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Hazel Smith, CountryCool, October 18th/25th 1999

Shania Twain's last sit-down interview before being named Entertainer of the Year by the CMA was held in Studio C, the original home of "Nashville Now," "Music City Tonight" and most recently, the now defunct "Prime Time Country." A half-dozen of Music Row's lucky hacks (including's Hazel Smith) were invited to the musty, dusty, postage-stamp-sized cubicle where country music stars shared their wares with fans via TNN.

Seven hours later, a tearful Shania accepted her Entertainer of the Year trophy from Reba McEntire on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, and the 33rd Country Music Association Awards Show was history. Before it all started, however, Shania fielded questions from Hazel and a few select journalists about her tour, her upcoming albums and her appearance in tabloid headlines.

Hazel: Tell me about the screaming tabloid headlines.

Shania: (laughs wickedly) You want to ask that first? That's okay. Well, it's pretty funny. I'd have to know which one you're referring to—there have been many. I've read not one, but I've heard little bits and pieces. None of it's true at all. I'm not getting divorced. I'm very happily married. I'm not going back with my old boyfriend. He won't be driving my bus. (laughs) What else is in there? I've never had an affair with a married man. What else in there was bad? (hesitates) I think those were the main things.

Q: Only [four] women have been nominated for Entertainer of the Year - Dolly, Reba, Loretta and Barbara Mandrell. What did you learn from these women?

Shania: All amazing entertainers deserving of that [honor]. I never really gave it that much thought. I've been entertaining my whole life, yet I think I'd be surprised if I was to win. I've never won at CMA before, so it would be a first which would be surprising itself, no matter what the award was. I'm not expecting it. I'm just not expecting it.

Q: They're saying it's your year.

Shania: It's been my year success-wise for the last five years, not award-wise. I'm not saying I should be winning awards, but as far as success goes it's been as big as anyone can pretty much get for several years now. I don't know why, this particular year, people would be saying that. I guess what I'm saying is, I don't deserve all of a sudden being highlighted this particular year. But maybe this year I've put to rest a few questions and doubts in other people's minds. Maybe that's why the industry feels this is my year.

Q: What does it mean to win the BMI Songwriter's Award? (Note: Shania won the Robert J. Burton Award for "You're Still The One," the most performed song of the year, as well as Songwriter of the Year from performing rights organization BMI.)

Shania: That's a big honor for me. I've been writing songs since I was 10 years old on a very serious level. I've been dissecting Dolly Parton, Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Beatles songs my entire life trying to learn how to become a songwriter. I spent more time on that than I did becoming a singer. As a singer, my style is what it is. But as a songwriter there's so much room to grow because of life's experiences. You become more mature, more experienced and you improve, hopefully. That's the part I take the most seriously. Your voice isn't always there throughout the rest of your life, but your mind is—hopefully—and that can allow you to write.

Q: I heard you were doing a TV Special. Are you doing a Thanksgiving TV Special?

Shania:Yes, I am doing a TV special, a CBS special. It's going to be aired..I don't know when it's going to be aired (laughs). I don't know what it's called (laughs). As far as I know I will not be having a guest. I'm recording it in Dallas, at the stadium. And we just finished the promo's with the football players, which was great fun. It's gonna be a unique special, 'cause it's a stadium special. Obviously, there will be a lot of people there. I'm very, very exciting. It'll be directly after a game in Dallas. Actually, there's three specials in a row. Celine Dion) the one night, my special will be the second night after the game, and then Ricky Martin will be the third night. So it's going to be an exciting week for CBS. And to be in their company is awesome obviously.

Q: Will you talk about your Christmas album.

Shania: We're working on a Christmas album that won't make it for this Christmas. It'll make it for next Christmas. So I'm gonna have two albums coming out next year. It'll be Christmas 2000. We haven't decided yet, I think the [other] album will come out then in the next year, or the beginning of the following. If we can manage it, we'll get it out before the Christmas album gets released. It's hard to say. We're writing it all now. We're writing both. I've been writing the Christmas album for a little while now. So to put two albums together it'll take a lot of work. I'm going to be off the road for a while. I'll be on the road for three more weeks in November. The tour ended a couple months ago, but we added three more weeks in November in the United States. Then I won't tour again until the new album is released. Maybe the summer of 2001.

Q: Will you include classic Christmas songs on your album or will they all be your songs?

Shania: There may be some original standards...I mean some classic standards on there. Of course, there will be original music as well. I'm of the feeling that if I can write them all, I will. If I have the time. If I don't, I'm fine with putting standards on there. Everyone wants to hear standards. So I've not decided yet exactly how many.

Q: Let's clear up a couple questions. First you mentioned you're not touring until 2001. Then I read somewhere about you touring with George Strait next year. Is that news to you?

Shania: It's not news to me. I've been asked to do that. But I still haven't completely decided. Touring with him next summer or in the spring really puts pressure on me timing-wise to get my albums finished. So I really have to think about it very hard and I really haven't had time to talk to [husband/producer] Mutt about it seriously. Cause we just started to talk about this George Strait thing just last week. He and I have to sit down and decide. Cause that would dig in. That's several weeks. I think it's seven or eight weekends. So I'm not sure yet.

Q: And the other thing, any insight creatively where you are going on the next album?

Shania: Well, I suppose like any songwriter, I'm always looking for a new angle people can relate to on an everyday basis. I like to stay close to home and tell it from my perspective, meaning it's always going to be fairly conversational and clear. I think that's just my style of writing and I'm not so sure I'll veer so far away from that. Musically, that's another thing all together. I don't know how it's going to come out musically yet. That is all a huge experiment. Until you get into the studio it' sorta's kinda like pottery. I mean, lyrics and the subject matter you write about is like deciding you're going to do pottery. Once you're doing it, it could take any shape, any form. In any second it can change so dramatically. That's the part that's harder to pre-determine. It's like we don't even know ourselves until we're closer to the end as far as the sound goes.

