Revealing the surprising Welsh life of Olivia Newton-John
Tracing your family tree can unearth some major surprises.
For Olivia Newton-John that was discovering the Welsh side of her family.
The singer was born in Cambridge, but soon emigrated with her family to Australia.
However, back in 2008 she took part in a BBC Wales show called Homecoming, which helped celebrities with links to Wales to trace their ancestors.
And for the star who became a worldwide superstar back in the late ’70s with her starring role in Grease, it gave her an opportunity to unearth a whole wealth of information about her Welsh father, Bryn, and his side of the family.
Arriving in Cardiff, where her father was brought up, she retraced her Welsh roots to the drinking spot where her dad was born – The Old Market Tavern pub on Trinity Street in there city centre.
Her dad Brinley Newton-John was born in the pub and her grandmother Daisy worked behind the bar.
Olivia who was accompanied on her voyage of discovery by her sister Rona, first discovered that their father’s grandfather James Newton was a publican.
His daughter Daisy, Olivia’s grandmother, was a barmaid in her youth at the Old Market Tavern, where the pop star’s father was born.
It’s also revealed how Olivia got her double-barrelled name. It came from her grandparents. Her grandmother Daisy inserted her father’s name Newton in front of her husband’s surname John to become Newton-John.
Olivia and her sister were also thrilled to discover the church where their great grandparents were married.
They were astonished to find that Bethel Baptist Church is now part of the Howells store, where parts of the chapel are still in existence.
The department store also incorporates their great grandmother’s birth home, 13 St Mary’s Street.
Olivia and her sister Rona also visited the cemetery in Pencoed, Bridgend, where some of her relatives are buried.
It was a visit to the former Canton High School, now Chapter Arts Centre, in Cardiff which was something of a revelation.
It was where her father had been a pupil and it was there she met another ex-pupil Norman Williams, who showed her photos of her dad when he was in the school play. She was also serenaded with a traditional Welsh hymn by Howell’s College choir.
However, in a trip full of surprises – it was information about her father’s secret espionage past which left her with a beaming smile, as she was informed of her father’s exploits as a bona fide war hero.
Brinley was an MI5 officer during World War II, when he was stationed at Bletchley Park, working on the Enigma Project, where he used his linguistic skills to decrypt technical German into intelligible English.
He was highly regarded and became a Wing Commander in the RAF and also took Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess into custody during World War II.
After the war, he became the headmaster of the Cambridgeshire High School for Boys and was in this position when Olivia was born.
Her mother Irene was born in Germany, and had come to the UK with her family in 1933 to escape the Nazi regime.
Brinley and Irene, with their children Olivia, and siblings Hugh and Rona emigrated to Melbourne, Australia, where Bryn went on to be an academic in Australia.
Olivia loved her visit to Wales and enthused at the time: “I’ve had a fantastic time in Wales – it’s been one surprise after another.”
RIP Olivia Newton John 1948-2022 – a much loved star who carried a little piece of Wales in her heart.