you still have the Malibu home?

Yeah, we’re selling them, but they’re still there... I’m working out how to get [my animals] out here. Well they’ve just changed quarantine so it’s four months now, so I’m very happy about that. [The quarantine station] is in Sydney... My horses I won’t bring, they’re too old. I’m going to bring two of my dogs.

So what does your day to day life consist of around here? Do you get very involved in community things?

If I’m around I do. See we’ve been so back and forth the last year and a half. We’ve been here a couple of months, then back a couple of months and here, and it’s been like that. But for instance, when Chloe’s bonfire night was on, Matt sold tickets on his truck and did the chocolate wheel, and I made scones and tea. People’s faces were so funny, they’d come through and they’d go, no, you know, people who didn’t know me. Because from the school they know who I am. There I was doing dishes and serving up. I like doing that, I like doing that and being part of what’s going on, but we just haven’t been here on a regular enough basis to do anything more than that. But for instance I was asked if I’d been involved in the Tibochina Festival, that’s next March, if I’m here I will, if I’m around.

Are you planing to be based here now?

Yeah, we hope to be, we’re just selling our houses over there and I’d like to be based here, I think it’s a much healthier lifestyle for Chloe particularly, and for me, I mean, I’m really enjoying it. Now I’m finding things like gyms and the things I want to do — you’ve got to seek these things out, you know — but I can do all the things I want to do.

And of course there is the enormous environmental issue up here, and you’ve been very vocal about Ferngully.

There are so many problems in this country and people write to me about them. Like this woman keeps writing to me about the koalas, the road they’re putting through, this tollway... She’s written to me about four times, and I feel like, I wish I could do something, I feel like.. I kind of feel that Australia has such an opportunity to remain unspoilt if we do something right away, but it’s got to be right away, before these, before we follow the lead of other countries who have made these dreadful mistakes, you know we have every reason to see what’s going on and go, no we won’t do that, not, yes we’ll do that and do the same thing, I don’t understand it. I feel as though we should declare Australia a national park, and you can’t do anything from now on that will destroy anything.

Are you alarmed at the growth of Sydney?

Yeah. It’s dreadful. I feel that it’s down to this one world problem, population. We’re just breeding too fast. And so we’re spreading out, you know, there’s more and more people and we can’t look at that problem, it’s something as human beings we find impossible to look at it somehow, because it means, what are we going to do about it? Are they going to tell me I can only have one child, or...? You know, but it’s an issue that we have to look at.

There’s a whole narcissitic aspect, it’s like you could argue that there are so many homeless children out there, there should be a policy to only adopt for the next twenty years, but then there are people who say but I want to have my own child, and why shouldn’t they?

Yeah, and I totally understand that, because I had my own, and attempted to have others and wasn’t fortunate, but you know, but on an overview I would still feel the same way, because in an overview, without thinking about myself as a human or whether I had five or ten children or whatever, and without judging anybody for what they’ve done, I can still see this as a major problem, we are just overpopulating the planet, even Australia now is overpopulated for what it can hold naturally. But it is a stunning beautiful country. I just hope that people realise that so much is in the individual’s power to make change and to make themselves heard with politicians, so that these things don’t happen. You know, like this road that’s going through is going to wipe out koalas within twenty years — these are our national animal — I mean, there’s nowhere else in the whole world that they are, and I can’t understand why they would put that in risk for so-called progress. What progress is it when you’re wiping out — ahhhh! It makes me so angry.

Do you have a view about Club Med, or have you stayed out of that one?

I’ve stayed out of that one because I don’t know enough about it. Maybe it’ll bring in more than they think to the area, I mean maybe it will bring business. What I think is tragic about it without having any knowledge is that the people had no voice, you know, they’re all protesting it and they had no voice. Either there was an awful lot of money changing hands or there was just a lot of people who were for it.

There is a silent advocacy. There are a lot of people who would like the BSBF left-wingers to go away, and who would rather have Club Med than have a Sheraton. Club Meds do consider themselves to be an environmentally friendly multi-national. And if that site has to be developed I’d rather have a Club Med than a high-rise hotel.

