By Tim Saunders on
With four Grammy Awards and a further eight nominations behind her, Olivia Newton-John is nothing short of a legend in the music world.
Born in England but raised in Australia, Olivia was talented singer from a young age and passionate about music: she released her first solo album in 1971, and in 1974 represented the United Kingdom in the Eurovision Song Contest. A long list of hits, including I Honestly Love You and Let Me Be There, led to her being cast as Sandy in the film version of Grease in 1978.
The early 1980s were phenomenal years for the young star, and she had a string of hits including Xanadu, Let’s Get Physical, and Suddenly. But in 1992, on the eve of a world tour, Newton-John was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was the start of a long battle for the Grammy Award winning artist, but she eventually overcame the disease and returned to music.
She also devoted herself to helping other cancer sufferers, and now plans to build the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Centre in Australia, which will provide complementary therapies to support patients on their cancer journey, treating mind and spirit as well as the body. The Wellness Centre is Olivia’s special passion, with a focus on the whole person and not just the disease.
This weekend, the singer will join Leeza Gibbons in hosting A Night To Make A Difference, a star-studded Oscar party sponsored by Look To The Stars celebrating advocacy, philanthropy and volunteerism in Hollywood.
Look To The Stars was lucky enough to chat with Olivia about A Night To Make A Difference and her thoughts on making the world a better place.
Hi Olivia, tell us a little about the Night To Make A Difference event.
The Night To Make a Difference party is to benefit the Leeza Gibbons Memory Foundation and my own Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Center.
Leeza walked the Great Wall of China for my charity last year. She’s an amazing person and is committed to sufferers of Alzheimer’s Disease and the caregivers of those sufferers. She came up with the idea to do an Oscar party as a fundraising idea for our two charities.
But now it has morphed into a bigger night than just our two charities – it’s about everybody’s philanthropy and giving back. It’s a new era in America with the new Obama presidency, and it’s all about giving back, so we decided to make the night an evening about celebrity giving – like the theme of Look To The Stars.
We want celebrities to talk about the good things they are doing and share the things that they care about. It’s all going to be able to be watched live via webcast on www.extratv.com and www.glam.com. People are going to get a chance to see celebrities from television, film, sports and music at this wonderful evening at Mr Chow in Beverly Hills. David Foster is going to be our co-host – he’s a man who has been greatly admired and respected in Hollywood and around the world for his music, writing, and producing. I’ve known David for a really long time and I am so happy he is going to be a part of this.
It’s going to be a carbon neutral event, we’re going to plant a tree for everybody who attends. This will erase the carbon footprint, which is also something I do in my spa in Gaia in Australia. I think it is a wonderful thing to do.
It’s going to be a really wonderful evening. Joining Look To The Stars as sponsors is the Make The Difference Network and many more great charity organizations. And Leeza, David and I are going to be the hosts. It’s going to be a great night exploring the themes of advocacy, philanthropy and volunteerism.
Tell us a little about the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Centre in Australia.
The Austin Hospital in Melbourne has been the premier cancer centre in Australia for a long, long time and they asked me if I would put my name on a cancer unit they were going to build there. I went to see their facilities and they were so run down and in such bad repair that I said I would love to help them, but only if they also build a new wellness centre. When I had cancer – in 1992 – I was lucky enough to have things to help me in body, mind, and spirit. I had meditation and yoga, I had homeopathy and acupuncture and all these alternative therapies that helped me get through the whole healing process, emotionally as well as physically. So I wanted to create a place on the hospital grounds that could offer that. That became part of the appeal, and I am very excited about that.
We’ve been fundraising for it for five years. We held a major fundraising event last year when we spent three weeks walking the length of the Great Wall of China, which was amazing. We raised $2 million.
I’m also lucky to have the support of celebrities such as Cliff Richard and Dannii Minogue. Leeza Gibbons is an Ambassador. A few of the stars who did the Great Wall Walk became Ambassadors. Because I can’t be there all the time, they can represent the hospital and help with fundraising. I’m so happy because people are so committed and so wonderful, and it really helps me such a lot and helps the hospital with all the events we put on. And in this environment it is a great challenge, but cancer is a challenge that everyone is facing. I went to the hospital not so long ago when I was in Australia, and I went to visit some of the patients there and it really is amazing how many people are battling cancer – and in such different age groups, they’re getting younger and younger.
