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 Irish Mail on Sunday - - MORE - by Craig McClean

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

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