Q: How much stock do you put into winning awards?

Shania: Very little value. I don't mean to demean or insult anyone cause some people take a great deal of pride in winning awards. Obviously, the associations do as well. It's fun to win. It's a novel thing. If I scratched and won a five-dollar ticket , I'd probably be jumping up and down, "All right, I won!" There's something novel about winning whatever it is. I'm as excited as anyone when I get up there and I win. And I'm moved a lot of times by the audience. There is a real audience up there in the balcony. They are happy for you. There are people you see in the audience and you see they are happy for you. It definitely does that for you. But to be honest with you, I don't know even half the time what I'm nominated for. Like last night, I went to the BMI Awards. I didn't even know what was going on. I didn't know I was getting all those things. I wasn't aware. I never ask (laughs). I just go. The Canadian Country Music Awards happened recently, I didn't even know...I knew I wasn't going to be able to go. I remember saying sometime ago I wasn't going to be there. I knew on that date I was doing something else. My sister called me the next day and told me the whole scoop and what I'd won. I didn't even know what I was nominated for. I don't sit there waiting. I learned a long time ago you can end up being very disappointed. I think it can make you very bitter if you put too much weight in all that. I don't want to be like that. I don't want to be bitter. I don't want to compete on that level. I take it quite lightly, actually.

Q: I hear you are going to Asia?

Shania: Yes, January, February.

Q: Are you concentrating on Japan or will you go all over Asia?

Shania: All over Asia. Once we're over there we'll hit a few places. I'm not exactly sure where.

Q: How much does your family depend on you and how much do you depend on them?

Shania: I depend on my family a lot. I need to stay grounded in the sense I like to remember where I'm from. I get lonely. I mean, everybody gets lonely. I get lonely for smelling firewood in the air. I get lonely for the sound of a loon. I get lonely for snow-mobiling with my nephews. I get lonely for those sorts of things. And I don't get home often enough. So I bring my family to me on the road. They are experiencing new things because of it. It's kinda neat what's happening to us as a family. We depend a lot on each other.

Q: Did you see Dick Frank last night at the BMI Awards? (The attorney who brought her to Nashville originally)

Shania: (animated) No! Was he there?

Q: Yes, he sat by me.

Shania: I saw Mary Del [Frank's daughter] but I missed Dick. Shoot.

Q: You had a massive tour, that just ended, for the last year and a half. When you find time to relax, what do you think about it? About the tour?

Shania: Yes. The tour finished two months ago and ended in Dublin. Biggest, most successful, fun show of the whole tour. Not the biggest audience, but the biggest audience, you know. It was exciting 'cause when we left the states we were playing 20 to 30 thousand a night. Then we went over to England we were playing 10 to 15 thousand, which I knew we were doing that in the states a year ago. But they totally shocked me, they sounded like 40 thousand. It was so fun. I have great memories to take with me from that tour. Fabulous experience. I had so much freaking fun. I never wanted to sleep.

I don't drink. I don't do drugs. And I eat well. I like to stay fit. I had a lot of fun doing it. I didn't feel like I was on some heavy strict regime and it was a real drag doing it. I took my horse on the road. I took my dog on the road. I danced every night I possibly could, in a moving bus, of course. I had a wonderful time. I look forward to my next big tour. I think I'm going to have a great time again. In those two months I've been home I have had a chance to sit back and say, "It's such a great experience. I'm not afraid to go and do this again." Not that I was afraid the first time, I mean, I'd done so much promotion. I'd been away from home so much time the first four years. I wasn't so sure I wanted to do this tour in the sense I'd be away from home again. But it was such a fun experience I'm okay with it now.

Shania Twain's last sit-down interview before being named Entertainer of the Year by the CMA was held in Studio C, the original home of "Nashville Now," "Music City Tonight" and most recently, the now defunct "Prime Time Country." A half-dozen of Music Row's lucky hacks (including's Hazel Smith) were invited to the musty-smelling, dusty, postage-stamp-sized cubicle where, for many years, country music stars shared their wares with fans via TNN.

Seven hours later, a tearful Shania accepted her Entertainer of the Year trophy from Reba McEntire on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, and the 33rd Country Music Association Awards Show was history. Before it all started, however, Shania fielded questions from Hazel and a few select journalists about her tour, her deal with Revlon and her visit to Columbine High School students in the hospital.

Q: Do you have things you want to take with you on your next tour or do you want to change things?

Shania: Everything about the tour went was just too good to be true, really. There's nothing I would change. I'm going to change it for the sake of the audience. I want it to be new and exciting and something they haven't seen yet. But I don't think I made any mistakes in the sense of, "Oh God, that was terrible. Thank God it's over. I can't wait to change it." None of that happened. It evolved naturally. I mean it improved as it went. We did make little changes here and there as we went. Little natural changes. Changes you do as you grow.

Q: When Come On Over came out people said, "Well that won't sell near as well as Woman In Me." People were saying, "She can't sing live. She can't pull off a concert." Do you feel vindicated now that you've proven this?

Shania: I do for sure. Even though that wasn't the goal when I went out there. I didn't feel like I needed to prove anything to anyone. But because I understood many people didn't know my background. How would they know my background, I had just become a recording artist? They hadn't seen anything much of my life. Before that happened to me my livelihood was singing live. That's what I did. I am no different on stage now in my concert than I was in any club. At Deerhurst, I had a few years of very strange times. There was no audience interaction. I learned a lot of other things. It wasn't my own show. But the time before that, through my childhood and all of my teens, it was just me in a bar. And it's total interaction. It was mostly rock music, which requires a lot of energy. I mean rock is the hardest thing to sing night after night after night, six nights a week with a matinee. And you're traveling in a dumpy truck and terrible hotels and it's awful. I've done all that. Going into this situation on the road it was like luxury. Like floating on a cloud. I've got this amazing bus. I've got my dog with me. I've got my horse. I've got all kinds of wonderful people around me that I've hand-chosen so I know I like them. You know, I'm making a great living and I don't even sing every night of the week. 'Cause we can't. We have to physically get to the next place. So there's two or three shows together at the most, what an easy gig. It's nothing compared to what I was used to. This kind of touring is pretty darn easy and fun.

