Exclusive: Shania Twain breaks silence on frantic battle for life and child abuse trauma
Shania Twain was struck down with Covid pneumonia during the pandemic - and the singer's husband was "really panicking"
The Mirror - UK
By Tom Bryant
January 29, 2023
Living on the banks of Lake Geneva in Switzerland, country legend Shania Twain enjoyed taking in the cool, crisp air that comes off the water.
But her idyllic world was shattered at the height of the pandemic when she was struck down with Covid pneumonia and found herself struggling to breathe.
“It was progressively getting worse. My vital signs were getting worse… and in the end I had to be air evacuated,” she reveals.
Despite being in a bad way, Shania remembers the helicopter trip to hospital vividly.
“It was like science fiction, I felt like I was going to another planet or something,” she says. “It all kind of happened in slow motion.”
Throughout the ordeal, her second husband Frédéric Thiébaud – or Fred – was by her side.
However, he was frantic with worry because as well as organising the air evacuation, he was struggling to find a hospital bed, as they were in desperately short supply.
“My husband was freaking out, to be honest,” Shania says. “He was really panicking because he was the one having to pull it all together.
“He spent hours and hours every day on the phone, trying to get an air evacuation coordinated, trying to get a bed lined up, as there were none, checking my vital signs. It was just a real nightmare for him.”
After eventually securing a bed at hospital, Shania was put in isolation and treated with plasma therapy. But it was very much touch and go.
“It took several days to start building up any antibodies at all, so it was a very dangerous time and very scary,” she says. “I made it through and I’m just so grateful.”
She’s eternally thankful to Fred – and feels for others who do not have a strong support network.
“I thought, ‘Wow, if I was living alone in a more isolated scenario, I don’t know what would have happened’. My heart goes out to people who don’t have that support to help them get the right care.”
Slowly but surely, Shania began to recover and it wasn’t long before she was writing and recording her sixth studio album, Queen Of Me.
The 57-year-old even drew on her Covid battle in a song called Inhale/Exhale Air.
“It’s a song of gratitude and appreciation,” she says. “I was inspired that I still had air in my lungs.”
Shania is certainly no stranger to beating the odds. The five-time Grammy winner – who pioneered country pop with hits such as You’re Still The One and That Don’t Impress Me Much – didn’t sing for a decade after losing her voice.
Doctors eventually diagnosed her with Lyme disease from a 2004 tick bite, which they believe damaged the nerves in her vocal cords. With physical therapy, she re-learned how to sing and in 2018 had open-throat surgery to strengthen the weakened nerves.
It’s little wonder Shania is on such good form as she speaks to me by Zoom from America’s West Coast.
“It’s great to be just singing again, on a tour with my new voice after my surgery… I’m in a very celebratory state of mind,” she says, adding that her voice now has “more rasp”.
Growing up in Ontario, Canada, Shania lived with her mother, stepfather and two brothers and two sisters. Her stepdad earned a pittance working in reforestation and being short of cash was a constant cause of tension, with her mother suffering from depression.
They often struggled to afford the petrol needed to ferry Shania to bars to sing.
But there was also a darker subplot the star has only recently acknowledged – the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her stepfather from the age of 10.
Shania never had a chance to confront him, because he and her mother were killed in a car crash in 1987, when she was 22.
“When I was fondled as a child, it made me retreat from ever wanting to grow into being a woman. I hated my body,” she reveals. Shania says the abuse sparked a lifetime of feeling uncomfortable in her own skin. And it was one reason she decided to pose in some revealing shots for the artwork of her new album, which is out this week.
“I went into the most uncomfortable scenario I could think of, which was a photoshoot without my clothes on,” she says. “And that’s what I did. I just faced it head-on. It’s probably something I should have done much earlier in my life but it feels like I’ve turned a corner – a very important one. It’s about self-empowerment and taking charge of your fears.”
I ask Shania if part of the motivation for going public with the abuse was because it helped other people to understand they can survive these ordeals, too. “Yes, I believe sharing your experiences helps other people,” she says. “Sharing helps you first of all… it allows you to let go."
“But it also helps other people experiencing the same thing, it makes them feel they’re not alone. And that is extremely important.”
Shania’s self-titled debut album came out in 1993 but it was 1995’s The Woman in Me and 1999’s Come on Over that propelled her to superstardom, shifting 100million records.
By then, she was working with AC/DC, Def Leppard and Bryan Adams producer Mutt Lange, who introduced more guitar-led arrangements to her country-pop style. She married Mutt in 1993 and they had a son, Eja, in 2001. But she was devastated when Mutt ran off with her best friend, Marie-Anne Thiébaud.
They divorced in 2010 but then, in a plot twist straight out of a country song, she fell in love with and married Marie-Anne’s ex-husband, Frédéric.
It’s hardly surprising the extraordinary story provided ample inspiration for her 2017 album, Now.
In song Poor Me, she laments how she “can’t believe he’d leave me to love her”, adding how “he’d never told me how long I’d been living in the dark”.
Subtle, it ain’t. And Shania laughs when she admits Fred did sometimes wonder if she was being a little too honest.
“He was like, ‘Let it out… say everything you have to say’, although there were some times when he’s like, ‘Are you sure you’re not calling on this a little bit too much?’.”
But she says the album, as a whole, proved to be a “cathartic” experience and having “such an emotional outlet … was good for me”.
And who could blame her…