We are the Mozarts of these times. We've proved we can last
IT'S THE kind of inappropriate behaviour that causes people to clutch a cushion to their face in embarrassment: an OAP clad in gold-sequined pedal pushers and four-inch heels shaking her booty as if she was still a sex goddess in her 20s. Yet last week, 69-year-old diva Tina Turner wowed a 20,000-strong crowd at London's O2 Arena with a two-hour high-octane performance that would have floored singers half her age.
Almost a decade after she bowed out of the music industry with the words: "I can't sing without jumping around and it's getting harder and harder," she bounced around the stage like Tigger on Ecstasy. Unlike Madonna – who works out for four hours a day to maintain her shape and energy levels – Turner made it look as if she could do it without breaking into a sweat. Wearing a range of OTT outfits, from the aforementioned sequined number to the trademark micro-skirt, she didn't make any concessions to her advancing years, singing 'Nutbush City Limits' on a giant crane which lifted her high above the audience. And if anyone down below did wish they could bury their head in a cushion, it was probably because they were exhausted just watching her.
It's not that Turner spurns the simpler pursuits traditionally associated with a woman of her age. For nine years, she enjoyed a relaxed existence with her long-time partner Erwin Bach, a German record-producer, decorating their homes in Zurich and in the mountains above Nice, and staying out of the limelight even when her abusive ex-husband and musical partner Ike died of a cocaine overdose in 2007.
But then her close friend Sophia Loren told her she owed it to her fans to get back on the road again. "I started to think more and more about it," Turner told Saga magazine. "Then I began to look round. A lot of the acts of my time are back. The Rolling Stones, the Eagles, Tina Turner. We are the Mozarts of these times. We've proved we can last." So at a time in her life when most of her peers were ordering stairlifts and comfortable shoes, she put on her glad-rags and headed back to the fray.
As befits a star of her longevity, her first public reappearance – a duet of 'Proud Mary' with Beyonc at the 2008 Grammys – sparked something of a cat fight, with Aretha Franklin baring her claws when Beyonc introduced Turner as "the Queen" – a title Franklin has long laid claim to. Nevertheless, the rapturous reception she received helped confirm her popularity and she announced a six-month 50th anniversary world tour on the Oprah Winfrey show a few months later. Since then she has been belting out her greatest hits and flaunting her famous pins at sell-out gigs from San Diego to Stockholm.
It's been a comeback and a half, but then Turner is an old hand at resurrecting her career, having hauled herself from the brink of obscurity after her split with Ike in 1976. After enduring 14 years of abuse at the hands of the man who controlled every aspect of her life, Turner – by then a Buddhist – fled on the eve of a Dallas concert with nothing but 36 cents and a gas company credit card, spending several months in hiding before daring to show her face in public again.
By then her career, already flagging as a result of her husband's poor decisions, was dead in the water. With four children to raise – Ike junior and Michael (Ike's from a previous relationship); Craig (hers from her relationship with Raymond Hill, a sax player in Ike's band) and Ronald (Ike and Tina's) and a pile of IRS debts to pay off, Turner lived on food stamps and scraped a living by performing in tiny clubs and keeping house for Hollywood celebrities.
Unable to win over American audiences, and moved by the loyalty of her European fans, she crossed the Atlantic, living first in London, then Germany, then Switzerland. But it is David Bowie she credits with turning her fortunes around in 1983. Back then, the pair were on the same record label, Capitol, but the decision had been taken not to re-sign Turner. "The record company bosses in New York wanted to take (Bowie] out to dinner in order to celebrate," she has said. "'I'm sorry,' he told them, 'but I can't because I'm going to the Ritz Club to see my favourite singer perform.' And that was me." The show – which Rod Stewart and Keith Richards also attended – transformed Capitol's view of her and effectively turned her into a superstar.
The years that followed saw her notch up a string of hits from her Private Dancer album, including 'Better Be Good To Me', 'What's Love Got To Do With It' and the title track, and win two American music awards and four Grammys. She began her first solo world tour and accepted the role of Aunt Entity in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, a film which grossed 25m, earned her an NAACP Image award for Outstanding Actress and yielded the No 1 hit 'We Don't Need Another Hero'.
For Turner, such success was the fulfilment of a dream nurtured when she was Anna Mae Bullock, the younger of two girls born into a volatile home in Nutbush, Tennessee. Despite her troubled upbringing – she lived with her grandmother after her parents split, moving back in with her mother after the old woman's death – she always believed she would be famous one day.
She took the first step on that journey when, as an 18-year-old club-goer in St Louis, she persuaded blues musician Ike to let her perform in his soul revue. One night in 1960, when a singer failed to turn up, she stepped in, recording 'A Fool In Love', which became a huge R&B hit. It wasn't long before Ike had taken over, changing her name to Tina Turner (although they weren't married until 1962), renaming his band The Ike and Tina Turner Revue, and fostering the loud, vibrant, sex-bomb image she still has today. As the pair rose to stardom – recording hits such as 'It's Gonna Work Out Fine', 'I Idolise You' and the Phil Spector-produced 'River Deep, Mountain High' – Ike became increasingly violent, raping Turner, burning her with cigarettes and forcing her to take to the stage with blood gushing from her mouth. Even before they split, his spiralling cocaine use and control freakery had blighted their image, with many observers believing his tacky approach was turning his wife from a musical icon into a glorified table dancer. Turner exorcised Ike's ghost in her autobiography I Tina, later turned into the movie What's Love Got To Do With It, and then moved on.
Having worked so hard to escape her past and carve out a new niche for herself, she would surely not be blamed for settling for a quiet retirement as she approaches her 70th birthday. But the irrepressible rock chick cannot resist the lure of a spangly jumpsuit and an adoring public. So long as her health prevails, it seems likely she will go on breaking the rules and ageing disgracefully.
"My greatest beauty secret is being happy with myself. I don't use special creams or treatments – I'll use a little bit of everything. It's a mistake to think you are what you put on yourself. I believe that a lot of how you look is to do with how you feel about yourself and your life. Happiness is the greatest beauty secret." – Turner on how she keeps herself looking young.
You've been Googled
• Turner had a cameo role as the Acid Queen in The Who's rock opera Tommy.
• Congratulating Turner during a reception for those recognised in Kennedy Center Honors in 2005, President George W Bush commented on her "natural skill, the energy and sensuality" and referred to her legs as "the most famous in the business".
• Heaven 17, left, helped launch Turner's solo career, producing and providing vocals on her debut hit 'Let's Stay Together'.
• "Yes, my legs are important because it's the first visual attribute; because it's a leg thing and everything today is about sex." – Turner on legs appeal.