Q: I wanted to ask you about your Revlon sponsorship. How did that came about?

Shania: We kinda came together. We were kinda pursuing something at the same time. It was a mutual thing which kinda made it right from the beginning. I mean, Cindy Crawford is probably the most famous model that we have. She's a Revlon girl. In my mind, it doesn't get any better than that. So it's a true compliment for me. I'm not Cindy Crawford, you know. I'm a singer, I can look okay in makeup. If I've got the right photographer and all that I can probably do this. Not well enough for it to be like a profession, but it was something I was able to do. I'm treated really, really good. I go there, they do my nails. It was like being at the salon for the day. It's not like doing a video. The key thing was the music. They wanted me to use "Man, I Feel Like a Woman." That was their theme. They felt I represented the theme. And of course, I wrote the song. They liked the whole concept for their new line of make-up. I was the image behind the song. I am the writer. I am that person. It really worked well.

Q: Are you going to be modeling some of their stuff?

Shania: Yes.

Q: Do they send you makeup?

Shania: Yeah, yeah send me gifts. They send me these nice little boxes. They've got great stuff. They got great makeup. They have great lip stuff. They have great eye shadow. Really good. Like for real, I wear all kinds of make-up. I've got a mixed bag in my purse all the time. There's certain things I use a lot of theirs. And did anyway.

Q: You talked earlier about perspective. Share how your songwriting perspective has changed since you wrote "The Woman In Me."

Shania: Well, I've been through a lot of things especially in the past, say two years. I've gotten a better idea of the extremes in life. I can be more frank than ever in my songwriting on the next album. I feel like I've lived a lot of extremes lately—my career has. And I've gotta watch myself because sometimes people outside who aren't in this position don't understand your extreme. You become more extreme. And I don't really like that actually. It's not normal to be so extreme. Our lives in this bubble are so extreme you start to change a little bit, and I don't like that. That's why I say when I talk with my family I like to keep grounded. I like to keep my norm normal. I don't want my norm to be extreme to everyone else. I don't want my norm to change. But I can still write about the emotional extremes, because everyone can relate to that cause we all have those extremes in our minds and we all experience them in our everyday normal lives. We often don't express them because we have normal lives. I feel like in music, that's the perfect place to express that stuff and it's the place people will relate to it best. It's also therapeutic for me 'cause I don't want to be that extreme in my daily life. I don't want to be that dramatic. I don't want to be that neurotic, I guess, in a way you can become. You can become a very odd individual (laughs) in this industry and it's a person I don't want to become. So I think that will come out a little bit more in my music.

Q: It'll be a long time before we get to talk to you again. So I'll ask about the holidays. This is your first Thanksgiving and first Christmas in Switzerland.

Shania: Yeah

Q: Talk about your house a little bit. When do you anticipate being in a new home? Maybe bringing some tradition over with you?

Shania: Part of the reason I'm moving my Japan [tour and] all of my Far East trip, is so I can have more time at home at Christmas time. These are the things I'm starting to do a little bit more now. I don't have to have everything all at once all the time. It can wait. If it means I miss something, I'm going to do that cause I don't want to miss my Christmas. And I want to prepare my house, 'cause my family's coming. I can't get my house ready in a week. I gotta bake. I gotta do stuff. I gotta shop. I want my home to be nice for them. I haven't had them at my house in many years at Christmas time. My sister's got a new baby, and I want everything to be just right for them. I want them to come a week early so we can all bake together. I don't want it to be rushed. We'll have a family Christmas if all goes well. And Thanksgiving? I won't be with my family Thanksgiving.

Q: The more complicated your life becomes the more simple you want to keep it?

Shania: The more famous I get, the more I want to do my own laundry. I just want to do something simple for a day.

Q: I know we're not supposed to ask anything else, but did your Columbine trip have anything to do with what you just said? Your last answer? I know you went but I don't think the rest are privy to the fact that you spent your dime so you could visit those kids in the hospital in Colorado after the massacre.

Shania: (Evading issue) There's a lot of sick children out there and some of them are going to die. And they do die. We do what we can to visit and help out.

Q: Would you talk about your trip to the hospital in Denver when you visited those teens injured during the massacre at Columbine High School.

Shania: (almost teary) Well, you do what you can.

Hazel's final thoughts: It was obvious. Shania still has trouble talking about her unannounced trip to the hospital. She went after she learned the young man who scaled the school building during the Columbine shooting was a huge fan of her's. Without press or publicity, she paid for her own ticketing in order to go. When Shania made her visit, there were seventeen kids still hospitalized. She visited with all of them. Laden with tour merchandise, the surprised teens screamed when they saw her and they shared the gifts like it was a holiday. Apparently, this is a trip she has difficulty talking about.

Donna Hughes, CountryNow, October 1998

As the Country Music Association's reigning Entertainer of the Year, Shania Twain has proven her critics wrong. There were people, hard as it is to believe, who said she couldn't sound good without the studio magic of her producer-husband, Robert John "Mutt" Lange. But during her recent world tour she's shown that she can sing live and that she's a top-rate entertainer. Of course, she had those skills all along -- she was practically raised playing for tips in bars throughout her native Canada.

