RIP SANDY BABY
December 2016. The Shadows’ drummer Brian Bennett and I were having a quiet pre-Christmas lunch in Marylebone. He asked what the children were up to, and I mentioned that the thirdborn was rehearsing fervently for the forthcoming Dulwich College-James Allen's Girls' School collaborative production of 'Grease'.
'Oh!' said Brian, I'll have to get Livvie to send her a good-luck message. Wing me Bridie's email.'
'You know,' he said, 'Olivia! Olivia Newton-John.'
'Don't be daft!' I said, 'she's never going to do that!'
'Trust me,' said Brian, beaming that beam of his. 'She will if I ask her.'
I thought no more of it. Brian is nothing if not invariably as good as his word, but there was no way that I expected him to do anything about this. I let it slip to the back of my mind, and forgot about it.
A couple of weeks later, Bridie bounded down three flights of stairs, strawberry-faced.
'Is this another one of your jokes?' she demanded.
'Is what a joke?'
'I've just had an email from someone calling themselves Olivia, wishing the cast of Grease all the best for the forthcoming production. Who have you been talking to this time? Who did you put up to it?'
'Darling, that is Oliva Newton-John herself,' I told her. 'Brian Bennett, you know who I mean, he's known her for a really long time. Cliff Richard, the Shadows ... anyway, he said he was going to ask her to email you. He obviously did.'
Of course the rest of the cast didn't believe her when she showed it to them. But WE knew.
A few of us, Brian included, trolled along to the Union Chapel in Islington in 2017 to watch Olivia perform with Amy Sky and Beth Nielsen Chapman. What a special night that was. It was the last time we saw her. She glowed, she was radiant, she was in her finest voice for years. She looked for all the world as though she had conquered the beast. But that's the thing about beasts. They rear their ugly heads again in the end.
Olivia could easily have disregarded a email from a friend, asking her if she wouldn't mind sending a note of encouragement to a teenage schoolgirl halfway across the world whom she had never met, would never meet, and might otherwise not have cared a hoot about. But that's the thing about loyalty, between individuals who have loved each other for a lifetime. Olivia did it for Brian. Brian did it for Bridie, but ultimately for me. I have never forgotten it.
Seventy-three is no age to check out. But of course she wasn't even that old, and will never be so. She will remain peach-faced, wide-eyed Sandy Baby into eternity.
Grease is the time, is the place, is the motion. God bless you, wonderful, genuine, kind, caring Olivia.