WHY TOM IS MY TOP GUN
Cher reveals how dyslexia led to a bizarre fling with the young Tom Cruise and how she had to turn diva to rewrite Mamma Mia 2. Interview
The 72-year-old Goddess of Pop looks cool enough, reclining on a sofa in a Los Angeles hotel in skin-tight jeans, killer heels and casually unbuttoned shirt. But Cher is squirming, suddenly lost for words. After previously letting slip on US TV that she’d ‘had the greatest lovers ever’ and that Tom Cruise was ‘in her top five’ of all time I’ve put her on the spot and demanded to know: are the other four Hollywood stars, or maybe gypsies, tramps and thieves straight out of one of her biggest hits?
But the straight-talking diva-legend who frequently tweets her hilarious and provocative views (‘Donald Trump can’t come up with a hairstyle that looks human, how can he come up with a plan to defeat Isis?’) today just looks sheepish and uncomfortable: ‘Can I tell you something? I don’t deny that I said it, but I do not remember saying it.
‘But I could have said it,’ she continues brightly, because ‘God knows I say everything. Although I think I’m much more guarded now because of social media and because everyone has a camera. You can’t get any privacy now.’
She ate a fried caterpillar rather than divulge more on Cruise and her other famous lovers to James Corden on his US Late Late Show this summer. Cher was taking part in Spill Your Guts Or Fill Your Guts, where guests have to answer probing questions or undergo a stomach-churning Bushtucker Trial and she opted to munch on the creepycrawly rather than admit why Cruise was such a Top Gun in bed. But today she finally opens up about their time together, which only happened because both of them suffer from the same learning difficulty. Are they still friends? ‘Yeah! Though I don’t get what he does, that whole Scientology thing. I can’t understand it so I just… don’t,’ she shrugs.
They first met at Sean Penn and Madonna’s wedding in Malibu, 1985. Cruise was 22 at the time, 16 years her junior and fresh from his box-office hit Risky Business. ‘Then a bunch of people who were dyslexic were invited to the White House, and Tom and I are both dyslexic.’ As The Washington Post reported at the time, Cruise was dressed ‘in 1920s-chic gangster suit, hair glooped in grease’, while Cher was ‘draped in black and gray gabardine with a sculpted hairstyle best described as haute punk goddess’. So, Cher’s first date with Tom Cruise was all dolled up at Ronald Reagan’s White House? Was there snogging in the West Wing?
‘No, no, no!’ she smiles gamely. ‘We didn’t go out till way later, but there definitely was a connection there.’ Does she have a boyfriend currently? ‘Not… not this week,’ she says enigmatically. ‘I’m still on the lookout. The problem I have with all the boyfriends lately is that I don’t want to go any place with them because you can’t keep a relationship going in this kind of goldfish bowl, where everything you do and every picture you have taken will be on Instagram. There’s no way to keep something… special.’
She reveals that she’s still sweet on pretty much all her exes, including her musician exhusbands Sonny Bono and Gregg Allman, both now dead, and former boyfriends Val Kilmer (‘when we kissed I thought my head would shoot right off my body’), David Geffen (‘if it wasn’t for him I’d have ended up on the street’), Gene Simmons (‘the one I’m crazy about’), Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora (‘one of the most underrated singers ever’) and Rob Camilletti, a bagel baker 18 years her junior (‘possibly the one true love of my life’).
Cher and her racy love life is suddenly back in the limelight after a show-stealing cameo in this summer’s Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, the blockbuster Abba sequel in which she plays Ruby Sheridan, the über-diva mother of Meryl Streep’s character, Donna, and the grandmother of Amanda Seyfried’s Sophie.
Ruby Sheridan arrives on the Greek island in a helicopter in a blinding white trouser suit and heels, and is a caricature of what people might imagine Cher would be: a self-obsessed diva. Is the role close to the bone?
WHEN I KISSED VAL KILMER I THOUGHT MY HEAD WOULD SHOOT RIGHT OFF MY BODY...