Just because her tour is ending -- after a three-week stint in November and December -- Shania isn't resting on her laurels. She's writing songs for her next album and an upcoming Christmas disc, both of which are due in stores late next year. She has a CBS special with the Dallas Cowboys airing around Thanksgiving; she's considering joining George Strait's 2000 festival tour; and she's a new spokesmodel for Revlon cosmetics. Shania tells that it just doesn't get any better than this. (Donna Hughes)

Private Time

"I don't display my awards. They're all up in one room, in an office, that I visit every once in awhile. It's for myself, really. It's not for everybody else to see. Now this is not an insult to the people who give me my awards, so please do not take this the wrong way: I have a huge wall in my stable where I actually hang all my plaques and things. And I'm sure the horses don't appreciate them, but I'm there every day. And that's where I hang those."

Feeling Vindicated?

"I do for sure, even though that wasn't the goal. When I went out there, I didn't feel like I needed to prove anything to anyone. I understood that most people didn't know my background. I mean, how would they? I had just become a recording artist, and in their eyes they had never really seen . . . me live. But before that happened to me, my livelihood was singing live. That's what I did. I am no different on my stage now in my concerts than I was in any club."

Tabloid Trash

"I've heard little bits and pieces. Nothing's true . . . at all. I'm not getting divorced. I'm very happily married. I'm not going back with my old boyfriend. He won't be driving my bus. And I've never had an affair with a married man."

Family Ties

"I depend on my family a lot. I need to keep grounded in the sense that I like to remember where I'm from. And I get lonely, I mean, like everyone gets lonely. I get lonely for smelling firewood in the air. I get lonely for the sound of a loon. I get lonely for snowmobiling with my nephews. I get lonely for those sorts of things. And I don't get home often enough, so I bring my family to me on the road. They're experiencing new things because of it. So it's kind of neat what's happening to us as a family. So we depend a lot on each other, more and more all of the time."

Did Dolly Do It This Way?

"I've been writing songs on a very serious level since I was 10 years old. I've been dissecting Dolly Parton songs and Elton John songs and Stevie Wonder songs and Beatles songs my entire life, trying to learn to become a songwriter. I spent more time on that than I did becoming a singer. I think [that] as a singer, I am what I am. My style is what it is. I'm never going to drastically change. But as a songwriter, there's just so much more room to grow. It's one of those things as a writer, you just learn as you grow, because of your life experiences. You just become more mature, you become more experienced and you improve, hopefully. So that's the part I take most seriously. And your voice won't always be there, but your mind is, hopefully, and that could allow you to write forever and be creative."

Man! She Looks Like a Woman!

"Cindy Crawford is probably the most famous model that we have. She's a Revlon girl, so in my mind, it's like 'Wow, it just doesn't get any better than that.' So [being named a spokesmodel] was a true compliment for me. I'm not Cindy Crawford. I'm a singer who happens to -- I can look OK in makeup, and if I got the right photographer and all that, I can probably do this. Not well enough to be my profession, but it was something that I was able to do."

John Aizlewood, Q Magazine, November 1999 Edition

She was a lumberjack and she wasn't OK. Now she's 30 million-selling, not-country sex diva with granite eyes and Shania Twain is quite lovely thank you very much. So much so that, with the gnomic spouse locked safely inside a Swiss chateau, Q went on a date with her. "I like good clean fun," she warns John Aizlewood.

It is seven minutes to eight on the evening of Wednesday, August 18 and a pair of R-reg Mercedes are speeding in tandem through North London's humid drizzle-coated avenues and alleyways. The two cards have but one aim; to ensure that Shania Twain, who has sold more records than any other woman on the planet this year, reaches the Roundhouse Theatre before the clock cries eight.

Shania Twain does not visit the theatre like mere mortals visit the theatre. The Roundhouse have been informed that if the superstar is to favour their show with her presence, she will only arrive exactly at eight, as the lights dim, so that like Louis XIV-similarly successful it must be remembered-her countenance may not be gazed upon directly. Truly, she is the Twain ordinary folk shall never see, let alone meet.

The arrangement calls for the Roundhouse to be telephoned at 7:55, so that the Twain gang can be met and escorted to its pre-designated area. Darren, however, has a better idea.

Darren is a tall, thin, bespectacled, likable black man, proud possessor of a laugh Sid James might think earthy. He is Shania Twain's security for the evening, fresh from doing Ricky Martin ("very humble") on Oxford Street and Pele throughout the last World Cup ("mobbed everywhere, lovely bloke"). Vastly experienced, Darren's strategy is two-fold: Plan A, being pleasant to all and, should that fail, Plan B which involves "getting nasty, but I don't usually have to do that". Darren suggests telephoning at six minutes to eight. If Roundhouse people have to wait at the door for Shania Twain so be it. Better than the other way around.

Miraculously, the in-car radio station, something called Magic (magic only in the way that losing a limb is "magic"), is playing a Shania Twain song and she is squeaking with delight. More miraculously yet, around Camden Town the traffic clears and the Twainmobiles arrive at 19.58.

There will be none of that old-fashioned stopping-outside-and-walking-in nonsense. The cars screech into a petrol station forecourt opposite the Roundhouse. Only the contact of Car 2's passenger door with a small wall and subsequent chauffeurly exclamation of "shit!" attracts attention.

19:59: A Twain representative stops traffic to cross the road and find the Roundhouse people. There is much waving and gesticulating. A smattering of furrowed-browed late theatre-goers tarry. Darren paces around, confidence undimmed by the honking of petrol-purchasers' horns, angry at their blocked exit.

20:00: Oblivious to hullabaloo, Shania Twain sits alone in a Mercedes, concealed by tinted windows. The greeting party is a pretty woman and a man with a baseball cap and headphones. More gesticulation all round.

20:01: "Not too far off now," says a Twainperson. More waving from the other side of the road.

20:07: Shania Twain emerges from her Mercedes and grins at non-existent public. North London's traffic has already been halted, resulting in queues back to the North Circular. She ambles across Chalk Farm Road and shakes hands with Roundhouse woman in a manner less regal that Queen Elizabeth II, but only just. We are bundled inside. Q wisely takes a zig-zag course to bamboozle would-be snipers.

