SUR­VIVAL AND STAR­DOM: how Sha­nia Twain beat the odds to find fame and make her come­back tour

Singer Sha­nia Twain be­came a huge star in the 1990s, but then her voice sud­denly went quiet. Now she’s back and per­form­ing in New Zealand for the very first time. Emma Clifton looks at the ex­tra­or­di­nary cir­cum­stances that pre­ceded her re­turn.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS - Sha­nia TWAIN

The say­ing “truth is stranger than fic­tion” could most def­i­nitely be ap­plied to the life of singer Sha­nia Twain; in fact, it’s a sur­prise her jour­ney hasn’t yet been turned into a movie. Marked by tragedy and scan­dal, and also stag­ger­ing suc­cess, the 53-year-old singer is an un­ex­pected ex­am­ple of sur­vival against the odds. Abuse, a fa­tal car crash, a crip­pling dis­ease and one of the messi­est celebrity di­vorce stories in re­cent years are all part of her story… yet she still shines.

This De­cem­ber, the coun­try cross­over star will per­form her first ever con­certs in New Zealand as part of her re­mark­able come­back tour, af­ter she sud­denly and mys­te­ri­ously dis­ap­peared from the pub­lic stage in 2004.

She may not have per­formed here be­fore, but Sha­nia has a long his­tory with New Zealand. Back in 2004 she and her then hus­band Robert “Mutt” Lange paid an eye-wa­ter­ing $21.5 mil­lion to buy Mo­tat­apu sta­tion, a 24,731ha piece of stun­ning land in the South Is­land. It be­came both a dream hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion and also a

fu­ture focus for Sha­nia, some­where she, Mutt and their son Eja would live once she had em­braced a qui­eter life. “I started de­sign­ing a homestead for us shortly af­ter we bought it and be­gan putting my heart, soul and dreams into the plans,” she wrote in her mem­oir From This Mo­ment On. “Ev­ery year Mutt, Eja and I would go there for sev­eral months, liv­ing in a small car­a­van parked in one of the sheep pad­docks... we en­joyed camp­ing out while our home was be­ing built.”

But the Kiwi dream took a dev­as­tat­ing turn when Sha­nia and Mutt split in 2008, with Mutt be­com­ing the sole owner of the prop­erty, which has now be­come Mahu Whenua Lux­ury Lodge (where overnight rates start at $1850 a night).

It will surely be an emo­tional time for Sha­nia to re­turn to New Zealand all these years later as part of her 77-date global tour. But the Sha­nia we get to ex­pe­ri­ence is, in her mind, the strong­est and luck­i­est Sha­nia so far. The past two decades have been tu­mul­tuous, to say the least, but now she’s back on top – a new mar­riage, bet­ter health and a re-ig­nited ca­reer. “I’m 53, and I’m happy as ever to be my age,” she says. “Real is good. My ca­reer is more fun now than ever, and I’m en­joy­ing life.”

For some­one who once fa­mously sung “The best thing about be­ing a woman is the pre­rog­a­tive to have a lit­tle fun”, Sha­nia’s life has, for a long pe­riod of time, been more about en­dur­ing rather than en­joy­ing. Born Eilleen Regina Ed­wards, Sha­nia never knew her bi­o­log­i­cal fa­ther and grew up in a broke, troubled house­hold of five kids: her mother suf­fered from chronic de­pres­sion, her step­fa­ther was a vi­o­lent al­co­holic who hit her mother. “I was wor­ried about my fa­ther killing my mother,” she has said pre­vi­ously. “I thought they’d kill each other. My mum was quite vi­o­lent too. Many nights I went to bed think­ing, ‘Don’t go to sleep, don’t go to sleep, wait till they are sleep­ing.’ And I would wake up and make sure

“My ca­reer is more fun now than ever, and I’m en­joy­ing life.”

ev­ery­body was breath­ing.”

When she was eight years old, Sha­nia started writ­ing songs as a form of es­cape from ev­ery­thing. “Vi­o­lent home. Ten­sions. Noth­ing to eat. When you’re hun­gry, you can’t do any­thing about it but dis­tract your­self from the hunger. And it re­ally works. It’s ther­a­peu­tic. A lot of kids play with dolls and I played with words and sounds,” she says. One of the first songs she wrote was called Won’t You Come Out and Play? – an ode to her de­pressed mother to get out of bed. It was at this age she also started singing at pub­lic gigs, bring­ing in much needed money for the fam­ily.

When she was 10, her step­fa­ther started abus­ing her, both phys­i­cally and sex­u­ally. In her mem­oir, she writes about try­ing to pro­tect her mother from him by pick­ing up a chair and hit­ting her step­fa­ther on the back with it. He punched her in the jaw and she struck him back – she was 11 at the time.

Tragic news

Mu­sic con­tin­ued to be a refuge that started pay­ing off. Sha­nia fin­ished high school and was try­ing to make it as a singer-song­writer in Toronto when she got a dev­as­tat­ing call: her par­ents had been killed in a car crash. The mu­sic ca­reer was paused in­def­i­nitely as she moved back home to look af­ter her younger sib­lings. Even­tu­ally she needed to earn money to sup­port the fam­ily, and started singing at a lo­cal re­sort, where she lived in a cabin with no run­ning wa­ter and washed her clothes in a stream. As her sib­lings got older and moved out on their own, she was able to give more time to her mu­sic. She changed her name to Sha­nia – be­lieved to be an Ojibwe word that means “On my way” – then got a man­ager and put to­gether a demo.