Me too. The only thing that I thought was ludicrous was that I heard that they had offered to recycle the sewage water or something and the council said they couldn’t do it...? It’s the council. Well, the council should be changed, the people of the county should change their council and get people who represent their needs.

The county — that’s an American one.

What do they call it - the shire? Very English.

Let’s talk about the album. You financed this yourself, I understand, and you wrote it all yourself, so this is really a huge one for you.

Yes it is, it’s a personal project.

Was that because you didn’t want to try and go out and get a record deal because of these changes we referred to earlier in the record industry, that you didn’t think you’d be able to retain creative control?

Yes, a bit of that. I’ll tell you what it is. My last experience with the record company was, when I did my Back To Basics album and they wanted me to do three new tracks for the record, and basically the A&R guy had his ideas of which songs he wanted me to do. I mean I listened to them with him and I had to like them as well as him. But, okay I did them with three different producers, and I liked one of them very much.

Did you like Peter Asher?

Yeah, I loved that track the best because it was more me, it was my kind of song, and that was easy for me to do. The others were by these famous writers and everything, but they weren’t really me. So anyway, so then we get to do the video, of the one song that Stevie Kipner wrote, and it was the let’s put you in a black dress deal again, and I’m going but I really don’t, you know, but I was just you know, we need a single, so... I mean as much it’s my fault that I decided to record the song, but I knew that if I went to a record company with these songs they’d either say well where’s the single, or where’s the one that you’re going to get dressed in lingerie and sing and I remember going to do publicity photos for the greatest hits album, and the guy, I said, look, I don’t want to wear sexy clothes. It turned out quite nice, but it was like, they used everything but the word sex that they could to try and convince me that I needed to wear a black dress. But anyway, I wanted it just to be me. And this album I thought, I don’t want to deal really with that mentality because I’m not hot. You know, you’re hot when you’ve had a big hit, and I haven’t had a big hit for a long time, so I’m cold. So therefore they’ll really think they have me in their clutches because then they can dictate to me. So I really don’t want to get into that. So if I’m going to do this, I have to do it myself. And then I’ll finish it myself, and then I can offer it to them and see if they want it. If they want it—

Was Festival behind it anyway from the beginning?

Yes, they liked it, thank goodness. They’ve been with me a long time. They could have passed on it, but they liked it.

And where did you find Murray?

He was at Rocking Horse... it’s a long story. I recorded some demos with Di Young’s sons... and I was looking to record them maybe a little better, in a proper studio, or maybe just some other demos, so I went to look at Rocking Horse out of interest. And Murray was in there recording Carmella, and I met him and I liked what I heard of her sound, you know the sound that they were creating in there, and hers had an environmental edge to a couple of songs, so I thought he’d knew what I was talking about anyway. So I went back to America and wrote a couple more songs. We’d only been back there about two months, and I said, we’re going to go back and I want to record this song in America. I called Murray and asked him if he’d be interested in working with me on it, and that’s really... I just had an instinct that he’d be right for it. It was totally by chance because I didn’t know him at all.

It must have been a very different experience for you having worked with John for so many years. Was John upset?

Mmm. No, no, John was working on his own thing. And we’re friends way beyond our work, and I really care about them both — Pat are John are good close friends — and Pat and I had just gone through Koala Blue, and John and I had been through so much, that almost maybe it was good for us to be doing different things. He’s working on a musical for Cliff Richard, he’s doing Wuthering Heights with Tim Rice. No it was fine. I think it was a little hard for me to say, I’m going to co-produce this, you know. I’d never done that.... It was fun, it was difficult, it was hard, cause you had to be there. I mean, I wasn’t there all the time, but I got very spoilt with John, because I would go and set the key and then I’d come back a month later and the track would be done, and I’d sing it, and then go, trusting, totally. He was wonderful and a perfectionist and here I am working with Murray who brought in his partner Colin Bailey to work with, who I had never met before. And we were like three people who don’t know each other, and they had been used to working with people who maybe didn’t have a strong idea of what they wanted, and I knew in a lot of cases what I wanted. A few times they guided me in a direction that was good, but I wouldn’t have thought of it probably. So it really was a good balance.