20:08: Showtime! The dimming lights! The greasepaint! Hurrah!

20:09: Wrong again. Shania Twain wishes to visit the toilet. Lights brighten. Woman from Roundhouse's lower jaw begins to quiver.

20:11: Shania Twain safely (and it must be noted, remarkably speedily) emerges from what has turned out to be a Portaloo.

20:12: Showtime! Hurrah! Etc!

The show in question is De La Guarda, a percussive extravaganza performed to a standing audience by a fearsomely lissom, tightly choreographed Argentinean troupe, who bungee jump, shout, band and dance their way through 90 sense-battering minutes. It's quite wonderful.

Shania Twain, thankfully unmolested, wholly unrecognized, has a rare old time, barely seeming to notice that her acolytes have formed a circle around her. She giggles, she points up at the figures flying above her. Her eyes almost pop when members of the audience are swung 40 feet above her head. Her mouth is agape when a man walks upside down suspended from a platform upon which another man is jumping.

As the lights go on, the Twain mob sprint out, pausing only to re-shake the hand of the Roundhouse woman. The traffic has already stopped, probably of its own accord. On the other side of the road, a Mercedes awaits. Shania Twain, rear seatbelt fastened, is understandably overcome with inarticulacy.

"It was just totally fantastic! I've never seen anything like that before. Totally unique, original and fantastic. It stimulated so many of your senses. Very, very exciting. Fun and passion. Wow! So energetic."

Slowly, she gathers herself.

"You know what," she confides, face tightening. "I don't really like people treating me as a star. I'm so uncomfortable with that. In a normal social environment I don't want to be treated special or different. It's something that really bothers me.

I can't stand it. If I go to a club I go very plain and simple. You'd be surprised at how long it takes before people realise it's me. The more you act like that and don't take a big entourage, the more normal you can be. I get away with a lot that way, so I have experiences without people hanging on."

She stares into the late-night Baker Street traffic, bites her bottom lip and compulsively rubs he tips of her thumb and forefinger together. Her eyes glint like granite.

In central Canada, Windsor, Ontario lies 500 miles of south west of state capital Toronto. There, on August 28, 1965, Eilleen Regina Edwards was born to Sharon, who was prone to depression, and Clarence Edwards, who had other things on his mind.

Clarence fled when Eilleen was two. Sharon re-located herself and her two daughters north, to Timmins ("The City with A Heart Of Gold!") a rough-as-a-buzzard-gold-mining settlement of 50,000 with an unemployment problem: think Barnsley. Winter lasts from the end of October to the middle of April and wind-chill means temperatures of minus-80. When Eilleen was six, part-Irish Sharon married full-blooded Ojibway Indian Jerry Twain. Sharon spent days on end in bed, upset. Jerry, much loved by his stepdaughters, struggled for forestry work and there wasn't enough food to go round. Most of all though, was the cold. God, it was cold.

"There's a lot of neat little stories," explains the former Eilleen Twain, over Darjeeling at London's quintessentially posh hotel, Claridges's. "Actually they're not neat at all. There were many days when we had to huddle round the stove because we couldn't pay the heating bill. We went to bed wearing our coats, literally freezing. It's not the way you want to live, you can die in those conditions. I don't think our parents would have allowed us to die, they would have taken us to a shelter, but we definitely endured what we could, we pushed a to the limits. We managed and I'm glad we did. A little bit of hardship's OK, it's not the end of the world, it's better than being abused. As a child, you feel punished if you're separated from your family just because you're poor, se we did everything we could to hide it from other people so we children wouldn't get taken away."

Luckily, Eilleen could sing and play the trumpet "very poorly". Her desperate parents would wake her at midnight and drive her into Timmins. Clubs which provided musical entertainment had stopped serving alcohol at midnight and so it was legal, albeit unusual, for an eight-year-old to sing the closing 12:30-1 am set, covering Me & Bobby McGee, anything by Dolly Parton and originals for which she'd written out chord charts for the band. Did the authorities know about this?

"Um, I didn't advertise it. I didn't go to school saying I was in a bar until two this morning. The clubs gave me and it was my parents' way of getting me experience."

The crowds of course were senseless with drink.

"I was scared shitless. I had terrible stage fright. It was a good thing my parents encouraged me. If I'd had it my way, I'd have taken the easy option and remained a songwriter, not a performer. I loved music but I was never passionate about being a performer."

In the early-80's, the Canadian government had one of its periodic guilt trips over annihilating centuries of Indian culture and a decent proportion of the Indians themselves, so grants were made available for Indian businesses. Jerry Twain was one of the lucky ones and soon had a forestry plantation. Eilleen had been working at McDonald's ("I learned a work ethic, etiquette and discipline"), but now split her time between giggling throughout Ontario and being a foreman.

"I miss it so, but it was hard work. There were a lot of four in the mornings when I did not feel like getting up to plant a tree. I was one of the guys, I really was. I worked as hard as any of them, if anything even harder. I was determined never to be outwalked or outworked and I gained tremendous respect from my workers."

Although not a shouter or a swearer, she was strict enough.

"I would tell people how to do things a few times. If they didn't get it right then they would be let go. If they cheated, they would get fired and have to walk to the nearest road. It could take you a day to do that. Cheating lets other people down. What an insult!"

Those skills have not been lost.

"I'm a doer, a thinker, not a follower, but I wouldn't say I'm a slave-driving miserable person to work for. I have very mature, responsible, reliable people. I expect from others what I expect from myself which is my best. It seems to be working great.

Aged 22, Eilleen Twain had moved to Toronto to sing. On November 1, 1987, a timber truck veered across a Timmins road and drove straight into an oncoming car whose driver and passenger, Jerry and Sharon Twain, were killed instantly.

