Olivia Newton-John is set to rock the Mardi Gras Party this weekend. She spoke with Katrina Fox.
There’s no doubt that the GLBT community considers this year’s Mardi Gras Party to be a special one, if ticket sales are anything to go by: the event sold out, then a further 1500 late-release tickets were snapped up immediately.
While it could be argued it’s the 30th anniversary status that’s encouraged people to fork out for tickets, there’s no doubt that New Mardi Gras’ coup in landing Olivia Newton-John as a key performer has been a major drawcard for the event.Now in her 60th year, Newton-John boasts a career spanning more than four decades that has seen her win countless awards, including Grammys and an Emmy for her singing and songwriting, as well as five number-one hits including ‘Physical’, which topped the charts for 10 consecutive weeks.
International superstardom came, of course, after her role as Sandy in the hit movie Grease in 1978 alongside John Travolta, then two years later in the 1980 rollerskating film Xanadu. Although the latter wasn’t a great box office success at the time, it became a cult hit, especially with queer audiences, and catapulted Newton-John to the status of gay icon.
“My gay and lesbian fans have always been so supportive and caring over the years so it is an honour to be called a ‘gay icon’,” she tells SX. “I am just glad that over the years everyone has enjoyed the music and movies and there is so much more coming this year.
Both films were very special for me. Grease of course changed my life and I made some really wonderful lifelong friends during that filming. In fact, Didi Conn, who played Frenchy, will be joining me on my Great Walk to Beijing in April so we are going to have some more great times.
“As for Xanadu, the music will always be a major highlight for me and, of course, having the chance to dance with Gene Kelly is something I will never forget. I guess both films are really special when it comes to dancing – I got to dance with John Travolta and Gene Kelly. What more could a girl ask for?”
Nowadays pop stars – especially the young female kind – are achieving fame, then burning out quickly; Newton-John puts it down to the 24-hour media coverage of their lives and she’s “grateful” she wasn’t subjected to it. “We all have good and bad days – it is just harder when everyone is reading about your bad day as it is happening,” she says.
And Newton-John’s had her fair share of bad days, most notably in the ’90s when she battled breast cancer. Since then she’s talked openly about the illness and her victory over it. She’s been instrumental in promoting public awareness of the importance of early detection, has set up a spa in Byron Bay, released her own range of wellness products and plans to set up a cancer centre in Melbourne.
When asked if she has any words for gay men living with HIV, she says, “Any illness is something that can take its toll, but my main advice is stay positive and seek to heal all parts of you as a person: body, mind and spirit. And never give in to negativity – we are all very strong and we can handle more than we really think we can in our minds if we just let go of fear.”
Despite her successful career in show business, Newton-John says the thing she’d most like to be remembered for is helping others. In addition to her cancer awareness work (she’s about to embark on a 228km walk along the Great Wall of China in Beijing with a group of celebrities and friends to raise money to build her cancer centre) she’s a tireless supporter of animal and environmental organisations.
These include Animals Asia (Newton-John currently stars in an ad raising awareness of the plight of moon bears kept in cages and farmed for their bile in China), and Planet Ark.
“I have always been an advocate for the planet and everything on it and any cruelty to any creature is just not right. We have to take care of the planet,” she says.
Meanwhile, amid her busy recording schedule and philanthropic endeavours, Newton-John will be taking care of revellers at the Mardi Gras Party this weekend. Mainstream media has reported she’ll be singing ‘Xanadu’, but she’s coy about the details.“Well, maybe it will be ‘Xanadu’… maybe something else,” she teases. “We have to make it a surprise. Wait until everyone sees the costumes!”