What would be your message for someone who has just been diagnosed with cancer?
The best thing I could say is “Here I am.” When I went through it and had just finished my treatment, I met a woman who said “Oh, I read in the paper that you had breast cancer – well don’t worry, I had it 20 years ago and I’m fine now.” That was a defining moment for me. As unimportant as it may sound to other people, for me it was huge – here she was 20 years later and she was ok. I thought to myself “Well if she could do it 20 years ago when the treatments weren’t as good” – it was a really enlightening moment.
So what I would say to new patients is “Here I am” and give them that hope and do something for them emotionally. Make them feel good. Encourage them to take care of themselves.
That’s what I always say to women – we’re always so busy taking care of everybody else that we sometimes forget to take care of ourselves. They really need to look at that and take time for themselves to heal. Here’s a little quick tip I like to give: Have a close friend or loved one field all the calls asking you how you are doing. Everybody wants to know how you are, but it is very exhausting to constantly have to talk about your illness. So if you get someone to do that for you, it clears you from having to take all those phone calls and focus on healing.
You’ve done a lot of work in recent years promoting breast self exams – tell me a little about that.
I have this very simple but very effective device called the Liv Aid. It’s a very simple medical device that helps you with your breast exams. It makes any changes in your breasts more defined because it enhances your touch.
Curves gave a million of them away when I walked the Great Wall of China, and they still have some. You can go to Liv.com and read about it and about breast self exams and the whole philosophy behind it.
What I really want to do is encourage women because a lot of women are afraid to self examine their own breasts as they are scared they will find something – which defeats the whole purpose. Early detection is key. So I’m trying to encourage women at a very early age to get into the habit of doing self-exams. I actually found my lump myself – it wasn’t seen on mammograms. I don’t want to scare anyone or put them off mammograms, but just to encourage people to be self aware. If you do find anything – and usually it is nothing, because women do get benign lumps quite often – if you catch it early, then you have a better chance at survival. It’s simple and easy to do.
What other causes and charities would you urge people to support?
I’m involved with the Amazon Centre for Environmental Education and Research (ACEER). My husband has a wonderful company called the Amazon Herb Company that brings in herbs from the Amazon Rainforest. Not only does he bring in these wonderful healing herbs but he also helps support the inhabitants of the Amazon rainforests gain titles to their land, and now we have teamed up with ACEER to help educate the children of the Amazon into the importance of maintaining the rainforests – they live in it, they don’t realize that not everybody has a rainforest in their backyard. It’s incredibly important for them to save it from within. So we provide them with boats, food, clothes, but the main focus of the ACEER affiliation is education. We also want to educate the outside world too. There is so much to learn from the rainforests, and we are losing them at such an incredible rate.
My husband is incredibly involved with that, and he’s a wonderful person. He has just released a wonderful new health drink called Zamu, made from a superfruit from the rainforest called Camu, which is a feel-good fruit. It clears your mind and brightens your day. I’m helping him with that because a portion of the profits goes to ACEER.
Everything I do revolves around health and wellbeing. I have a spa in Australia called Gaia Retreat and Spa which is up near Byron Bay. My music is also tied in – I did a CD called Grace and Gratitude, which is healing CD.
How can we – as regular human beings – make a difference and help the planet, those around us, and ourselves?
I think we all need to try and be in a place of love. Fear cannot exist in a place of love. So if we try to stay in a positive place – which I know is very difficult – then we can create a positive future.
I think we will all get through whatever life throws at us, and we will all be better on the other side of it.
Look To The Stars would like to thank Olivia Newton-John for taking time out of her busy schedule to talk to us. To find out more about the Night To Make A Difference Oscar Party – which will take place on February 22 at Mr Chow in Beverly Hills – check out this website. To learn more about Olivia’s upcoming tour, see her official website. And to read Olivia’s personal message to the victims of the recent Australian bushfires, click here.
Copyright © 2009 Look to the Stars