60 is nothing for women these days... in today's world you can be the woman you want to be, says Tina Turner as she takes her leg on tour again at 69
By Robin Eggar
During the interval at Tina Turner's concert in Chicago last month, I was chatting to her manager, Roger Davies, when up chugged an electric buggy, its passenger smothered in a white towelling robe, nodding her head in time to an imaginary beat.
Then she raised her head, tossed back a mane of hair and unleashed that grin, the one that begins near one ear, shows all her teeth and stretches way into the other cheek.
Only Tina can wear a dressing gown as if it were a designer winter coat. She was wearing such a coat, flashing such a smile, on our first meeting on a frozen Paris afternoon 25 years ago: an elegant woman very much at odds with a stage persona that would make a burlesque dancer blush. A lady with a terrible tale to tell.
The past 25 years have been kinder to Tina than she could ever have dreamt. She is a rock'n'roll icon who has sold millions of albums and performed before millions more people.
Now, after an eight-year retirement that everyone - including Tina - believed was final, she's back on stage.
She had been talking of retirement since the early Nineties. She has always wanted to spend 'real time' at her homes in Kuesnacht, overlooking the lake in Zurich, and the South of France.
'For the whole of my career I've lived in hotels,' she says, when we meet again after her recent show at Madison Square Garden in New York. 'I wanted to be at home and that is exactly what I have done, I have enjoyed just driving backwards and forwards from France to Switzerland, through the mountains. I didn't miss the stage, I wanted solitude and I got that. It was one long wonderful chill-out.'
However, her friends had other ideas. America's queen of chat, Oprah Winfrey, regularly stays with Tina on her way to Africa.
'There is a lot of laughter,' Tina says. 'In the evening we drink champagne and enjoy more loud laughter. We definitely knew each other in another lifetime.'
Oprah was always nagging Tina to go back on stage and persuaded her to make an appearance at the White House.
But the real push came at Giorgio Armani's Milan fashion show in 2006. Tina was sitting next to Sophia Loren, who said: 'Tina, when are you going back to work? You were born with a gift, so it is your duty.'
'I said: "I thought I was able to stop when I am ready. I didn't know I have to continue until I'm 100."'
'When I went to say goodbye to Giorgio, he said: "When are you going back to work? It is time." I started to think more and more about it. Then I began to look around - a lot of the acts of my time are back. The Rolling Stones, the Eagles, Tina Turner. We are the Mozarts of these times, we've proved that we can last.
'So I decided if I'm going to do it, this is the time I can still do it and live up to the expectations of the crowd.'
She called manager Roger Davies and he assembled the usual crew: the musicians, dancers, stage designer Mark Fisher, choreographer Toni Basil and, of course, the king of sequins, dress designer Bob Mackie.
'I am going back to my roots with Bob,' she laughs, 'I must have one dress or the crowd might hose me out of the joint. I can't go on without the high heels, lipstick, hair - and make sure you bring the legs along. People always want to see Tina Turner's legs.'
Although she has been a legendary performer since the early Sixties, Tina's second career took off only in 1985, with the mega-selling Private Dancer.
She was 47, an age when most rock stars are looking to slow down. Today, there are those who carp that Madonna is too old to strut her stuff at 50.
'What would they say about me now,' she chuckles, before getting serious. 'As the spiritualist writer Deepak Chopra has said: "We have been given a new old age."
'A 50-year-old woman is equivalent to 40 when I was growing up. If you take care of yourself, 60 is nothing for women these days. In today's world you can be the kind of woman you want to be. I remember my grandmother wearing the apron and the hairdo, but that's gone. Believe me, that is totally finished.'
She grins: 'So what can you do? Keep up with fashion, keep up with your figure and the clothes you wear. I am an American size ten, which I think in the UK is 14 - that has remained constant.'
Tina does not try to kid herself that she looks the same as she did 20 years ago, but she is comfortable with her own style.
Eight years ago she appeared on a TV chat show wearing a leather suit. 'The host asked "Do you feel a little strange wearing that?" ' says Tina. 'I looked down at myself, saw everything was in place and told him: "No, that's my right size. It fits me and that is what I am wearing."
'I have thought: "I can't wear that, I am in my 60s." But if you look good and you can still do it then go and do it. I'm not 60 in my head, I don't live that lifestyle: my physical attitude is not that of a 69-year-old woman.
'I have never worried about age. I didn't worry back when I was with Ike Turner that I'd better hurry up and leave him to go out on my own before I got too old to perform.
'Maybe I would relate to my age if my skin was falling from my face because I'd had so many facelifts and was trying too hard to be Tina Turner. But I'm not.
She adds: 'Of course I've aged a bit in the face, but not enough to worry about it. I have common sense enough to know that if I'm nearly 70 something has to happen.'