"Now, sometimes to a fault, I live in the future and depend upon time to heal, which it does if you let it," their daughter explains, quietly. "But if you live in the future too much it can be empty, life can keep passing you by. At some point you have to be satisfied, you have to get over this grief."

Has it made you a colder person?

"No, it's made me a warmer person, much much. I've become more emotionally vulnerable and sensitive, aware how fragile life is. It affected everyone differently, but I exhaled a great deal when I finally came to grips with all of it.

"When something as drastic as that happens to you, you realise you cannot control everything. Things are going to happen and there's nothing you can do about it. It's almost a relief to accept that fact, it can relax you. You realise that you have to put your efforts into trying to be happy. I let go of a lot of things and let shields down. I'm not much of a fighter any more. I'm actually weaker, but it's OK, I don't mind. I'm living life more than I ever was."

The oldest Twain sister had married, so Eilleen returned to care for her remaining sister and two brothers. The following June they all moved 300 miles south, to Huntsville, Ontario where Eilleen was appearing in a Vegas-style revue. Four years later, free of family responsibilities and every conceivable due well and truly paid, music attorney Dick Frank saw her perform and paid for her to come to Nashville.

"It wasn't compromising. I didn't say, Well maybe I'll be a country artist for a little while and see if I can make it. I was so down-to-the-core familiar with country that it was natural for me."

As a name, Eilleen Twain was deemed too uncountry. Losing Twain would degrade her dead parents, so she took an Ojibwa word, Shania ("I'm on my way") as a Christian name.

1993's self-titled hack-country debut, despite a Sean Penn-directed video for Dance With The One That Brought You, didn't rock anyone's world. Twain he songwriter, dressed in a parka on the sleeve, contributed only the lyric to God Ain't Gonna Getcha For That. "I didn't expect to become a major superstar right after that."

Meanwhile in London, another video, for the album's only quality song, What Made You Say That, caught the eye of reclusive South African multi-millionaire Robert John "Mutt" Lange, producer of Def Leppards's best-selling work, Bryan Adams, Backstreet Boys, Boomtown Rats, AC/DC and, most grueling of all, The Cars' Heartbeat City. More guru than producer, "Mutt" Lange contributed more to his charges records than some of them liked to admit and more than some of the others ever knew. In Shania Twain, "Mutt" Lange like what he saw and saw something in what he heard.

Soon the pair were gossiping like harpies on the telephone and songwriting together. They met in Nashville in June 1993 and by December were married. "Mutt" Lange, aged approximately 50, is a fascinatingly elusive figure, rarely photographed and never interviewed.

What do you call him? Robert?
(Guardedly) "Nope."
Robert John?
(Tersely) "Nope."
Robert John "Mutt"?
(Crossly) "Actually, I refer to him as "Mutt", but his name is Love to me."
And what about his mother? What does she call him?
"John, if anything. His mother called him John."

Do you accept your marriage looks pretty strange from the outside?

"It probably does, but if I could be like him I would. Him and I are so much the same. I respect, appreciate and envy him. He doesn't want to be famous and just because he's married a famous person, all of a sudden it's an issue. He's always been this way and that's a very admirable quality."

Do you get lonely, with him never being there?

"Oh yes, when I'm away from him, I don't like it. I hate it. I hate being away from him."

Do you ever go back from, say, awards ceremonies and say, Where wee you? I needed you?

"No. I don't take those seriously. A family members always comes with me. It's not like I'm sitting there holding my husband's hand going Am I gonna win, am I gonna win? That's so dramatic and I'm not like that. It's certainly nothing I would need my husband there for, my goodness."

Why isn't he in the wedding photographs?

"He's in there! He's in lots of them. I gave the press one without him, so that he wouldn't have to be anywhere."

Isn't that odd?

"Nooo. Being a celebrity couple is so tacky, common, corny and embarrassing to him and I totally understand it. What the hell does it have to do with my music? Nothing."

What's he like?

(Takes a deep breath so deep it almost sucks up the Claridge's string quartet) "You'd love him. Everybody who knows him loves him. He loves good conversation; he's a very intelligent person; he reads a lot; he's a real history buff; he loves fashion and likes to keep up with the latest of everything; he's very into the aesthetic of things, which is real fun for a girl when we're shopping. At the same time he's a major sports buff and he loves European football, and absolute fanatic. He's a wonderful guy. He's very gentle. People get a good vibe from him and they love him, he's very sweet and kind. There is no-one that he could not get along with. He's an avid gardener too."

So why keep saying you have a low sex drive then?

"Pah! Never said that. I may have said that I'm not a very sexual person, not the type who needs to flirt. My videos are sexy and I have quite a lot of fun with that, but I'm not a very sexual person, I'm just not like that. I like good clean fun myself. Mind you, behind closed doors, my husband finds me pretty sexy. It would be really awful if he didn't, very sad for me and 'Mutt'."

Husband came wife's songwriting partner and producer, tossing in ,000 of his own money as The Woman In Me became country's most expensive album, after the record company blanched at the year-long production schedule. Only it wasn't country as the country establishment understood it. She was still a Nashville-friendly frump on the front cover (John Derek took the photographs; wife Bo was assistant), but on the back Twain was navel-bearing. Weirdly, this, more than anything she's done including not sounding country at all, irked Nashville, although now it seems to be illegal for female country starlets to cover their belly buttons.

What if you'd been ugly?
"I have been ugly! I'm ugly a lot!"
Oh stop it.
"No, no! I was genuinely ugly! I looked like a boy and had two pretty blonde sisters. Not everybody that is successful is beautiful."

You never show you legs. Dumpy are they?
"They're not very good. I would call them athletic legs."

The songs hinted at country and then veered off to all sorts of places. Twelve million copies later, without a sales-boosting tour, she'd crossed over, and-a jail sentence back in Huntsville for car stealing half-brother Mark aside-that should very much have been that.

