The husky songstress behind such hits as “Holding Out for a Hero” and “Total Eclipse of the Heart” talks to Simon Button about her new album, her heroes and what keeps her young
Bonnie Tyler is nothing if not honest. Asked what the secret is to looking great at 67, the singer states, “Well, the business keeps you young” then adds with refreshing candour: “That and botox of course. I have botox twice a year. I also keep pretty fit and I’ve got loads of energy.”
With a laugh that’s every bit as husky and powerful as that distinctive rock-chick singing voice of hers, and a Welsh accent that’s still very much intact, Tyler says: “People say to me, ‘For God’s sake, Gaynor, walk a bit slower because I can’t keep up with you’. And I can’t drink coffee. My God, if I have just one cup I’m climbing the walls.”
"I bloody hate making music videos. There was snow on the ground and I was running through it barefoot. It was bloody freezing!"
The Gaynor she’s referring to is Gaynor Hopkins, the name she grew up with in the Welsh village of Skewen. Starting out as a backing singer, she briefly changed it to Sherene Davis (so as not to be confused with fellow Welsh singer Mary Hopkin) then switched to Bonnie Tyler when she landed her first record contract.
At her home in North Wales, or in Portugal, where she and husband Robert Sullivan spend their downtime, she’s Gaynor. But at work she’s Bonnie, seller of 6 million-plus copies of both “It’s a Heartache” and “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and a four-decades-and-counting survivor in a notoriously fickle industry.
Seventeen studio albums into her career, Tyler’s busier than ever. Calling me from Wales to chat about that 17th album Between the Earth and the Stars and with 24 live shows in her diary and more to come, she sounds a little breathless as she says: “I’m on a roll. The diary’s manic, absolutely manic, but I love it. I didn’t come into the business to be famous, I came into it because I love making music and performing.”
It all began in the late 1960s when the coalminer’s daughter entered a talent contest, came second and thought she’d give singing a go professionally. She did backing vocals for a local band, then formed her own group and was eventually spotted by a talent scout for RCA Records.
Released in 1976, her first solo single was called “My! My! Honeycomb” and (perhaps not surprisingly with a title like that) it flopped. Follow-up “Lost in France” made the UK top ten but then she discovered she had nodules on her vocal cords and, after an operation to have them removed, feared she wouldn’t get her singing voice back.
Bonnie needn’t have worried. The voice came back, much huskier than before, and she put it to good use on “It’s a Heartache”—scoring the first of her two 6 million-plus sellers, topping the charts in ten countries and cracking the top five in both the UK and the US.
"I didn’t come into the business to be famous, I came into it because I love making music and performing"
Her career lost a little steam after that, but then along came the almighty “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and, with it, another 6 million-plus smash. Sounding genuinely thrilled rather than boastful, Tyler notes: “It’s still selling, and the video has reached nearly half a billion views. It’s really incredible.”
The video shoot wasn’t without its dramas. The schoolboy featured in it was only wearing underwear when Bonnie arrived on set. “And I said, ‘No way, it’s not going to happen, he’s got to be dressed’ so they put him in a uniform.” That was just as well because it was filmed on a very cold day in and around an old asylum near London. “There was snow on the ground and I was running through it barefoot. It was bloody freezing.”
Bonnie laughs again. “I bloody hate making videos anyway but the great thing is that it got nominated for a Grammy. It lost out to Michael Jackson for ‘Billie Jean’ but if you’re going to lose that’s the way to do it.”
I ask the woman whose subsequent hits include the equally anthemic “Holding Out for a Hero” who her hero is in real life. Her answer: “I have to say I wouldn’t be in the music business if it wasn’t for a heroine and that’s my mother. She wasn’t professional but she’d sing opera around the house and she was incredible.
“And my hero? My husband,” she adds, then draws a line under the subject. “That’s all I’ll say about my private life. I never talk about that. There’s enough rubbish written about that stuff and half of it is not true, so I don’t talk about it.”
Bonnie drops her guard a bit when I ask about her pleasures in life. “Family, family, family.” She and Robert don’t have children of their own but she has three sisters, two brothers, 16 nieces and nephews and 14 great nieces and nephews. And she’s an ardent supporter of the Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospital Charity in Wales, saying: “Children are a priority and we should be looking out for them.”
When she’s not working she loves being home. “Staying in the house with my dressing gown on, loafing around, sorting out things I don’t always get time to do. Right now I need to get my roots done and my nails.”
Her longevity has been a very pleasant surprise. “People in this business come and go, you know? Even after all those hits in the 1970s I thought, This is fabulous but it won’t last.”
I tell her I love the new album and she says, “Tell the readers, please!” It’s very raw and very her and she’s assembled an all-star supporting cast that includes Status Quo’s Francis Rossi and a trio of Sirs—namely Rod Stewart, Cliff Richard and Barry Gibb.
Often dubbed the female Rod Stewart, Tyler didn’t get to work with him in the studio for the album because of scheduling clashes but she has met him before (“Though I doubt he’ll remember,” she laughs about an event they both attended together many years ago) and Sir Cliff is a close friend whom she and husband Robert spend time with whenever they find themselves in Portugal at the same time.
The couple also own farmland in Portugal and New Zealand, more than 20 houses in England and 65 stables. “But it’s all about good investments,” Bonnie points out. “I don’t do drugs so [the money] doesn’t go up my nose. I do love red wine but I’m trying to lay off it because it’s fattening. Well, when I say lay off it I mean it’s been two days so far!”
Presumably she doesn’t have to work but has no plans to retire anytime soon. “I haven’t been in the charts since the 1980s,” she admits, “but it’s not about that—it’s about the love of music and the love of singing. I have a fantastic band who’ve been with me for over 20 years and we just love performing live. It’s not about being famous. I couldn’t give a monkey’s about being famous, it’s about enjoying what I do.”
She laughs again. “Plus I’ve never really been in fashion so I can’t go out of fashion.”
The album Between the Earth and the Stars is out now. For more information and tour dates visit bonnietyler.com