In 1993, her self-ti­tled de­but al­bum came out and it gar­nered some in­ter­est. But the songs weren’t ones she’d writ­ten and she found them a bit tooth­less. Her coun­try mu­sic icons were peo­ple like Dolly Par­ton and Wil­lie Nel­son; they weren’t “cookie cut­ter peo­ple,” she says. “Some of them were re­ally rugged.” The Nashville she came into, how­ever, was a bit dull and prud­ish; her first mu­sic video was banned be­cause one of the out­fits showed her midriff.

Things im­proved for round two. Best-sell­ing mu­sic pro­ducer and writer, Robert “Mutt” Lange, came on board for her sec­ond al­bum, The Woman in Me, and sin­gles from that not only cracked the Coun­try Top 10, they also en­tered the Bill­board Mu­sic Charts Top 40. It was also a good match per­son­ally – Mutt and Sha­nia met in June 1993 and mar­ried just six months later.

It was her next al­bum, Come on Over, which re­ally saw Sha­nia reach the strato­sphere that very few pop mu­sic stars – let alone coun­try mu­sic stars – ever get to. Come On Over re­mains the big­gest-sell­ing al­bum of all time by a fe­male mu­si­cian and spawned such hits as From This Mo­ment On; Man! I Feel Like a Woman!; That Don’t Im­press Me Much; and You’re Still the One.

Sha­nia’s am­bi­tion to cross over from coun­try mu­sic to pop paved the way for a gen­er­a­tion of fe­male artists af­ter her, in­clud­ing Tay­lor Swift. Her mu­sic videos be­came iconic – the head-to-toe slinky leop­ard print out­fit of That Don’t Im­press Me Much, the gen­der-bend­ing suit of Man! I Feel Like a Woman! In the late 1990s, Sha­nia was one of the big­gest stars in the world – em­bark­ing on an 18-month tour in a cus­tomised bus worth $1mil­lion.

She took a two-year break af­ter giv­ing birth to her and Mutt’s only child, son Eja, in 2001. And then be­gan a pe­riod that Sha­nia would later re­fer to as “the mad­ness”. While on tour for her fourth al­bum, Up, in 2003, Sha­nia was bit­ten by a tick and con­tracted Lyme dis­ease, a se­ri­ous, de­bil­i­tat­ing con­di­tion that can cause nerve dam­age, ex­treme fa­tigue and, in some se­vere cases, neu­ro­log­i­cal

dam­age. In Sha­nia, it caused the nerves con­nected to her vo­cal cords to at­ro­phy, and she lost her voice. At the time, she thought it might be per­ma­nent, so in 2004 she re­leased a Greatest Hits al­bum and an­nounced her re­tire­ment from mu­sic, with­out giv­ing an of­fi­cial rea­son. “I did want a break,” she says now. “But I would never have stayed away 15 years. I was too em­bar­rassed to tell any­body that I couldn’t sing. For a long time, I didn’t even know why I couldn’t sing.”

Sha­nia re­treated from the pub­lic eye and concentrated on heal­ing her body and rais­ing her son. But then, in 2008, the next news to come out of Sha­nia’s team could have been lifted straight from the plot of a soap opera. It emerged that her hus­band Mutt had been hav­ing an af­fair with their sec­re­tary, Marie-Anne Theibaud – who also hap­pened to be Sha­nia’s best friend. “I was ready to die,” she wrote in her mem­oir. “To go to bed for ever and never wake up. Or to hurt some­one.”

Over the years, Sha­nia’s fury to­wards Mutt has dulled a bit – the two do share a child, and live near each other in or­der to co-par­ent – but her rage to­wards her for­mer friend hasn’t shifted. “She’s the last per­son on the planet I want to run into. Ever,” Sha­nia told The Guardian news­pa­per.

But, as the say­ing goes, liv­ing well is the best re­venge. In the past few years, events have turned around for Sha­nia. The first part is a twist of, well, coun­try mu­sic pro­por­tions: in the af­ter­math of Mutt’s af­fair, Sha­nia sought so­lace with Fred­eric Thiébaud, the hus­band of her for­mer best friend. They even­tu­ally fell in love and were mar­ried in 2011. She kept writ­ing songs, which she was still un­able to sing, with the idea of giv­ing them to other artists, but Fred­eric in­sisted that she save them, that she would sing again one day.

Years of vo­cal ther­apy helped re­turn her voice back to health, and in 2012 she signed up to do a two-year res­i­dency in

Las Ve­gas at Cae­sars Palace. Slowly the Sha­nia buzz started re­turn­ing; last year she re­leased another al­bum, Now, and found the writ­ing process cathar­tic. “I cried a lot when I wrote,” she says. “I never cried when I wrote a song ever be­fore in my life. My song­writ­ing is my diary, my best friend.”

Fi­nally, af­ter years both in and out of the spot­light, she has grown to not only en­joy her suc­cess but also feel that she is wor­thy of it. “How do you all of a sud­den feel like you be­long, if you grew up your whole life not be­long­ing? It’s re­ally tough to flick that switch – suc­cess doesn’t give that to you,” she says. “I spent most of my child­hood em­bar­rassed or feel­ing in­se­cure or in­ad­e­quate. That stays with you. That’s what that kind of life does to you. So yeah, I try to en­joy my suc­cess in dif­fer­ent ways. I think I’m fi­nally start­ing to do that now.”

“I did want a break, but I would never have stayed away 15 years.”

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CLOCK­WISE FROM ABOVE: Sha­nia at the 1999 Grammy Awards; with her first hus­band, Robert “Mutt” Lange; Sha­nia and Fred­eric Thiébaud, who mar­ried in 2011 – their spouses’ af­fair brought them to­gether. OP­PO­SITE PAGE: Back on stage in New York in July.

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