During Twain's formative years, the family spent their weekends on the Matagami Indian reserve, absorbing the culture. Instead of cookies they'd have wild meats as treats and Jerry would fry little chunks of moosemeat or deep-fry bannock dumplings and top them with jam. Eilleen loved it: "It was one big family, you could sleep on anyone's couch."

After being adopted by Jerry, she was legally registered as Indian, but the more famous she became, the more she blurred the distinctions between the blood of adoptive and natural fathers. Inevitably, in April 1996, she was outed by, most hurtfully of all, the Timmins Daily Press, who claimed she'd "woven a tapestry of half-truths and outright lies" to give her character and heritage which, paradoxically, she actually had. Why lie? You were immersed in Indian culture.

"I can see that. The honest truth is that I never introduced Jerry Twain as my adoptive father. He always said there were no favourites in this family. He never reminded us we were adopted daughters: we were all one family. We took quite seriously and felt really good about it. Now, if somebody had said that I was adopted I wouldn't have been offended, surprised or defensive. I wasn't hiding it, I just couldn't imagine making a statement like that for no reason oat all. It's bizarre."

But why claim Indian blood?

"I actually resent that. Why should it matter? Is it because Jerry Twain was of another culture that made me claim that I'm something I'm not? No, that's not true. I am status Indian. I have been adopted into the tribe. I'm legally his daughter! Yes! I never thought there would have to be an explanation. I didn't think it was such a big deal, but obviously I'm wrong."

Ever me your father?

"We were, I guess, introduced a couple of times. My sister's met him once. My mother would tell us about his family, where they lived, what they did for a living and little bits and pieces. She said they were part Indian, so I always believed we had Indian blood in us. And so now I'm baffled."

Was you mother telling the truth?

"I believe she was (she lowers her tone to garden fence conspirator and elbows firmly in the stomach). She told me they were ashamed of it and would never admit it. I've spoken to my uncle about it since and he said they have Indian in their family and they're denying it. Apparently, my great grandmother was Indian and married a white man. In those times it was not unusual for such women to have to denounce their Indian status and leave the reservation, so it's very, very believable that she had to leave her family and never associate again. There are a lot of predjudiced people. That is my truth, but whether it is true I don't know. I can understand how people are seeing it that I'm lying, but I'm not. What can I do? I'm sorry. Actually I'm not sorry at all."

And her paternal grandmother is called Regina Nutbrown. Claridge's carrot cake, Shania?

"Mmm, please."
What do you think?

"Too dry. And I didn't think the biscuits wee that great either. I prefer the Ritz. I had a tea there with my husband and the scones were great. These don't seem home-made, more like something out of a packet, but I hope I'm wrong. Oh boy, we're not giving it a great review, ha ha! Am I going to get in trouble for this? The tea's a little bitter too. If you really know tea you should try Earl Grey and tell me what you think. It's my British blood."

When it was time for Shania Twain's third album, "Mutt" Lange didn't have to put his hand in his pocket. The European version of 1998's Come On Over discussed PMT and VPLs, but eschewed country almost completely, although North America's edition enjoyed more fiddles and pedal steels. She became the first woman to sell over 10 million copies of successive albums. The closing Rock This Country! , much loved by Tipper Gore incidentally, flicked a V-sign to Nashville. She'd left them behind.

"Have I shown Nashville? Yes, but it wasn't my intention. Nashville is a very small town, controlled by a small group of people. It's not like they tried to ruin me, they just weren't sure. You need the opportunity to get the fans and you're home free. Then the industry turns around, which is what happened to me. I don't hold it against them is what I'm saying. That's life."

Now, as "one of the key-selling artists in pop music", she's crossed over pre-Nashville days, she was rarely country, so she had little to betray-and she's worked like a dog for it. Inevitably the drive is beginning to wane and her ambition is to write a song someone else records before she does. Do you like your music?

"Oh yeah I do, but I enjoy it more at it raw stage than the finished state. Once you've recorded it, it's that way forever. As a fan I hate it when songs are changed so much live you can't even recognize them, but that's restricting creativity. The novelty wears off after a while."

Would you be less successful without "Mutt"?

"I wouldn't say I would have made it to this level. 'Mutt' has the fairy-dust and the magic. What we have is magical so it would be ridiculous to assume otherwise. It doesn't necessarily have to be 'Mutt', but it would need somebody that understands how to work with the type of artist I am."

Frankly she'd rather be at their main residence, a chateau in La Tour-Du-Peilz outside Geneva beneath some alps, with Lange, their horses and a dishwasher that doubles as a cooker.

"'Mutt' is completely bilingual, although he never knew a word of French before he moved. He's doing so well. He is the perfect guy."

The "Mutt" Langes, it seems reasonable to suppose, are not in the Geneva telephone directory, under "M" or "L". Such is Twain's clout she can order her record company not to promote her in Switzerland.

She pauses for what seems like an eternity. Despite her grace, she loathes interviews, almost as much as she loathes performing on television, her absolute nemesis. Sometimes she looks beautiful-her transformation to vixen in front of a camera beggars belief-sometimes she looks dog-tired.

"Let's say I've worked more than I've wanted to in the last five years, but I've no regrets, a girl has to work. If you want to be successful, you have to be willing to sacrifice for a certain amount of time. I was willing, but it's not something I could do forever."

She doesn't smoke, she doesn't drink and turned vegetarian after marriage. What does she do?

"I swing."

"I'm not kidding!" Her face lurches into life, her eyes widen and for the first time in her 10 hours in Q's company she's lost in reverie. " I swing dance. On the tourbus after the show, while the bus is moving, I would just dance the night away, especially if it's a good, straight dancing road. Even it it's winding, we still dance and get thrown all over the bus. It's hard, it's challenging, it's fun, it's exciting. Backstage we would swing too. It's a great workout, good clean fun and I do a ton of it. I miss it. I gotta teach my husband how to swing."

