Grease star Olivia Newton-John celebrates British ancestry with New Year Honour
Olivia Newton-John has told of her pride in her British ancestry as she is made a dame in the New Year Honours.
The singer and actress is being recognised for her services to charity, to cancer research and to entertainment.
She has had a long and varied career in music and film, but to many fans across the world she will always be Sandy from Grease.
She said: “I am extremely excited, honoured and grateful beyond words to be included with such an esteemed group of women who have received this distinguished award before me.
“Thank you to the prime minister and the main honours committee for recommending me, and of course Her Majesty the Queen for graciously approving me as Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
“As a girl born in Cambridge, I am very proud of my British ancestry and so appreciative to be recognised in this way by the United Kingdom.”
To many others, Newton-John is better known as one of the leading figures in the fight against cancer as a prominent campaigner for research into the disease, having lived with it herself for many years.
The 71-year-old Australian singer and actress, who was born in the UK, immortalised the role of the goody-goody high school student who joins Rydell High and transforms into a sexy greaser in a bid to win the affections of love interest Danny Zuko, played by John Travolta.
The 1978 film and its accompanying soundtrack, still much-loved more than 40 years since its release, catapulted Newton-John to international fame, although she had already scored a healthy level of success in Australia and in the UK by then.
Newton-John’s career in entertainment started when she formed a girl group with classmates called Sol Four at the age of 14, before winning a talent contest on Australian TV show Sing, Sing, Sing, bagging a trip to the UK.
She went to the UK on the advice of her mother and, once there, she recorded her first single in 1966, Till You Say You’ll Be Mine.
Newton-John then formed a partnership with a friend from Melbourne, Pat Carroll, touring army bases and clubs throughout the UK and Europe as the double act Pat and Olivia.
Her second single, a cover of Bob Dylan’s If Not For You, reached the top 10 in the UK and Australia, giving her an early taste of success before her next single, Banks Of The Ohio, topped the charts in Australia.
In 1974 she represented the UK at the Eurovision Song Contest with the song Long Live Love, coming in fourth place in the year Abba won with Waterloo.
Newton-John experienced further pop music success in the years following Eurovision, before the career-defining role in Grease came in 1978.
She was initially apprehensive about the role, worrying that she was too old to play a high school student – she turned 29 while filming in 1977.
However, after insisting on a screen test with co-star Travolta, Newton-John took the part.
To account for her Australian accent, writers changed the play’s original American Sandy Dumbrowski to Sandy Olsson, an Aussie who holidays in the US before moving there permanently.
Grease was an instant success, becoming the biggest box-office hit of 1978 and, powered by songs such as You’re The One That I Want, Hopelessly Devoted To You and Summer Nights, the film’s soundtrack topped charts around the world and remains one of the best-selling albums ever.
While nothing could touch the success of Grease, Newton-John went on to star in a number of other films, including musical fantasy Xanadu, rom-com Two Of A Kind and sports-based film Score: A Hockey Musical.
Newton-John returned to her music career after Grease, and she has continued to release music over the decades, including 28 studio albums and six live records.
Away from her music and film career, Newton-John is a prominent advocate for breast cancer research and other health issues, after receiving the first of three cancer diagnoses in 1992.
Following her first diagnosis she had a partial mastectomy and reconstruction.
She remained cancer-free until a recurrence in 2013, and in September 2018 Newton-John revealed she had been diagnosed with cancer for the third time in three decades, telling Australian news programme Sunday Night that doctors had found a tumour in her lower back in 2017.
The music and film star created the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness and Research Centre near Melbourne, Australia, and she now spends much of her time raising funds for the facility.
The centre provides medical research and the latest cutting-edge treatments combined with the best in wellness care, supporting patients and their families.
The skin-tight black jacket and trousers worn by Newton-John in Grease recently sold for more than £300,000, after going under the hammer at Julien’s Auctions in Los Angeles, with proceeds going to her wellness and research centre.