When Shania Twain last released an album, back in 2002, she was one of the biggest stars in the world. But within a few years, the Canadian country singer-turned-pop star had completely vanished from the spotlight.
Fast forward 15 years and Shania has finally released a new album. Called Now, it has been a long time coming, but the That Don’t Impress Me Much star has had a good reason for being AWOL.
She couldn’t sing for years due to an illness that meant she was unable to use her vocal chords normally. Then her marriage to her music producer and songwriting partner Robert “Mutt” Lange ended after he had an affair with her best friend.
Shania (52) sank into a deep depression, getting up in the morning to get her son Eja (now 16), ready for school in the morning, then crawling back to bed until he returned.
“It felt like I was kicked off my own bus while it was moving full-speed ahead and I landed in the dirt,” she says. “After tumbling and getting a mouthful of dirt, I had to try to stand up, and then figure out where I was and start walking.”
Shania is most definitely back on her feet again and admits everything she’s been through in the last 15 years has given her plenty of material when it came to writing songs for the new album. She says the songs on Now are the most personal she’s ever shared.
“I cried a lot when I wrote them – I’d never cried when I wrote a song ever before in my life,” she reveals.
“I’ve written about feeling unappreciated in my marriage and about fighting back against pain. I’ve done my fair share of self-pitying and that’s in there too. This album is about going from lost to found, from feeling sad to happy. I have learnt how vulnerable I can be.”
Shania has known heartache before. Raised by her mother Sharon and stepfather Jerry in a small Ontario town, she had a tough childhood. The family was so poor, Shania and her four siblings would often go for days with only bread and mustard to eat.
Her stepdad was abusive – Shania once saw him put her mother’s head in the toilet and try to drown her. He would creep into her room at night when she was a teenager and fondle her while she pretended to be asleep.
Jerry and Sharon were killed in a car crash in 1987, leaving 21-year-old Shania to raise her younger siblings.
Her fortunes turned around thanks to her musical talent and her now ex-husband Mutt, who she married in 1993.
He helped her to find international success in 1997 with Come on Over, one of the best-selling albums of all time. But within a few years, her life had begun to fall apart. She was exhausted and suffering from such severe body aches, she could hardly hold a microphone.
“I began blacking out every three minutes and I was very dizzy,” recalls Shania. “I hardly slept because I ached so much. I should have stopped performing, but I kept going like an idiot. I assumed it was just fatigue.”
What she had was Lyme disease, which was caused by a tick bite. One of the most serious side effects was a condition called dystonia, which causes nerve damage. The nerves attached to her vocal chords no longer worked properly, so she couldn’t sing.
“I couldn’t even call out to the dog,” she says. “I thought I would never sing again.”
The damage is permanent but thanks to intensive speech therapy and physiotherapy, she has relearned how to use her voice.
“I’ve had to accept my voice will never be the same again. I will never sing my old hits like I used to, but it is a miracle that I can sing at all.”
On top of the problems with her vocal chords, Shania was devastated in 2008 when she learned Mutt had been cheating on her with her personal assistant and close friend Marie-Anne Thiebaud.
“When my marriage broke down, I lost trust in people,” she admits. “I sank into depression and tortured myself over what happened, and why.”
But there was a silver lining to that particular cloud. The singer became close to Marie-Anne’s ex-husband, businessman Frederic Thiebaud (46), after their spouses went off together, and they ended up falling in love.
“We had a year of suffering together as friends – I had known him for many years before. I got to observe Fred going through the same thing that I was and admired how he handled it. That’s when I fell in love with him.”
The pair married in 2011 and Shania, who owns a high country sheep station in the South Island of New Zealand that she hopes will one day be her permanent home, says she couldn’t be happier.
“I have learned so much about myself over the years. I’ve been through a lot, but I am in a good place.”
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