Book extract: Tina Turner’s love story
In this extract from her sizzling new memoir, rock goddess Tina Turner offers an intimate glimpse into how she fell in love with her second, much younger husband – and how he gave her the gift of life by donating his kidney to her
MY WEDDING day could not have been more perfect or spectacular – and no one minded a bit that the bride was aged 73. I’d organised the whole thing myself, and that included importing more than 100 000 roses to bedeck the grounds of our home in Switzerland.
As friends gathered, sipping champagne on that glorious day in July 2013, the air was filled with the most wonderful scent. A lot of thought had gone into my choice of wedding music. If you listen to Frank Sinatra’s My Way, the words fit my life perfectly: “The record shows I took the blows / And did it my way.”
I had to have that one! Despite my famously abusive first marriage, to Ike Turner, I’d managed to find love beyond my wildest dreams. It was only as we gathered for photographs that I started to feel a little funny. It must be the heat, I thought, or the dress – an Armani confection of green taffeta, black silk tulle and Swarovski crystals that was getting heavier by the minute.
In fact, that funny turn was the first sign of a hellish ordeal to come . . . a nightmare that would end only when my dear husband Erwin offered me the ultimate gift. The gift of life itself.
Erwin and I’d first met 28 years before. At the time I was travelling the globe with my Private Dancer Tour, which left me with very little time for a personal
life. Not that I ever had a lot of boyfriends – I spent my entire youth with Ike and, after my divorce, dating was often more trouble than it was worth. In any case, I was never one of those women who had to have sex no matter what. To be honest, I’d sometimes gone up to a year without it.
That particular week in 1985, the next date on my tour was in Cologne, Germany. As my manager, Roger, and I flew into the city, I was tired and a little down, thinking of the gruelling schedule ahead.
We were walking through the airport when a young man stepped out from behind a column to greet us. I thought he might be a fan but Roger greeted him warmly. Erwin Bach, an executive from EMI, my record company in Europe, had turned up to deliver a surprise gift to me from Roger – a new Mercedes jeep, the hard-to-get G-Wagon. But the real surprise wasn’t the car, it was the man.
My heart suddenly started to beat BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, drowning out all other sounds. My hands were ice-cold. So this is what they call love at first sight, I thought. Oh my God, I’m not ready for this.
Roger hopped into a waiting limousine, while I got into the G-Wagon with Erwin so he could tell me all about it while driving me to the hotel. I studied his profile. He was young – about 30, I guessed – and he was very pretty, although not in a conventional way. Dark hair, really great hands. There’s something about a man’s hands.
Suddenly I felt very insecure about my own looks. I was 46, divorced and the mother of two sons and two stepsons, all of whom were now practically men themselves.
What was going through Erwin’s mind? Later, much later, I found out that he’d felt the same inexplicable electrical charge. When he looked at me, he said, he didn’t see the “star”, or my skin colour or any other details. He just saw a very desirable woman.
In the G-Wagon our conversation was a little strained. We managed to chat haltingly about the dashboard and other innocuous subjects until we got to the hotel. After saying goodbye I threw myself on my hotel bed, and thought: “Gosh, he’s wonderful. Really wonderful. What do I do now?”
AS it happened I saw Erwin again at a couple of dinners organised by EMI. On the second occasion we were sitting next to each other. I said to myself: I don’t care – I’m just going to ask him. “Erwin,” I whispered, “when you come to America I want you to make love to me.”
He turned his head slowly and just looked at me as if he couldn’t believe his ears. I couldn’t believe what I’d said either!
Later, he told me he’d never been propositioned by a woman. His first thought was: “Wow, those California girls are really wild.” But I wasn’t wild. I’d never done anything remotely like that before. I didn’t recognise myself.
Eventually, Erwin did come to Los Angeles – on business – and I met him again at another dinner. I invited everyone back to my house afterwards and that’s when our real romance began.
Music was playing, the other guests drifted away, the kissing began and we kissed all the way to the bedroom. Erwin stayed with me that night.
The next morning he was scheduled to go to Hawaii on a business trip. I thought about him constantly for two days – and then he called, casually mentioning that his trip had been cancelled. He’d been a few kilometres away in Malibu the whole time, hanging out with his colleagues, and hadn’t thought to tell me. I tried to stay cool, but inside I was furious.
