Olivia Newton-John is keen to clear up one of the great Mardi Gras myths of the past decade.

During a particular Mardi Gras season of the late 1990s, the rumour swept town that the singer of such number one hits as Physical and Xanadu, and star of the movie Grease, was to be the special guest star at the Mardi Gras party.

But nothing ever came of the rumour, with a new story later claiming that she had to cancel her Mardi Gras appearance due to illness.

According to the singer, however, the real reason she didn’t appear at Mardi Gras is that she was never asked.

That was so interesting as I don’t think I was invited, Olivia tells Sydney Star Observer on the eve of her latest Australian concert tour. The rumour started, but it never got close to me. I kept hearing from friends that I was coming to Mardi Gras, but I had to keep responding, -˜But I haven’t been invited and don’t know anything about it.’

For me, it is a wish which has never reached fruition. Maybe it is time for them to ask me again and, if I were around, it would be a fun thing to do, I’m sure. And yes, Xanadu is the one I would sing, she adds with a laugh.

While she will miss this weekend’s Mardi Gras celebration due to concert appearances in Japan, Olivia will be in Sydney from 14 March to perform with the Sydney Symphony for four shows at the Opera House.

The tour coincides with the release of her latest album, her 30th, titled Stronger Than Before, which Olivia says has been 13 years in the planning.

The 10-track album is made up of songs about inspiration and courage, including one written by her daughter Chloe Lattanzi and another featuring the vocals of Delta Goodrem and soul diva Patti LaBelle. Olivia says Stronger Than Before is a companion album to Gaia, which she released in 1994 just after fighting her battle with breast cancer. This new album, she says, is about looking back at the battle with the benefit of hindsight.

This album is about exploring different aspects of what it was like to go through that, she says. It is definitely the most personal work I have done since Gaia.

While Olivia has dedicated Stronger Than Before to all people who have been touched by cancer, she says the songs are for anyone facing challenging life journeys, including HIV/AIDS. She then adds she has recently lost a friend to the virus.

I know they have some wonderful treatments now which are a big improvement, but unfortunately I have just lost a friend who managed to live 17 years with it, she says. Even if you are not sick, we really don’t know how long we have. So it means we have to make the most of every day we have.

I truly believe one day there will be a cure [for AIDS], but people still need to be cautious and know how to protect themselves from being at risk. You can never forget you are vulnerable, as we all are as human beings.

At 58, Olivia has reached iconic status. Her career is now into its fifth decade, spanning numerous number one hits, four Grammy Awards for such songs as I Honestly Love You, the movie classic Grease and singing at the Sydney Olympics Opening Ceremony. She has, however, also had her share of personal trauma. Apart from her battle with cancer and the collapse of her marriage to dancer Matt Lattanzi, she found herself in the headlines in mid-2005 when her partner of almost 10 years, Patrick McDermott, disappeared after a boating trip.

While she refuses to discuss the matter, she remains philosophical. I think you are constantly being challenged, as I have recently been, and you have to draw on even more belief, she says. There are no rules about that, and you have to take it as it comes. I know I will get through this, but it is still challenging. Very challenging.

The vicissitudes of her showbiz life, however, might yet prove to have an upside, in terms of providing suitably dramatic material for a stage musical based on her life. Olivia is currently considering pulling together a biographical show, in the same vein as Dusty, The Boy From Oz and Shout, which told of the lives of Dusty Springfield, Peter Allen and Johnny O’Keefe respectively.

I am working on it myself and [record producer] John Farrar and I have talked about doing it, she says. I have come up with some ideas of how it could be done. And there would be some great music to go with it at all. It could be very exciting -“ you just never know.

Olivia Newton-John performs with the Sydney Symphony at the Sydney Opera House from 14 to 18 March. Bookings on 9250 7777.

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