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  • Writer's pictureDale Roberts

Olivia Newton-John's Eurovision journey

Olivia Newton-John promoting Eurovision in Brighton in 1974

Today, the terribly sad news that Australian icon Olivia Newton-John had died aged 73 was announced.

Many will look back at her global hits or her role in Grease that gave her world wide fame, but it's her Eurovision journey that we would like to recognise.

Easily the most famous Australian to ever take part in Eurovision, Olivia Newton-John competed for the United Kingdom back in 1974.

So what led the then 25-year-old from Melbourne to the stage in Brighton?

Well it was almost a full circle journey for Olivia and we take a look at that journey.

Early life and the return back to Britain

Although growing up in Australia, Olivia was born in Cambridge, England in 1948. Her Jewish grandfather had fled to Britain from Nazi Germany and went on to win a Nobel Prize for Physics. Her father Bryn was an MI5 (Britain's Secret Service) officer and married Olivia's German born mother Irene with Olivia the third of three children all born in the UK. At age 6-year-old the family emigrated to Australia after her father took up a post at the University of Melbourne.

After stints on Australian children's television shows she took out a significant TV talent contest in her teens that saw her win a trip the Britain.

Early career success

In the UK she signed for Decca Records releasing her first single 'Till You Say You'll Be Mine' in 1966.

She then teamed up with fellow-Australian Pat Carroll as a duo touring Europe for many years before Pat returned to Australia and Olivia went solo.

She released her first album in 1971 'If Not For You' which charted no.14 in Australia with singles 'If Not For You' and 'Banks of the Ohio' making the Top 10 in the UK while the latter reached no.1 in Australia and had an impact in the United States.

In 1973 the single 'Let Me Be There' saw her break the States reaching no.6 there (and winning a Grammy Award for best country female vocal performance) and no.11 in Australia. The song was co-produced by fellow Australian John Farrar who was part of the British group 'The Shadows' (who also competed at Eurovision in 1975 with 'Let Me Be the One' which finished 2nd).

Eurovision selection

It was at this time, on the cusp of making it to the next level of success, that she was chosen to represent the United Kingdom at Eurovision, apparently on the recommendation of her friend and touring partner Cliff Richard. She had been living there for almost a decade and she of course had been born in the country, so despite her still prevalent Australian accent, it did make a lot of sense for her to compete for the nation.

To choose her entry she took part in a type of 'national final'. Six songs were performed by Olivia on (the now disgraced) Jimmy Saville's show 'Clunk,Clink'. Apparently this was due to take place on Cilla Black's program but the host felt uncomfortable promoting another female singer. Once all songs were performed viewers took part in a public postal-vote to decide the winner.

'Long Live Love' came in as the winner with 27,387 votes while Olivia's 'Angel Eyes' (above) finished runner-up with 18,108 votes.You can watch more of the program she appeared on with the songs here.

Olivia told a crowd in Brighton in 2013 that 'Angel Eyes' was her favourite,

"The song that I really wanted to sing was this song ('Angel Eyes'), it remained my favourite one".

Eurovision 1974

The 1974 contest took place on home soil in Brighton with Olivia performing second up in an eye-catching (and not in a good way) ruffled baby blue full length dress. It was an odd choice that drowned out her figure but she put in a strong performance and finished a credible 4th place on the night to a little group called ABBA and their song 'Waterloo'.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph in 2015 Newton-John said the experience was 'terrifying and 'dreadful' because she wasn't a fan of the song, saying “The viewing audience voted for the song and it was my least favourite.”

Despite not winning 'Long Live Love' charted reasonably well in Australia and the United Kingdom at no.11. She recorded a German version of the song that was never released (but you can hear below).

Global success

But 1974 would be the turning point for Olivia with her song 'I Honestly Love You' which went no.1 in the UK, Australia and... the United States.

She would move to the US and starred in Grease in 1978 making her a global superstar with huge follow up hits into the 80s like 'Physical' and 'Xanadu'.

She has sold in excess of 100 million albums places her 3rd of all time among Australians, only behind AC/DC and the Bee Gees.

So although Eurovision may not have "made her" like it did for ABBA, it was certainly a significant juncture in her career that turned her from a burgeoning star to a household name.

A global icon, a national treasure and one of the most well known artists to ever compete in the Contest - Olivia Newton-John is certainly one of our most significant Australians at Eurovision.

Vale Olivia.

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