Shania Twain reveals she's never given her son a birthday gift: 'He knows not to expect anything'
The Country star 52, on not giving her 16-year-old son everything he wants, losing her voice and thinking she'd never sing again, and why she likes to pen her hits in the toilet
The Daily Mirror - UK
By Rosie Hopegood
June 24, 2018
Shania Twain is an icon. There’s no doubt about it. She’s sold over 100 million records, made the bestselling album by a female artist of all time, and has won five Grammys.
So when we meet her in an LA hotel room, we’re a little taken aback. Nestled between enormous bouquets of white roses, we find a small, softly spoken woman wearing her teenage son’s hoody and a pair of leggings.
Her face, however, is made up to superstar standards, with long false eyelashes and a coiffed-barnet that suggests she’d be ready to pick up her gee-tar at the drop of a hat. We half wonder if she has a skintight leopard-print onesie on under that baggy ol’ jumper.
It’s been 15 years since Shania put aside her crop tops and began a life that was quiet in more ways than one. Moving to Switzerland with her young son Eja and famous producer hubby Robert ‘Mutt’ Lange, Shania’s voice had begun to deteriorate to the extent that she could no longer even call for her dog.
Then 10 years ago, in the midst of her quiet life, she discovered Mutt was having an affair with her best friend Marie-Anne. But in a plot that resembles a soap opera, Shania is now happily married to Marie-Anne’s former husband, Fred.
Shania, who lost both her mum and stepfather in a car crash at the age of 22 and spent several years bringing up her younger siblings, is nothing if not a survivor. She’s had surgery to repair nerve damage near her vocal chords after a tick gave her Lyme disease, and she’s back with a world tour and an album full of songs that stick a middle finger up at her ex.
‘Does my voice sound deeper? It does, though, doesn’t it?’ she asks, distractedly stroking the fresh scar on her neck left by the surgery.
She’s open and upfront: when she talks about the tougher moments of the last few years, her eyes are teary, but when she laughs, it’s a head-back, raucous sort of belly laugh that has us laughing too. She wraps her hands around a cup of herbal tea, leans forward and discusses everything from peeing herself on stage as a kid to not giving her son birthday presents…
Welcome back to the world stage! Did you always know you’d make a big comeback?
I thought I’d never sing again. At first I was looking forward to a rest. I’d had a baby, I wanted to make a nest and relax – to be a mum and a wife, and not even write songs. I wanted to plant flowers and ride horses. It was awesome, but then my voice still didn’t come back.
How bad was it?
I couldn’t even call out for my dog. If I wanted to be loud, my voice came out screechy. Some doctors told me it was psychological and losing my voice was tied into how I was feeling at the time. I’m angry about that, because they sent me barking up the wrong tree.
What was the cause?
It was nerve damage from Lyme disease. I saw a tick fall off me and I got treated right away, otherwise the damage would have been a lot more extensive. I was on tour, and I almost fell off the stage every night because I was so dizzy. I felt lucky when I found out the cause, because the disease can go to your brain or heart.
Did you embrace your years out of the limelight – baking cookies, gardening?
[Laughs] I’ve always done all of that. I love cooking, and I’m not a good gardener but I do love planting flowers. When they die I just replant them! I don’t know if it’s too much or too little water… I did a lot of mothering, and I enjoyed those crucial years with my son. There were a lot of blessings, not being distracted by work.
Did you forget you were a megastar?
I like to forget it, anyway. I like to just be me and forget who I am. When I have to be the performer, I enjoy that too.
Why did you decide to make a comeback?
Seven years after the Lyme disease, I started writing more intently and I realised that some parts of my voice were still there. It’s been a long process, and now surgery.
Now has been dubbed your divorce album, because it’s full of the raw emotions you felt after Mutt’s affair. How does Fred feel listening to those songs?
We’ve had to laugh at a few things. He’ll say, ‘Wow, are you still not over that particular detail?!’ I have to explain I’ve got to put it in my music. We’re both very open about what we’ve been through, and not guarded at all.
There’s a song called Poor Me on the album that seems particularly raw, with lyrics like ‘Why do I keep looking back?/Still can’t believe he’d leave me/ To love her’…
That’s very much about betrayal – it was my self-pity moment. The song is the vomit of that feeling. It’s OK to feel sorry for yourself sometimes – it’s very satisfying and I’m not going to apologise for it. It’s ownership of what you’ve been through. Songwriting is like a diary entry, though sometimes I listen back and think, ‘Oh my God, that’s way too personal…’
Is it true you write in the bathroom or hotel wardrobe?
Nobody bothers you in the bathroom. You can be alone for two hours. I don’t have to sit on the toilet… I have a desk, a chair a whole unit in there, it’s like a mini studio. Closets are awesome too, because no one can hear you. It’s somewhere I can let go of my thoughts openly.
You’ve been singing and performing your whole life…
I was eight when I wrote my first song, and by 10 I had a whole catalogue. My mum was quite pushy about my talent development, but I was private about my singing. She was always encouraging me to get out there and perform for people, often against my wishes.
How nervous would you get?
Some kids want to be stars at eight, but not me. I developed a fear of singing in public, and I think it’s because I started too early, I needed to feel like a kid for longer. When I was a teenager, I got up in front of my peers – you know, a bunch of 16-year-olds, in front of the whole school – and I literally peed myself. Thankfully, I had a glass of water at my feet, and I knocked it over to hide the puddle. I covered it up, my brain was still working.
How would your mum have felt to see you become a big star?
She would have loved it. It’s very sad that she never got to see it. She ran up all her phone bills trying to get me booked places. It wasn’t funny at the time, as we had no money for groceries. She was going to make it happen, we sacrificed a lot.
Eja’s 16 now. His childhood must have been the polar opposite of yours…
He’ll never know my childhood or the way I grew up, it’s like another lifetime away. You have to make a real effort not to spoil your children. I have to be careful not to let him have everything he wants, so I’ve only ever baked a cake for his birthday gift.
Has he ever said, ‘Mum, I really want...’?
It’s all he’s known. He expects it. I’d say, ‘You know what you’re getting from me for your birthday,’ and he’d look forward to it. At Christmas he’ll have only three presents. That’s not a rich man’s celebration. A lot of people would send him stuff, and I’d think, ‘How much stuff do you need?’ I tell him that anything he’s not using after a month, we’re giving to charity. There’s no point in pretending that we’re without, though – if he needs a shirt, I’ll get him a shirt. I’m not going to act poor if we’re not poor. That’s my approach and I’m just doing my best.
Shania on Shania...
What doesn’t impress you much?
Negative people. I have to choose who I’m sympathetic to, because it takes too much energy. My poor husband, he doesn’t get any baby man moments, I just say, ‘Suck it up!’ My son only says [puts on a baby voice] ‘Mummy, mummy’ when he’s really upset. I love being mummy, mummy and wifey, wifey, but to some people I’m just like, ‘Oh, come on.’
What makes you feel like a woman?
My husband does! I’ve still got abs under the squish, although I hate the texture of my body now. But he says, ‘I don’t want to cuddle up to a man, I don’t want rock-hard muscle.’ I’m strong still, but there’s a softness there now, and he likes it. It makes me feel womanly.
What’s still the one in your life?
My go-to place is always self-reflection. I’m always checking myself – constant self-improvement is important. When I stop to reflect it really focuses me.
Tickets are available for Shania Twain's UK tour at livenation.co.uk