There's no ending like a happy ending

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The Independent Culture
THE THING you wonder about Tina Turner is: is she happy? Could she possibly be on an even keel? We all know what happened to her in the past - she was born poor and black in the Depression; then she was married to a mean, twisted, druggy man who beat her up for years and years . . . and then, after endless fat lips and black eyes, she escaped.

But did she really? That's the question. In the current film of Tina's life, What's Love Got To Do With It?, you see the bruises and the beatings; you see Larry Fishburne, as her husband Ike, being pretty scary, throwing her to the floor and punching her repeatedly, also raping her in the recording studio, jealous because her success was overtaking his own. The film ends with Tina, apparently victorious, Ike-less, skimpily dressed, singing relatively bad pop music on stage, punching the air in mock-triumph.

By then, she has turned into the Tina Turner we now know - the singer of raspy- voiced, epic nonsense like 'Private Dancer' and 'Simply The Best'; the small, screamy, strutting, sweating woman in a big frizzy wig, a pop star who everybody knows, but who inspires no wannabes; an odd, fabulously wealthy woman who everybody feels slightly sorry for. When you watch her up there on stage, you think: what kind of therapy is this for Tina? Can it . . . this . . . possibly be a good way to heal the mental scars?

That's what I was thinking in 1989 as I walked across the lawn towards Tina's chalet at the Los Angeles hotel where she was being besieged by the media on the publicity tour for her album Foreign Affair. She was at the height, the absolute pinnacle, of her career. We, the European press, had been sitting by the pool, plugging each other for stories about her sex life, her wealth, her wig, her false teeth. Poor woman. Nobody envied her at all. We just thought she was some kind of alien life form. I didn't expect to get much sense out of her.

Her chalet was tucked away from the rest of the hotel, with a separate pool, and steps leading up to the door. Luxury. This was the superstardom that was about to begin at the end of the film - this was the film's happy ending. I knocked and entered. Where was Tina? There? No. There? No. Ah . . . there, on the sofa, curled up in a tiny ball. She was flushed, sweating. We shook hands. Bored to death, she stared in front of her. And then we began to talk.

What a nightmare. Tina had been a Baptist, and she had been a Buddhist; she believed she was a reincarnated Egyptian princess. But one religion had gripped her with an incredible ferocity - capitalism. She had an awful lot of things - houses, cars, antiques, designer clothes. But she was desperate for more. She talked about religions as if they were banks - something you might change if you could see an advantage in it. Buddhism, she said, was good because it allowed you to do what you wanted.

'I understand,' she said, 'that Michael Jackson is no longer a practising Jehovah's Witness because they didn't like his image. But that wouldn't have happened if he had been a Buddhist. In Buddhism you can do what you want to do.'

There was a pattern to our conversation. I asked a question. Then she changed the subject and talked about her possessions. Then she talked about the things she wanted but didn't have, and her plans to get them. And then - and this was the thing that really inspired her - she talked about shopping.

But I started off by wondering about her inner life.

'What do you like to read?'

'Oh, I like to read stimulating and exciting books. There are lots of books I've read and totally enjoyed. I can't remember who they were by. But I have a lot of books. I have them, I tell you, and they go from one wall right across to the other wall. But most of my friends that give me books know I like the stimulating novels. I like to get excited.'

'So who is your favourite author?'

'It's . . . the name is . . . hold it, I know it. It's Michael. Michael. Michael. I forget.

Michael . . . it'll come. Michael Talbot. That one. That's him.'

'So . . . you believe in reincarnation?'

'That's right, yes.'

'And . . . you believe . . . you believe that you yourself are a reincarnated Egyptian princess?'

'Ah yes. That's a very strong belief. Actually, one of my rooms is all collections from Egypt. That was a very, very strong connection I made way way years ago. What I first found out about Egypt was Cleopatra - that movie, then there was a book - I was given a sarcophagus. I was going to buy some pottery one day. I walked into the shop and - Aaah] - I was almost breathless and my heart was beating, there was this, this . . . and the guy gave it to me. This sarcophagus. So now I've got it at home.'

And did she like her life, as it was?

She said: 'I'm slowly outgrowing my desire for my image . . . People ask me: 'what, you're wearing flat shoes?' Ooh] People think I wear high-heeled shoes all the time. It's incredible to me. Sometimes I really have to compose myself to go, do you think I wear those things to bed? I wear Armani, Alaia, Yamomoto. They have shops in London, Paris, California, New York, Italy. But I don't usually go to

the shops . . . '

'Why not?'

She told me. She was now, she said, too famous to go shopping. It was her biggest regret. She sat there sadly, looking glazed. I asked her about the future.

'I'm looking at acting . . . I like the way Schwarzenegger has organised his career. I would be pleased if I could get something like that going for me.'

Minutes later, I walked back to the pool. That was what happened after the film ended - that was Tina's happy ending. And she didn't even get the part. -