A few months passed. I ran into Erwin again while I was promoting Private Dancer in Basel, Switzerland, and all my feelings came roaring back. I’d rented a house in Gstaad for the holidays so I invited him and some other people from EMI to visit. And one night Erwin turned up alone, wearing a funny little German
‘Gosh, he’s wonderful. Really wonderful. What do I do now?’
(From previous page) hat and exuding a masculinity that I found irresistible.
By the end of the evening I’d made up my mind to pack up and move in with him. From now on, wherever Erwin was would be my home. Thus began my love story with a man who was 16 years younger than me. But that was never an issue in my mind, then or now.
The world may view Erwin as Tina’s “younger man” but the truth is that, at heart, he’s really 60 and I’m 16. He’s always been an old soul. And he’s much more mature than I am: he thinks ahead and exercises caution, while I’m more likely to leap without looking.
In any case, at 46 I didn’t look older than Erwin who was 30. And I don’t look older than him today. I never think about the age difference. I don’t even feel I need to work at looking pretty in bed – I’m past that. What’s love got to do with it? A lot!
So I made the right decision when I packed my 10 Louis Vuitton suitcases and headed for Erwin’s two-roomed apartment near Cologne. It contained a great sound system, I noticed, but not much else.
When I got to know Erwin a little better, I learnt that “minimalist” is his middle name: he hates stuff. Me, I’ll cover every surface with books, candles, photographs, potpourri, anything to add personality.
Despite the vast difference in our décor tastes I was head-over-heels in love with Erwin. For the first time I felt that I was truly in a relationship. This is how it’s supposed to be, I told myself.
In 1989 when I was about to turn 50 he proposed. But I wasn’t certain how I felt about marriage. Marriage can change things and, in my experience, not always for the better.
For the next few years we spent a lot of time together in Cologne and in a house that I bought in the South of France. Then in 1995, when Erwin was asked to run the EMI office in Switzerland, I accompanied him like a good German Frau. We moved into an old-fashioned villa on Lake Zurich called the Château Algonquin, where we still live today.
In 2008 I embarked on my 50th Anniversary tour, which celebrated my half century as a singer. I was excited to get back to work but I noticed that I wasn’t as energetic as I used to be.
True, I was 69, and on a demanding international tour. Plus I had high blood pressure, for which I’d been taking medication since 1985. Was that why it was taking every drop of energy to make it through my performance each night?
After working so hard for so many years I was ready to stop, so at the end of the tour I hung up my dancing shoes and went home. From the start I loved retire- ment. I just wanted to shop for food, take walks with Erwin, work in my garden, watch the seasons change by the lake and, most of all, enjoy the quiet.
I felt good. I’d never smoked or taken drugs. I was still in good shape after 50 years of intensive stage workouts. I still looked pretty good, too: in 2013, German Vogue asked me to be on its cover. I think I can safely say that, at 73, I was the oldest cover “girl” in Vogue’s history at that point.
The year before, Erwin had proposed once again and this time I’d answered with an emphatic: “Yes!” It was a commitment that didn’t come easily to me but I knew he was the love of my life.
You know that wonderful expression: “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans”?
ON an ordinary October morning in 2013, just three months after our glorious wedding, I woke up and felt a lightning bolt strike my head and right leg. I tried to speak but I couldn’t get any words out. I was having a stroke. The stroke had delivered a powerful blow to my body: my entire right side was numb. I’d have to work with a physiotherapist to learn how to walk again, the doctor told me, and using my right hand would be a problem. The psychological effects were even more profound. I was miserable.
Also, my doctor was concerned that my high blood pressure might be affecting my kidneys, so he referred me to a specialist. Dr Jorg Bleisch, an expert nephrologist, broke the news that my kidneys were performing at only 35% of their normal func-
‘Erwin shocked me. He said he wanted to give me one of his kidneys’
tion. We’d need to monitor them carefully, he said, prescribing yet more medication to control my blood pressure.
After a while I was certain these drugs were making me feel less clear-headed and energetic. So when a friend recommended a homeopathic doctor in France I decided to put my faith in another kind of healing.
