Shania Twain: ďIt was the most difficult period of my life...Ē

Country pop queen Shania Twain on her turbulent childhood, the death of her parents Ė and learning life lessons in her 50s

The Big Issue - UK
By Jane Graham
August 29, 2017

My early teens were difficult. My parents were separated and my mum and I were staying in a battered womenís shelter. We stayed there for a year, and it was the most difficult period of my life. Growing up in a turbulent household brought out a lot of defensive characteristics in me. I was always waiting for the next argument or fight. I also felt very protective of my mother Ė I was often directly involved in those fights. Which could make me very aggressive if I felt backed into a corner at school.

I was very shy, very socially awkward. I was also very insecure Ė I didnít have a lot in common with the other kids because I was just a music nerd. And I was embarrassed about my upbringing and how we were always scraping by, struggling to pay the bills. So I rarely brought a friend home with me. Early on music became my therapy, somewhere I could go and be safe. I think thatís how I survived it all, why Iím not a drug addict or a nutcase today.

From an early age I was always the little singer in the family. From the age of eight, I would go singing folk and country songs at clubs at the weekend. Sometimes even after midnight till two or three in the morning on a school night. I didnít enjoy being in those places at all. I developed a lot of stage fright. Sometimes there were strippers going on before me and by the time I went on everyone in there was quite drunk. It wasnít an environment for a child. I did love the music, I was very passionate about it. But I just wanted to do it in my room, on my own, writing songs and singing to myself. I liked being alone, and quiet. I didnít want to perform in public. But my mother was trying to help me get exposure, so that I could eventually become a professional singer.

There was definitely a transition in terms of the audience once I was fully developed Ė very developed Ė at 16. But I took it in my stride because I was so used to performing by then. I never mingled with the audience, so I was safe in that regard. But the changes in my body. I found those very difficult. I was such a tomboy, and I was definitely not the pretty daughter in the family. I was very athletic but suddenly I didnít want to be bouncing around so much playing basketball at school with the boys. I was more self-conscious and uncomfortable about the eyes of the boys on me than when I was onstage. It wasnít until I went into the music industry that I really felt the sexist intimidation of exposure.

A major turning point in my life was when my parents both died [Twain was 22 when her mother and father were killed in a car crash]. It sounds odd to say that but it turned out to be something I made the most of. I had a lot of revelations that year. One was that I realised how much of the performing Iíd been doing for my mother, and I didnít really need that for myself. But by then my friends had all gone off to college and I felt Iíd missed the opportunity to do something productive, something tangible, like getting an education. So suddenly, not only did I not have parents, I had nothing but this music career in which my chances of succeeding were incredibly low. So I really had to put myself to the test. And when I finally fully committed to my music career without the pressure of my parents, I felt that was a very positive change. And it led to the most productive 20 years of my life.

Once my career took off the world became more accessible. I didnít get lost in just being the artist, I educated myself. Iím a good self-motivator and I am very disciplined. I ran a lot, I wrote a lot, I read philosophy and psychology. Iíve always had extreme curiosity and I gravitate towards similar people. When I met my first husband [rock producer Robert John ďMuttĒ Lange, who produced and co-wrote her breakthrough second album] that was another turning point which was so crucial on the next 15 years of my life. We had such a good verbal relationship, we talked a lot. He was very stimulating. I need to be stimulated. I learned so much in that relationship. And now Iím married again to someone who is such a thinker. I need that.

I donít think I felt confident that I was going to make it until I made my first album with Mutt Lange, The Woman in Me [in 1995]. I wasnít sure at the beginning if it would work, it was quite an unusual collaboration. Once it started I felt that what we were creating was good but when we had real success with it [20 million global sales], that gave me a much greater confidence about the future. After the release of Man! I Feel Like a Woman! it started getting so big. I just thought wow, this is bigger than I ever imagined it could be. Everything started spinning. And I was over-working so it felt like a frenzy.

If I could go back Iíd cut myself some slack when my marriage [to Mutt Lange] starting falling apart. I went into a black hole for a bit, I went into shock. It was a bit like when my parents died. But I was angry with myself for not getting over it right away. I should have said to myself, itís okay to feel bad for a while. Donít apologise for it. I just wanted to hurry up and get over it and I think that was a mistake. But I did get through it. I have a son, so that helped me persevere for sure. And once I caught my breath, I was able to be creative again. Thatís how I escape. Some women go to the spa for Ďme timeí, for solitude Ė for me indulgence is locking myself in a room and writing songs. I have no inhibitions when I write, I can curse, I can vent, I can be completely honest. So itís a helpful thing to be able to do in the darkest times.

In my 40s I really didnít worry too much about getting older, how my looks were changing. When I hit 50 gravity really started to take hold. I think you come to a point when youíre mature enough to accept that itís one of the things in life you just canít control. I couldnít control my parents dying, I couldnít control my marriage falling apart, I couldnít control getting Lyme disease and losing my voice. And I canít control ageing. Once you get to your 50s you have to accept some things are just out of your hands. Hey, itís time to throw those old bras away. You just canít wear them any more.

Shania Twainís album Now is out on September 29 and she is performing at Hyde Park on September 10