‘No!’ she hoots, before revealing that she shocked English director/writer Ol Parker and co-writer Richard Curtis by telling them that she understood the character better than they did. ‘I feel ridiculous saying this now but I said: “Look, guys, you’re a bunch of foreigners and you can’t write this woman ’cos you don’t know who she is – and I do.” So they let me do a lot of writing of Ruby.’
Even in her eighth decade, Cher is still ravishing. She’s long been refreshingly honest about how she’s maintained her looks, once calling herself the ‘poster girl for plastic surgery’ and confirming that: ‘Yes, I have had a facelift, but who hasn’t?’
In Britain, she’s the only female artist to have had a Top 40 hit every decade since the Sixties, ranging from musical landmarks such as Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves (1971) to If I Could Turn Back Time (1989) and Believe (1998 – the best-selling single ever by a female artist in Britain). She has won an Emmy, a Grammy and an Oscar (for 1987’s Moonstruck). Now she’s taking Abba-mania a step further by releasing Dancing Queen, her 26th album, covering some of the Swedish supergroup’s greatest hits.
‘I wasn’t a big fan of Abba in the Seventies,’ she said recently. ‘Benny [Andersson] used the girls like instruments. Sonny used to do that to me so I never got any of my needs met that weren’t what he felt they should be. Benny didn’t give them space to sing the way they might have wanted to. And while the songs are easy to sing, they’re complicated, too. Singing Super Trouper was really easy. But I had to do Fernando twice – I did it once and it was s***.’
Born Cherilyn Sarkisian in El Centro, California, Cher arrived in Los Angeles in 1962 as a 16-year-old dancer and soon after met Sonny Bono, a musician 11 years her senior. She married him when she was 18 and the union dominated her early professional life. As Sonny and Cher, they had huge success in the US and UK with hits such as I Got You Babe.
She divorced Bono in 1975, claiming he treated her ‘more like a golden goose’ than a wife, trying to control every aspect of her life. At one point Sonny even lived with another woman in the home he shared with Cher. But Cher has insisted in the past that she didn’t mind: ‘We had a weird relationship. I don’t expect anybody to understand it.’ She remained close to him for the rest of his life, even speaking affectionately of him after his death in a skiing accident in 1998.
Her four-year marriage to Gregg Allman of DRUGS AND I WERE JUST NEVER MEANT TO BE TOGETHER. I THOUGHT IT WAS STUPID AND STILL DO The Allman Brothers Band was a different matter. ‘It was really intense, but it’s hard to have a marriage with someone who’s doing drugs,’ she says with enormous warmth for the Southern rocker who died last year after lifelong struggles with cocaine, heroin and alcohol. Cher never got into that drug-addled rock’n’roll world simply because she didn’t like them. ‘Drugs and I were just never meant to be together. I thought it was stupid and still do. I saw too many people where it ruined their lives. It ruined Gregory’s life.’
She and Allman had a child together, Elijah, who’s now 42, and when she married him Cher already had one from her marriage to Bono, Chastity. Eight years ago Chastity became Chaz, completing a transition from female to male. She admits that it ‘took a while’ for her to come round to the change in her first-born.
‘And then as I started to see him kind of blossom, and be happier than I’d seen him in such a long time, it was just great.’
Now, she concludes, ‘we really have much more fun together’, and she applauds today’s greater acceptance of transsexuals. But equally, she fears the intolerance of Trump’s America. ‘Chaz is happier than I’ve ever known him. But he’s also very nervous of this climate. America is a much more dangerous place now. There’s a lot more hate crime.’
Cher won’t be stopping with her feisty Twitter comments, though. ‘I won’t give up,’ she declares. ‘You have to keep fighting.’
To borrow one of the lyrics for Abba’s Mamma Mia: here we go again… Cher’s album, Dancing Queen, is out on September 28.
GLAM QUEEN: Cher, below, with Amanda Seyfried and Dominic Cooper in Mamma Mia 2
LOVERS: Cher and Tom Cruise at The White House in 1985