Surely this would be but a trifle to such a man.

"Hey!" she points her finger and giggles. "It's not that easy, you have to learn. Once you get the basics, then you can really get creative. 'Mutt' is a natural mover obviously, he's very musical so he'll learn. Then me and him will be swinging around the chateau."

Hilary Rose, The Times Magazine, 11th September 1999

Country singer Shania Twain needed an awful lot of talent and determination to get where she is today - and her animal magnetism helped, too, as she demonstrates here with this season's essential prints.

Shania Twain is Canadian and Canadians can be a bit strange. Their national emblem is a leaf, for a start. Other countries have eagles or women with tridents, and at least the Lebanese went for the whole tree, but the Canadaians have a leaf. They think they're morally superior to the Americans because they're not as fat. And it's also worth bearing in mind that this is the country that gave us Bryan Adams and Ice Hockey. So Twain is a bit of a conundrum. In the flesh, she is petite and slim, with a head that looks too big for her body, and pretty rather than the drop-dead stunner of her photos and videos. She is one of the few people to have won a Country Music Academy Award and still be well known in Europe, and her latest album, Come On Over, has put her in the same league as Whitney Houston and Alanis Morisette, selling more than 12 million copies. Yet she arrives for the shoot dressed in old grey leggings, trainers and a faded pink sweatshirt that can only be describes as tatty. She doesnt have a personal trainer (in fact, she doesn't even work out); she doesn't bang on about creativity and musical integrity; and some of her most eloquent phrases are reserved for describing dill pickle-flavoured crisps. This is, of course, admirable. Give millions of dollars to many women with a background as deprived as Twain's and they'll be down the mall faster than you can say "they screwed up their life and ended in therapy". Twain appears normal.

"Ive had money for years now, but I haven't spent it at all" she explains. "I think you have to be born wealthy to be comfortable with spending ,000 on a bracelet, or just so rich-happy that when you finally get rich you're stupid about it! But I dont think ill ever be that now," she adds. "I think if something's too expensive I wont buy it because im insulted by that."

She certainly wasn't born rich: the seond of five children, her father left home when she was two and her mother married an Ojibwa Indian called Jerry. Summers were spent helping him plant trees for a living; winters were more problematic. When the snares failed to catch any rabbits, Twain would take mustard sandwiches to school for lunch.

By the age of eight she was literally singer for her supper in dodgy, smoky clubs. Then when she was 21, her parents were killed in a car crash and she single-handedly raised her teenage brothers. It wasn't until they left home that she sent a demo tape to a friend of a friend in Nashville, a deal was struck, her name was changed from Eilleen to Shania and her career appeared to have begun.

Except it hadn't. The men in Nashville wanted her to do cover versions and the album was a flop. But the influential producer Robert John "Mutt" Lang heard her story, called her up, helped her write new material and, six months later, married her. Her album, The Woman In Me, sold like hot cakes and now, aged 34, she lives in a house in Switzerland with a view of the Alps. The trouble is, not only is she hardly ever there, she's hardly ever anywhere long enough to see it properly.

"I just get little tastest of things when I go past in the car, and go, 'Oh wo, I'd really like to go into that'", she says. Rome and Cairo figure high on her must-go-back sometime list.

"Sometime" is in fact a phrase that looms large in her life. Some time she is going to have a "cottage" backing onto Lake Ontario. Sime time she's gonna be able to spend time there. Some time she'll have a chance to go out shopping and spend some money. "Some time I'll really get to enjoy myself."

You could almost feel sorry for her, until you rememver that its not a bad life, being driven around in air-conditioned Mercedes, having people fawning over you, knowing that you have a loving husband and enough money to be able to retire in considerable comfort any time you choose. To be able, as she says "To go into a shop and even though I could probably buy the whole lot, I don't" OK, so you lose your privacy, you dont get to bake cookies (which she claims to aspire to) and your life gets a little hectic, but hell - its better than working in MacDonald's.

Not unnatrually, it's this unrelenting schedule which seems to bother Twain the most. "You know what?" she asks, suddenly animated. "You can only take so much of not having a life! My husband doesn't travel with me much and it's always really difficult when you have been apart a month or six weeks - the whole coming and going thing is very awkward. So I'm looking forward to changing that."

That may prove difficult, as the next three years of her life are already mapped out for her. "It's stiffling knowing that you're accounted for so far in advance," she says. "There's no spontaneity and it can feel very imprisoning. You know, I don't know how I'm going to feel six months from now on a particular day. What I know is that, sick or not, up to it or not, I'm doing it!"

She admits she's been lucky, that there are many hard-working, talented people out there who don't make it. But she also maintains that she would always have made a reasonable living out of her music, to support herself. "That" she says, "was always my goal."

And if she's lost her voice she had a fall-back position: to be a vet. It's unclear if she realises quite how many A grades and years at university it takes to do this, as she bases her suitablility for the job on an interest in the psychology of animals and the ability "to communicate very well with them".

Luckily she instead dons a skin-tight leopard skin print and gyrates across the desert for the video of her single, That Dont Impress Me Much. She sings feisty songs about dodgy men and lyrical ballads about the nicer ones. She says she's looking at "the battle of the sexes with a sense of humour"; the Americans, who take such things seriously, lambast her lack of political correctness but buy her records anyway.

Her family, she claims, get more pleasure out of her fame than she does because they get to use her name in restaurants and are given nice tables.

"All I know about being rich and famous," she says, "is that I have a lot of money that I haven't had the chance to spend. I'd never walk up to somebody and say, 'Hi, I'm Shania Twain, can I have a great table?' It would be pretty embarassing dont you think? Right now, I crave to be normal, and to be honest with you I'd rather wait in line or go some-place else. Thats more me you know?"