Turner Prized 2004

The RADIO Times Interview OCT 2004

Turner Prized

In her only UK print interview, the high-heeled queen of rock reveals her secret singing fantasy - and why she's about to stir up controversy again.

Younger readers might care to imagine how they'd react on hearing that Britney had crossed the Atlantic to settle in Frinton, or that Christina Aguilera had taken up residence on an executive estate outside Leamington Spa. For the rest of us, the news that Tina Turner who's a guest on this week's Parkinson - is living quietly these days, not in LA or New York or even London but Zurich, may be similarly shocking. The woman with the highest heels and shortest skirts in pop, the one who titled an album Break Every Rule, now domiciled in clockwork-efficient, Alpine-fresh Switzerland? "But I love that it's so strict, and that everything runs exactly as it's supposed to," she protests, bidding welcome to a lakeside home that, though large, is the epitome of mittel-Europe haute bourgeoisie, not a pop star palace.

"I appreciate order and control.I like it that everything's done according to the rules. This is very much my kind of place." Very much Anna Mae Bullock's, that is. That was the name of the child born Brownsville, Tennessee, back in 1939, and raised in the nearby backwater of Nutbush. And that's who the off-stage Turner says she still sees on confronting her reflection in the bathroom mirror each morning. But 64? Even in the full, unforgiving glare of the late summer sun, she looks considerably younger, though not in that all-too familiar Botoxed celebrity way.

Spend just five minutes in her company and you'll know that here is someone who loves to laugh and, yes, she has the lines to prove it. That the famous body (today it's clad in pinstriped Armani trousers and a loose white top) remains as slim and toned as ever is down to good genes and a healthy diet, she claims, not any obsessive gym or fitness routines. "My only beauty secrets are having learnt to like myself, and having found a way of life that I love," she says.

Brief though it is, that last sentence of hers speak volumes. Having exorcised her demons publicly in a no-holds-barred autobiography, I, Tina, she now refuses to dwell on the distant past and the years of abuse and humiliation she suffered at the hands of former husband and musical partner Ike Turner. In fact, she takes just seven words to sum up the whole long, unhappy saga: "I feel like I've never been married." Altogether different has been her relationship with Erwin Bach, a German record-company consultant 16 years her junior, and with whom she has lived since 1986. Over the course of our time together, she refers to him repeatedly, but never by name: variously, he is "my love", "my man" or "my companion". Early in their romance, she was asked repeatedly if they might marry. Eighteen years on, she simply smiles and tells me, "We're like an old wedded couple anyway, so we really don't see the need."

Turner insists it was an Englishman who prompted her initial move to Europe. "In 1983, David Bowie did something very special and significant for me. We were on the same labelat the time, but the decision had been taken not to re-sign me. He, however, had just had his contract renewed, and the record-company people in New York wanted to take him out to dinner that night in order to celebrate. `I'm sorry,' he told them, `but I can't, because I'm going to the Ritz to see my favourite singer perform.' And that was me. Well, the bigwigs tagged along and found the place not only packed to the rafters, but with Keith Richards and Rod Stewart heading the list of celebrities already there in the audience. Luckily, it was a wonderful show, with a very special energy, and seeing it and the crowd's reaction completely turned round how Capitol viewed me. It was because of David that I got another deal, from which everything else followed, and I'll be for ever thankful to him."

Those who have worked with her over the years say that loyalty is a quality Turner values highly, and which she always repays in kind. This clearly extends to those who first welcomed her in from the cold after some initially barren years commercially, post Ike. "I moved to Europe because my success levels were much higher here than they were in the US, and I felt I should be available to my fan base," she shrugs of the subsequent renaissance triggered .by Sheffield band Heaven 17's production of her version of the Al Green classic, Let's Stay Together. "I was in London for the first three years, which was an easy landing because you guys speak the same language." On a promotional trip, she met Bach, at the time employed by her record company in Germany. "Which very quickly became a whole other reason to want to be in a place other than my homeland."

In addition to their Zurich home (the size of a small embassy, it has been remodelled and furnished in eclectic but quiet good taste by Turner herself), she and Bach enjoy a villa in Villefranche, high in the mountains above Nice, in southern France. "flow fortunate is that?" she demands, laughing. "We can say to each other on a whim, and at any time, `What's your schedule looking like the next few days, honey?' and just head off there to relax and enjoy each other's company. But even when business demands that we're here for weeks on end, I have my escape should I ever need it. If the memory of Nutbush suddenly calls to me, I'll get into my car and, in just over five minutes, can be among fields and cattle and that old, familiar Tennessee-style farm life."

Given the obvious attractions lying on her two doorsteps, it's unsurprising that Turner is loathe to leave home. Last December, after 40 years on the road, she called a halt to touring, bowing out in front of 18,000 fans in California. Any subsequent ' regrets? "None. The time was absolutely right." Retirement is far from being on the cards, though. There's a greatest hits double CD to promote: titled All the Best, it includes Ike-era hits as well as solo favourites. There are three new tracks, including a single, Open Arms. "It's a classic Tina-type song, which is great, but I like the idea of going in a more Sade-type direction in the future. I dream of sitting on a stool, singing something soft and gentle, but (here she chuckles warmly) people seem to want to see me in my high heels, kicking out these legs. And given that you've got to give your public a little of what they want, I guess it's going to be a while before I get to sit a whole song through."

Meanwhile, a revival of Tina Turner, movie star, is imminent. She hasn't appeared on the big screen since providing a memorable cameo in 1985's Mad Max beyond Thunderdome, but next spring will begin filming The Goddess for the acclaimed directorial team of Ismail Merchant and James Ivory (Howards End, A Room with a View). "I take the titular role, which is that of the Hindu deity Kali - or Shakti, as she's sometimes known. She's the goddess of power, can be both a creator and a destroyer, and wears a necklace made up of men's skulls." A Buddhist for the past 20 years, she's already familiar with many aspects of Indian culture, but admits she's now on a learning curve: the script requires her to sing classical songs in English, Latin and Sanskrit, and to perform Indian classical dance.

In preparation, Turner has already paid a two-week visit to India with Merchant. This has not stopped some Hindu groups in Britain condemning her casting as Kali as "insensitive and insulting", given her reputation as "a sex icon", and organising internet petitions in protest. Merchant, however, is unrepentant: "The film is being made in a spirit of reverence, and Tina has thrown herself wholeheartedly into the learning process. I can think of no one more appropriate to represent the energy, compassion and wisdom of our goddess. She is mesmerising."

She's also required here and now in her own back garden by a film crew that has arrived to shoot promotional footage for All the Best. "Time to put on Tina," she smiles, and disappears indoors, re-emerging in cropped black pants and camisole top by Sonia Rykiel and vertiginous Armani sandals. "See what I told you?" she says over her shoulder, as the camera whirs. "I'm two different entities. Some people seem to imagine I start each day with a short dress and wild hair, saying to myself, `Tina! You're simply the best!' When are they going to realise I'm just putting on a show?"

All the Best is released by EMI Records on 1 November.