And the musicians were all local musicians?

Mmm, apart from a couple they brought up from Sydney. They brought up this lady who played the erhu.

The cover of the CD was done in a room, there’s this guy called Peter Erskine, who has this room with a solar panel and mirrors, and this is exactly how the room looks, it’s unbelievable, to be in that room is like being in church. It’s in Los Angeles.

It looks like Mother Earth.

Good, that’s what Gaia is.

So you’re obviously very proud of it?

I am, I am. I did it pretty quickly, we started it in November, and we were finished in January, and had breaks in between. It’s simple, it’s quite simple, and some of them are very simple. There’s production but it’s not heavily produced. It was quite a... It was exciting and it was scary and it was everything, because you know I went into it all gung-ho and confident and then you go through a period when you think, oh no, maybe it isn’t going to work or maybe it isn’t good, total self doubt, and then you’d go through periods again of feeling good. And even now, I don’t know. I really think this album whether it makes it or not was just an important thing for me to do, it was just something I had to do, and I did it, and I feel really pleased that I did it.

And which is the single?

“No Matter What You Do”.

And what’s this wild life series you’ve been making?

They’re calling it Wild Life in Australia, they’re calling it Human Nature in the rest of the world, which is what it was supposed to be called, and it’s about people and their relationship with nature. That was our first series, it’s starting in February here in Australia.

The whale’s still out there.

Well, if this isn’t too difficult a question, how do you perceive your career and yourself at this point, looking back, saying, wow, I’ve been around for 25 years doing this. Or don’t you? Is it simply that you just don’t?

I don't think about it until someone asks me. I don’t dwell on it. But I try to particularly now live in the moment that I’m in, and take one day at a time. But when I think about that, I think I’m really lucky that I’m still a human being and I still get insecure about what I’m doing, and I still really care about the quality of what I do and I kind of feel like everything I’m doing now, I want it to be about things I really care about. I’m not doing anything now just for... well, occasionally I’ll do a job if I need some money or something, obviously, but it will have to be something that I really like. I mean I still have integrity in what I do, but particularly this phase in my life. The nature series I took on because I’m so concerned about nature, I mean, I feel very, I have a great affinity with animals and wildlife and I feel that everything has a right to be here, and I don’t feel humans, I don’t think we as humans have this right to destroy things and kill things without even a conscience. You know, like hunting and all these things are so out of my realm.

[Mention impact of her appearances on The Last Whale]

I took on this series because I was really concerned about the planet and what’s happening, and so when Wayne and... when they first showed me the idea for the series I said look I’m not going to work, I’m going to stay home and be Mum, I don’t plan to do anything, and then I was listening to the radio about Japan and Norway and about how they were going to ignore the whaling ban, and I was in the car with Matt and I started crying, and I said I have to do something, I don’t know what I can do, but maybe there’s something I can do. Maybe I should do that series and I can reach people through that, because that’s the way I can reach people is through my work.

So it’s absolutely reasonable as an international celebrity to use your position for a worthwhile cause.

Yeah. I really feel that all this 20 years was for now, because I feel that... I mean, I entertain people, yes, and all that stuff, but if I can use it to do something that’s really important, like draw attention to the plight of the whales or the dolphins or the koalas, or the trees, you know, I do a song about trees on there, I mean there’s like that’s what it’s about. That’s what I feel like in my time of life, anyway.

Doesn’t sound as though you have any regrets about anything you’ve done over the years. You’re quite contented with the way you’ve...

I think regrets are a waste of time. I think regrets are... A regret you should turn into a lesson, and it’s the way you look at it. You can make it a regret or you can go, look, maybe I wouldn’t choose to do that now, but I had to do it then, because that was, and maybe five years ago maybe it was a regret and now I would say it was an important learning point. So it’s just the way you change your perception of it.