The homeopath – who replaced my conventional medicines with homeopathic remedies – suggested that my body was being affected adversely by toxins in the water supply at the Château Algonquin. Eager to try a new approach, no matter how far-fetched, I replaced all the pipes in the house and had our water purified by crystals.
The new treatments actually made me feel better. The trouble started when I went to see Dr Bleisch for another checkup. I felt fine so I expected good news. That’s why I decided it was time to confess to what I’d done. Big mistake. He seemed shocked and incredulous. My failure to treat my high blood pressure, he told me, had essentially destroyed my kidneys.
If only I hadn’t discontinued the medication. My foolish decision would continue to haunt me.
Not long after this blow my health began to fail again. I became so weak I couldn’t leave the house. This time I was diagnosed with early-stage intestinal cancer – a carcinoma and several malignant polyps. A month after my diagnosis I had part of my intestine removed. The doctors were optimistic and I felt a glimmer of hope again.
BY DECEMBER 2016 my kidneys were at a new low of 20% and plunging rapidly. I faced two choices: either regular dialysis or a kidney transplant. Only the transplant would give me a very good chance of leading a near-normal life but at the time Switzerland’s organ-donor rate was one of the lowest in Europe – which meant that at 75 I’d probably never rise to the top of the waiting list.
So Dr Bleisch scheduled me to start dialysis. It wasn’t my idea of life. But the toxins in my body had started taking over. I couldn’t eat. I was surviving, but not living.
One of the benefits of living in Switzerland is that assisted suicide is legal. There are several organisations that facilitate the process. I signed up to be a member of one, just in case.
I think that’s when the idea of my death became a reality for Erwin. He was very emotional about not wanting to lose me. Then he shocked me. He said he wanted to give me one of his kidneys.
I was overwhelmed by the enormity of his offer. Because I love him my first response was to try to talk him out of taking such a serious and irreversible step. But Erwin had made up his mind. “My future is our future,” he told me.
Ultimately our big day was scheduled for 7 April 2017. Two operating theatres were prepared at University Hospital of Basel – one for the donor and one for the recipient – two surgical teams, two of everything. Erwin’s operation took place first. While I was understandably anxious about the transplant I was far more concerned about him. After about an hour it was my turn.
When I awoke I was so groggy that everything felt dream-like. The following day Erwin came rolling into my room in his wheelchair. He somehow managed to look good, even handsome, as he greeted me with an energetic: “Hi, darling!” I was so emotional – happy, overwhelmed and relieved that we’d come through this alive.
I was discharged after only seven days, and Erwin’s recovery was even faster. He snapped right back to his old self, and he’s been full- speed ahead ever since. I, on the other hand, have experienced ups and downs. My body keeps trying to reject the new kidney, which isn’t uncommon after a transplant. This means I have to take strong doses of immunosuppressants to weaken my antibodies and prevent them from attacking an organ they don’t recognise.
Sometimes, the treatment – which causes dizziness, forgetfulness and anxiety – involves spending more time in hospital.
Last year as Christmas approached I started feeling more energetic. I’m not trying to tempt fate, though – I know that my medical adventure is far from over. After a transplant it seems that there’s always another test, another doctor’s appointment or biopsy to get through.
But I’m still here. We’re both still here, closer than we ever imagined – and that’s cause for celebration. Erwin knew that the old Tina was back at last when I got excited about putting up Christmas ornaments and ordering new tables for the living room.
After so many years of being frightened and sick I was revelling in the sheer joy of being alive.
Tina Turner and her husband, Erwin Bach, at Paris Fashion Week. She’s 16 years older than him, but age is truly just a number in their relationship, she says.
ABOVE: Out with Erwin in Hollywood in 1985, soon after they started dating. RIGHT: Tina and Erwin on their wedding day in 2013. With them are Tina’s eldest son, Craig (left), and her celebrity friends Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King.
By 2016 Tina’s kidneys were so weak she needed dialysis. Then her husband gave her the best gift of all by offering her one of his kidneys.
THIS IS AN EDITED EXCERPT FROM MY LOVE STORY BY TINA TURNER (CENTURY).R249 FROM TAKEALOT.COM PRICE CORRECT AT TIME OF GOING TO PRINT AND SUBJECT TO CHANGE WITHOUT NOTICE.