Bonnie Tyler: ‘The older you get, the less you have to prove’
By Abbie Morgan
When talent scout Roger Bell accidentally stumbled into the wrong room in the Townsman Club, Swansea he had never expected to discover a young Bonnie Tyler, but luck had brought them together and a Welsh pop legend was born.
Brought up in the small village of Skewen, South Wales, Tyler grew up in a “rowdy house” surrounded by music.
“There was always music in the house, my mother, brothers and sisters were always singing and playing piano,” says Tyler.
She had always wanted to pursue music as a career but never imagined herself as the successful star she is today.
“I always wanted to sing but I never thought that I would end up being a recording artist with my own songs,” says Tyler. “I thought I’d just be a singer in a local band.”
Tyler first sang publicly when her auntie signed her up for a local talent competition. She placed second. From there local agents started putting Tyler on their books.
Then, a week after the competition Tyler saw an advertisement for three girls to join the band, Bobby Wayne and the Dixies.
“The poster said no experience needed, Training given, and I thought that was perfect for me,” she says.
“I was chosen as one of the girls after auditioning with 34 others.”
Tyler spent seven years performing around local bars and nightclubs, one being Swansea hotspot, The Townsman.
This is where Tyler was singing when she was discovered by Roger Bell in 1975 – and the chance encounter changed her life.
Bell wasn’t meant to watch Tyler sing at all, in fact he was meant to be looking for singer Vic Oakley who was performing a floor above. But he liked what he heard and invited Tyler to London to record two demos.
“It was the first time I had ever been in a recording studio,” says Tyler. “I couldn’t believe it the desk was huge and there were all these buttons everywhere.”
At the time she was discovered by Bell, Tyler – born Gaynor Hopkins – was performing under the stage name Sherene, to avoid being mistaken for Welsh folk singer, Mary Hopkin who she also resembled.
“I never really liked my name, so it was a lovely opportunity to change it,” says Tyler.
“My sister had a little girl called Sherene and I loved that name – it was my name for seven years.”
When Tyler signed with RCA Records, they recommended that she change her name again because they thought it sounded ‘like a belly dancer’.
“I bought two broadsheet newspapers, and I made a list of all the Christian names in one list and all the surnames in another list and I matched them up until I came up with Bonnie Tyler,” she says.
“It’s been a great name for me, I reckon Steven Tyler must’ve been in the paper that day.”
Tyler suffered with shyness at the start of her career but overcame that by playing to different crowds every night across the world.
“In the early days I just used to stand there but I’m all over the stage now,” says Tyler.
“The older you get the less you have to prove – I’m an ambassador for the Prince’s Trust, I have an MBE. I can talk to anyone now.”
Tyler has no shame in admitting that her first song ‘My My Honeycomb’ flopped but her second, ‘Lost in France’ launched her career.
“Lost in France was an international hit, but it did have good promotion,” says Tyler.
For the hit song, journalists received a rather suspicious invite to France with the words “let’s get lost in France” where they were invited to be flown out to a chateau where Tyler would perform her hit.
Soon after the song’s release Tyler would undergo an operation to remove nodules from her vocal cords.
“It was so frustrating to not talk and have to write everything down, so I gave up in the end and it strained my voice,” says Tyler.
Because she failed to follow the doctors’ recommended rest period, she was left with a permanent raspy voice, which is now one of the most recognised voices internationally.
“They used to call me the female Rod Stewart before the operation and even more so after.”
Tyler spent five years at RCA Records before moving to another five-year contract with Sony.
She recalls Sony asking, “We’ve got you for five years, who would you like to work with?” But she was met with baffled stares when she requested to work with Meatloaf’s writer and producer Jim Steinman.
“They told me he’s never going to work with you, it’s a long shot,” says Tyler.
Three weeks later Steinman agreed to work with her and finished writing ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’.
Tyler says: “It was probably meant for Meatloaf, but he gave it to me.”
Tyler was in Steinman’s New York studio when she first heard the track then sung to her by Canadian vocalist, Rory Dodd.
“I couldn’t believe it. My manager and I just looked at each other, like … wow.”
With such a large discography, you can’t help but wonder if Tyler ever gets bored of singing her biggest songs.
“Everybody always thinks I would. Why? My songs are my babies” says Tyler.
“They made me my success – I love singing them.”
Success, fame, and fortune hasn’t changed the down-to-earth Bonnie Tyler.
But make no mistake the Welsh singer is not one to be messed with, as one Danish journalist learnt the hard way.
“I was in Denmark, and it was at the time I had all this big hair, and it was all my own and this famous journalist thought he was being smart, and he grabbed my hair expecting a wig and shouted ‘is that real?’” says Tyler.
So, what did Tyler do?
“I grabbed his b***s and squeezed them and said ‘are those real?’”
These days Tyler is keeping her hands to herself and is still touring the world into her 70s whilst currently working on her memoir which is set to be released later in the year.
“I’m doing it with a ghost writer,” Tyler admits. “I’m not that clever.”