Do you think a lot of the way you perceive things, your perspective on life, came from your father?

I didn’t live with him after I was 10. I got a lot from my mother and my father. My mother’s a very sensitive person. They separated when I was nine or ten, and my Dad re-married twice, my mother never did.

The whale is right in front of us, I can’t believe it, right here, it’s coming up.

He was wonderful, my father, he was extremely educated well-read, great sense of humour, handsome. He was fantastic. I didn’t see enough of him unfortunately, but he was very hard working and had a very strong work ethic, which I got from him.

Where’s your mother now?

She’s in Melbourne, and my mother is very clever, she’s actually a very good writer but has never really had a chance to do it, but she wrote these very funny poems and stories and was a great wit, and was very bright and very caring and very sensitive to what’s going on in the world, so I think I got from both of them.

[Sister Rona] is in Los Angeles and she writes scripts and she’s doing some interior decorating. She’s older. And my brother lives here, in Victoria, and he’s a doctor.

So an educated family.

Well, except for me. What happened to me? My grandfather won the Nobel Prize for physics!

6 September 1994
At Olivia's house in NSW

[ONJ, Matt and friend from LA return from a day at the beach; ONJ is totally un-made up, sporting a healthy glow. The house is small and modest but the outlook is beautiful and the property encompasses some 200 acres. Morgan is a big hit; Olivia says she misses her dogs. Tea is made, Olivia goes to pick up Chloe from school, then returns. Chloe immediately sits down to do her homework, and Matt helps.

We go outside to the verandah, Morgan wanders around seeking attention, Olivia gets up a few times to address a couple of birds and feeds them bread.]

We have this ritual every morning and every night; they’ve been coming for a year now.

You asked me about criticisms and stuff; I really think I’ve got to the point now where I don’t worry about them any more, and I should have said that. In the early days, in the seventies, I probably was more sensitive to it but now, I try not to let it get to me.

The thing is, I ask around; I haven’t spoken to one person who’s got a bad word to say about you.

I spoke to them all, I offered bribes.

Murray was lovely.

Murray is lovely, he is just a great guy... So is Colin, his partner. They’re so unassuming, these two guys, and they’re very talented, and they were so supportive of me, because you know, this is my first outing as a songwriter and we didn’t know each other, and they were really supportive.

I wanted to ask you about your songwriting, because if you’ve always had it in you to write songs, in fact perhaps you’ve been scribbling over the years, how come it’s taken this long to showcase it? Was it just that you were so happy and comfortable with working with John and people like Steve?

I think circumstance, the fact that I had so much to let out. I had written songs, I mean I wrote a song about the dolphins on Physical called “The Promise,” and I wrote, I’ve written maybe a song on each album, maybe. Not every album, but maybe every other album I’d probably written a song, and I had a lot of songs but I never had the confidence cause I was surrounded by such incredible writers — John, and Stevie, and all these people around me — there were such great songs that I very rarely felt the confidence to say, "How about this one?" And I think, although I had been encouraged by people, it was suggested that I... Lee Kramer wanted me to write an album of my own material and I didn’t have the confidence, I said no, I don’t think I’m ready, or I couldn’t, or whatever. And so this was just evolution.

When you worked with Elton did you show him any of your stuff?

No, I only did one song with him, really... Elton was, he’s great, he’s a friend, I don’t see him very often, but I’ve known him for so long. Oh, I’d be so nervous to play Elton anything because he’s so brilliant.

No it was just evolution, and I was here, and these songs just were coming, and I needed to reach that point in my life where I felt confident enough to do it and feel strongly enough to follow it through, and I got to that point, so that’s what I was saying that you know, even things that seem negative at the time, they can often prove to be wonderful things that open you up to new...

