hen I was fifteen, I won a talent contest. The prize was a trip to England. I didn't really want to go, but my mother kind of took me by the ear and said, "We need to broaden your horizons. You should go to Europe." I didn't want to go. I didn't want to leave my boyfriend. I was very young and thought Australia was everything.
I had to wait until I was eighteen before I could go to England, but I went. My friend Pat and I were a double act, and we worked on a bill with the Shadows, who were Cliff Richard's backup band. I started going out with one of the guys in the Shadows. Cliff heard my voice and he wanted Pat and I to sing with him on one of his B sides. That's kind of how my career started.
My boyfriend in the Shadows was a friend of Paul McCartney's. We went round to Paul's house one day and he said, "I have just written this song," and he started playing "Lady Madonna." At the time, I didn't even realize what I was hearing. I was thrilled to meet Paul and all, but I had no sense of what was really going on at the time. When I look back, I know it's amazing that I was there when he wrote that song.
I guess you could say I was detached. We had our own little group of people -- Cliff and the Shadows, Pat and me and a few other musicians.
I was never really an ambitious person. A lot of other people were ambitious for me. My sister believed in me, my mother believed in me. I entered that contest for fun. I never thought I'd win. But before I knew it, I had indeed won, and I was still in school with choices to make. I suppose everything just fell into my lap. In the beginning, I have to admit it, that's the way it was. Soon I realized that things were not going to continue falling into my lap forever. You have to work to get further.
My favorites growing up were Dionne Warwick, Ray Charles, Joan Baez, and Nina Simone. More than anyone else, they were the four people I listened most to in Australia. I listened to the radio and I knew every pop song. I sang all the time for my family and friends, but if they asked me at school to get up and sing, I was always too shy.
I had my first hit record, "If Not for You," in 1971. It was a hit in England and it began to get some airplay in America. I was asked to come to America to do The Dean Martin Show, and I did. When I got here, Helen Reddy and Jeff Wald took me under their wing. They said, "If you want to have a big hit in America, you have to be here. You have to concentrate on this country."
When I decided they were right, I moved into the Sunset Marquis Hotel in West Hollywood. When I arrived to check in, there was a dozen red roses waiting at the desk for me. They were from Glenn Frey. The card said, "Welcome to America." I wasn't even sure who the Eagles were, but I've always had a soft spot for Glenn because it was such a nice thing of him to do. It's very hard, you're a stranger, you're from out of town, and you're not about to call someone up and say, "Excuse me."
Helen and Jeff were important to me at another time of my life. I was in Miami, and I went to see Helen's show, and they invited me for dinner one night, and Allan Carr was there. He was goofing about at the table, and he started talking about me doing Grease. I had seen the show in London with Richard Gere as the lead. When Allan asked me to do it, I got very nervous, but I did it.
My image had been so white bread, so milk shake, and Grease was a chance to do something different. I didn't want to be forty years old and still be the girl next door.
Critics can get vicious sometimes. If they don't like you, there isn't much you can do about it. I can't pretend it doesn't irk me because it does. You want everyone to be like you. The reason you go into show business in the first place is to be accepted. But when they call you "a singing air hostess," that's cruel and vicious.
At least when Grease was a hit, I was accepted. Grease proved to be so important for me. It meant I could have a hit movie with hit songs and a new image. Suddenly, if I wanted to be outrageous, I could. If I wanted to sing rock 'n' roll, I could. Had it not been for Grease, I don't know if I ever could have gotten away with "Let's Get Physical."
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