'Part of it may be luck of the draw. It could be good genes, but then again, as I look at my family, I have to say I'm the only one that got them.'
Even great genes need help to prepare for the rigours of a tour. For the Twenty Four Seven Tour back in 2000, Tina resorted to a diet that required eating cabbage soup three times a day - this time, she has taken a less radical approach.
'The pleasure of life for me is dinner,' she confesses. 'In the morning I eat breakfast - banana, kiwi and melon - and brown German bread. I only have two meals a day, because I sleep for a very long time - practically ten hours a night.
'I decided to eat what I wanted to and as soon as I got a negative result I'd stop. I don't abuse myself with sweets, sugars, cakes and fat. I eat what I like and how I eat is healthy.'
On tour, Tina travels with her own cook and her favourite coffee. 'My diet has changed from the soul food of the south to Thai and Asian food and, since I settled full-time in Europe, to Italian. I know that pasta can be bad for you, so it's twice a week only. Once my weight starts to rise, I cut back on the calories and all that.'
Unlike Mick Jagger, who undergoes a punishing regime to get fit for touring, Tina is a devotee of saunas and steam rooms and when she's not busy working she's 'walking about ten miles up and down stairs at my homes. I don't sit around drinking champagne and wine'.
Once she begins rehearsing, strutting her stuff in those heels under the burning heat of the stage lights, the weight tumbles off, as it always has.
She says she is at her physical peak after six months - which happens to be exactly when she hits the UK in March. Her 50th Anniversary Tour is exactly that - drawing its material all the way back to a glorious, triumphant River Deep Mountain High.
In the second half of the multimedia extravaganza you see images of her entire career, including some with Ike, who died of a cocaine overdose on December 12, 2007. After enduring years of physical and mental abuse, with Ike flaunting his drug-taking and infidelities, she walked out on him in 1976 and never looked back.
'His death meant nothing to me,' she says, her voice betraying no emotion. 'He had been dead to me for 30 years. When I left, I really left. It was a bad dream, and when you spend 16 years in a certain lifestyle, you never want to think about it again.
'My life then was much worse. It couldn't have got lower. And since then, every part of my life has been a high point.'
I remember her telling me years ago: 'Ike took every single thing we made together. I gave him 16 years and he took it all. I was a singer when I met him, I was a dancer when I met him. When I walked away, all I took was my performance.
'I am strong, I lived through a divorce, separation from my family, all kinds of hell. I never let it break me down. I'm not an alcoholic, I've never smoked, I've never done drugs. I've floated through the disaster of my past clean. I arrived here undamaged, I haven't aged from all that stress.'
If there is a sadness in her life, it might be that over the years her family ties have slowly disintegrated. Her mother Zelma died in 2000, while contact with her four sons (she adopted Ike's two boys and has two of her own) is distant.
The youngest, Michael, her son with Ike, is now 47 and has two children, Racquel, 17, and Ronnie Jr, 15. 'They're not children any more,' she told me once.
'They haven't found their place in the world. I try to encourage them. If they call I will help, but I always tell them I'm not the Zurich Bank.'
There is still Erwin Bach, the German record executive who has been her partner for the past 22 years. 'Wherever I go,' she says simply, 'I always take a picture of Erwin - my love, my companion, my boyfriend - and pictures of my houses.'
Erwin, who is 17 years her junior, has now left EMI Records and so he is able to spend more time on tour with Tina.
At home, she gives him the space to drive cars and motorbikes and he does the cooking.
Above all else, they are comfortable together. He sees her without the wigs, wearing the loose cashmere sweater dresses she favours at home, and she trusts him absolutely.
Yet despite the beautiful homes, the Louis Quatorze furniture, antique Egyptian vases and gorgeous couture clothes, and the fact that she is 70 in November, this lady is still a rock 'n' roller at heart.
Just watch the climax of her show. There's Tina, strutting on those gravity-defying heels along a narrow gantry 20 rows into the huge crowd, belting out Nutbush City Limits. The sharecropper's daughter from Tennessee has come a long way.
'I never expected to be out here at this stage in my life,' she says, 'But I am rock 'n' roll. I am not R&B, I always wanted to sing rock songs. My music doesn't sound dated, It's still standing strong. Like me.'
And Tina Turner roars with laughter.
• The Tina Turner UK tour begins at the 02 Arena in London on Tuesday, March 3. She has just added another date in Sheffield on March 12 and will also be playing in Manchester and Birmingham, ending in Dublin on April 12. For full date information and tickets, please go to www.ticketmaster.co.uk or call 0870 534 4444.
This interview appears in the February issue of Saga Magazine, www.saga.co.uk