I want to talk more about where the [cover for] the CD was shot because it was more than just a room with solar panels in it, it’s a healing environment, and this guy Peter Erskine has people... When you enter into this environment, cause he’s an artist, he works with light, he took his artwork to Rome to the ruins in Rome and they set up the solar panels and the mirrors in the ruins. So it’s brilliant, it’s really brilliant. So when you go in he gives you a white suit to put on, and he makes you sign this thing saying that you are aware of what the sun does to you and you are aware of the things that you do on the planet that will cause the sun to change from being a powerfully wonderful thing to a dangerous thing, because we’re destroying the ozone. I couldn’t tell you how it was worded exactly, but when you go in there and he played this amazing Mass that was, I don’t know who the artist was, but basically it was this very beautiful music and kind of chanting and this one gorgeous actor’s voice naming every endangered animal on the planet, and it went on for like an hour, and it was still going, and it was horrifying. I mean it was beautiful because it was this lovely sound, but it just went alphabetically through all these animals that were either endangered or had gone already, and sitting in this environment were these colours that kept changing as the sun changed, and it was so vibrant, it was like a totally healing room, it was fantastic, really wonderful. In fact Deepak Chopra is hoping to maybe create something like that as part of his healing thing.

[Wants to refer back to influence of parents.]

I think that it came from both my parents. My mother was very sensitive to nature and she was very anti-violence and was very caring about things, and my father was very academic and brilliant, and I didn’t spend as much time with him, but you know I got the genes I guess. I was sent something the other day that was a quote from my grandfather, I’ll let you read that. I got a lot from my grandfather just genetically it came through somehow.

My mother’s also a great photographer, you can put that in.

[Gets photocopy of something her cousin has sent to her.]

It was a kind of a thing on our family, cause I have a lot of academics and scientists and things in the family. It was really really interesting. And this is about my grandfather, and this is a quote from him.

"...My interest at present is the danger for the human race due to the uncontrolled development of technology. If this continues I think we face extinction not only of civilisation but of life on earth. The best brains in East and West are occupied not with improving life of the ordinary man but with inventing instruments of mass destruction. Though I have worked in science all my life, I believe that technology based on science has brought dangers which can be overcome only by a reawakening of moral responsibility. Technical progress brings no happiness. What we need are higher standards in ethics as taught by philosophy and religion. "

And this was 1953-54? Did you have a relationship with your grandfather?

[Shakes her head]. I kind of feel that he’s my guardian angel. I’ve always felt that. I didn’t really know him.

About live performing — do you like doing it? You’re not known for concert tours although you’ve done them.. You’ll go off and do these benefits.

I haven’t done that in about ten years. I’ve done lots of benefits, like two songs, three songs, four songs, but I haven’t done a concert since ‘82-’83. I like it once I’m out there, I enjoy the actual performance, but I go through a lot of nerves. It’s the nerves that are so debilitating. That’s why, people keep asking me will I go on the road.

Will you do that for this album?

I really don’t know. I don’t know. I enjoy it when I get up there and everything, but I don’t miss it. You know, some people crave it. I’ve got to get the washing in.

I love it, the smell of it. In California you couldn’t do this. Nothing ever smells as good. I remember watching Lisa Hartman one day, she’s an actress, and she’s married to Clint Black, and she was on some chat show and she was saying that she loves doing the laundry and folding everything up, and I agree with her, it’s very therapeutic, actually.

If you base yourself here permanently, are you still going to retain your US management and business operations?

I don’t really know.

Do you actually have an office here?

No, I just have Scott Young who kind of helps me out with stuff if it needs to be handled right away and I can’t get hold of Billy. Because basically I make most decisions myself.

In America our lives were more secretaries and... Here I tend to do most myself and what I can’t I have a friend who does it by the hour for me. But we like the simplicity here, we don’t want people in our house, under our feet, you know?

Well, it’s not that huge a house that you’d want it.

Oh this is easy to manage, I mean our other house is huge.

How many houses are there in the States because you talked about selling...

Two, one that we built and moved out of while we were building the other one. It hasn’t sold cause there’s been fires and all that. [Both in Malibu.]

So you’re selling them both?

Uh huh.

Are you a vegetarian?

Not strictly. I went through a period when I was totally vegetarian, and I’m going back in that direction again. And then I got really anaemic... I was told to go back on meat. Even though some doctors would argue with me that you can get the right nutrition, I was trying to do everything I thought was correct to get enough iron but I just wasn’t getting enough iron.

I went macrobiotic for a while.

So did I... I feel guilty about the animals. When I see those little cows out there, I can’t justify it. I saw this amazing commercial the other day. You know they have those funny commercials on tv? And they had like this one that came on it was a picture of a lamb and this voice saying “Lambs are beautiful little animals, and they give us wool and they’re very sweet in the fields. And pigs are the most intelligent farmyard animal, and they’re actually much smarter than cows and horses and pigs are not dirty they’re actually quite clean.” And they went through about five animals, and then said, “Let’s eat them!!” And it was an ad for barbecue sauce, and it was so true, it really went wack! It was very clever marketing, cause that’s the way we raise our children. Look at the pretty little chickens, we’re having chicken for dinner. Look at the sweet little lamb, we’re having chops tonight. It’s like this, I don’t know what we do to our psyches, we kind of switch off to take it all in, to deal with what we’re doing or something.

What about Matt’s game fishing?

He doesn’t go game fishing. He goes fishing, but he only fishes for things that we eat. Anything that he catches is to eat, and I think that’s fair enough. I mean what’s the difference between going to the supermarket and buying something that someone else has killed, rather than killing it yourself? I can’t personally do it, but you’re no less guilty. Saying, well I didn’t do it, cause we’re all party to it when we buy meat, we’re all party to it. If we can just cut it down, I mean if they were just more humane about it. I listen to the country radio sometimes, it talks about meatworks and livestock, but they’re not living things. It just sounds so cold, it’s not like we’re talking about these living breathing creatures. And I’m part of it, too, I’m not —

Which network is screening the Human Nature/Wild Life series?


And what’s involved in you UN Ambassador role?

They haven’t been that regular since I got sick, actually, because I wrote and said I’m not going to be available to anything, so, now it’s, I’ve been in Australia for the last year. But I go to events. They asked me to go to something next month, but I can’t. So they ask me to represent them at different things whenever I can.

Well you’re involvement in the whale documentary was kind of used as one of the reasons for why you did it, really, which was cool.

No, I mean that helps to publicise the whole thing, but I didn’t to it for that, it was just me as a human wanting to do that, and the fact that I am the ambassador kind of gives it a little more credence maybe other than just a pop singer who loves animals.

You’re okay about that stuff about Matt then?

Yes, I think that’s alright. I didn’t say he’s wonderful and I’d like to put that in.

I’ll put that in as my own personal comment now that I’ve laid eyes on him because he is gorgeous.

He’s a lovely person, too, but I didn’t really want to get into the family much.

It’s okay, what I find about you though, particularly with this album now, you are your family and your family is you, and it’s such an important part of your life that to try and write about you without bringing your family into it would be very difficult.

True enough. That’s true.

[Chloe asked to try out for a Canadian telemovie starring under Olivia as her daughter, a Christmas show, to be filmed in the next few months and to screen for Christmas this year.]

It suits me, there’s no violence, just a nice story. I play a widow with two children.

Does Chloe have showbiz ambitions? Is this film going to be a springboard for a career for her? Does she want that?

She goes back and forth, you know, a teacher, an actress. She has the ability, she’s great, but I’m not forcing it, but this seems to be the perfect opportunity. I’m working, she has to be there anyway, so for her to do it with me would be a great opportunity, and to see if she likes it. She’s only eight, she’s a baby, but she’s a born actress.

She’s quite serious, isn’t she?

Mmmhmm. She’s beautiful... She’s very bright and she’s very concerned about the planet and the animals... and she’s a great sense of humour, she’s very witty and she’s great company, she’s only eight, but she’s great fun to be around.

© Debbie Kruger
No part of this interview may be reproduced or transmitted in any form
without prior written permission.

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