Monday, June 11, 2007

Meeting Tina

I was eighteen years old, had recently started working for MTV & was about to do my first ever interview. In true MTV style, they had decided to throw me in to the deep end by making me interview Tina Turner. Still, I wasn’t worried. Famous people had never intimidated me. My older sister and her friends had been dragging me along to concerts from when I was about 12 years old, because I had always possessed the uncanny ability to end up backstage where ever we went. Therefore, taking me along to a concert meant an almost guaranteed introduction to the band (I’ll tell you about the system I had developed for that some other time)

Anyway, back to the story…I had spent the first part of the day arguing with my director as to what I could wear for the interview. He thought that all my clothes were inappropriate. He kept saying: “Simone, Tina Turner is an icon. She needs to be treated with the utmost respect. Interviewing her in those crazy patchwork trousers would be an insult to her status”. I had had my heart set on wearing my patchwork trousers and one of my wild multi-colored hats, convinced that Tina would love my crazy style as much as I did. But no, I wasn’t allowed. I was told to wear the plainest item of clothing that I had, which was a black Naughty-by-Nature T-shirt. I tried to add a little of my own personality by wearing a small leopard-print hat with it, but still…the overall affect was rather boring.

In the meantime, everyone else’s nervousness had managed to jump over on me. Maybe they were right? Maybe this was a big deal? Maybe this was like meeting the queen? Damn it, I had felt so good to start with, but now my legs had turned to jelly.

Tina was already positioned on one of the bar stools in the middle of the studio as I walked on to the set. Shy and self-conscious, I stood quietly away from the lit-up area. No one had noticed that I was there. My director was in deep discussions with Tina’s manager/boyfriend (or was he her husband?) & Tina was getting the last touches done to her hair and make-up. There were people fluttering about all over the place. I heard Tina’s husband/manager saying that he wanted to see the script before the interview.

“We don’t like surprises. Tina performs best when she is well-prepared,”
“Of course, not a problem,” the director answered. “Let me get Simone”

I swallowed hard, put a huge smile on my face and walked up to them before anyone had a chance to shout my name.
“Hi, I’m Simone. Nice to meet you” (My strategy of dealing with nervousness was to pretend to be 100% confident at all times. And it generally did the trick. People sometimes even thought that I was over-confident. If only they knew….)

“Hi Simone, Tina needs to see the script so she can prepare her answers”
Tina’s manager reached out for my paperwork.
“Okay, but I may not stick to the script exactly” I said as I handed it over.
My director shot me a dirty look.
“Well…I’ll try. But I may not ask things exactly the way they are written”
“ That’s fine dear. As long as you stick the basic questions that we discuss ahead of time”

“Okay…Tina” he called out as he walked me on to the set, keeping his eyes on the script. “This is the girl who will be interviewing you”

“Oh hi, how nice to meet you. I’m Tina” Her eyes were warm and her smile so welcoming, that it melted my nervousness almost immediately.

“Hi Tina, I’m Simone. Nice to meet you too”
Whilst her manager continued to look at the questions, I whispered to Tina: “This is my first ever interview. I hope it will be okay”

There was that great big smile again. She whispered back: “Don’t worry, we’ll have fun” and winked at me.

Wow, what a lovely lady and what a great presence she had! I was struck by her beauty & couldn’t believe that this glowing, tight-skinned woman was old enough to be my grandmother.

Tina’s husband/manager turned to Tina, told her my first question and how she was to answer it. Before I had too much time to think about the strangeness of that, Tina snapped her fingers and shouted: “Right then, let’s get this show rolling!”

Everybody shot into position. The microphone leads were being pushed inside our clothes, followed by a quick “One two, one two” sound check. Tina’s loose strands of hair were sprayed down one last time & the director called out:
“Simone, don’t forget; Tina is an icon. She deserves to be treated that way,” followed by a “Coming to camera in five, four, three, two,…”

“Hi, you’re watching MTV’s afternoon mix,” I smiled at the camera (Cameras have always had a calming effect on me. When I look at them, I feel like I’m talking to an old friend) “With me today is a rather special woman, who really doesn’t need much of an introduction…”

Tina and I started chatting & the interview flowed well, but the two men next to the camera were kind of bothering me. My director looked pissed off and Tina’s manager was acting rather strangely. He stood by the side of the camera, pouting his lips, playing with his hair, turning his face this way and that and occasionally throwing his head back completely, pretending be laughing, but without any sound. It took me a while to realize what was actually happening; Tina was looking at her manager from the corner of her eyes and was mimicking every move he made whilst answering my questions. And the freakiest thing of all was that she was looking completely natural as she was doing it.

‘So is this what showbiz was all about?’ I wondered to myself, ‘To be a star you have to turn into someone’s puppet?’ I was absolutely baffled by the whole situation. Especially as Tina Turner is known as a former battered wife & had come out on the other end, stronger and more powerful than ever. Well, strong as she might be, here she was acting like she was being controlled by another man yet again.

Now, maybe I was reading the situation wrong. Maybe she wanted his assistance. Maybe she thought that it was easier for him to judge what would look good in any given situation & maybe they were just working as one tight unit.

I really don’t know. I just know that I found the whole situation rather unsettling. And it definitely influenced the way I viewed showbiz from that moment on. I instantly lost my faith in the ‘reality’ of it all & vowed never to become a puppet to anyone, even if it meant losing my career over it.

“Damn it, Simone. Stop interrupting Tina! You need to treat her with more respect. I told you that she is a super star. You don’t interrupt superstars!” The director shouted. His outburst startled me. What was he on about? I didn’t interrupt her. All I had said was the occasional “Right…exactly…Really?” You know, the things one says in any normal conversation.

Tina looked at the director & surprised me once again that day, as she stuck up her middle finger and shouted: “Oh, fuck off! Super star nonsense! We’re just having a nice girly time here” She nearly killed me with that comment. What a woman! My poor director kept quiet for the rest of the interview.

Tina’s manager continued to check each question before it was asked and stopped the interview whenever he wanted to pass on some more answers to Tina.

So anyway, the overall experience was pleasant, strange but pleasant. I had managed to work my way through my first ever interview. And I also got treated with another little gem of a moment as Tina and her entourage walked past my dressing room on their way out. Tina looked inside at the clothes that were piled on to my suitcase and ran straight up to my colorful patchwork trousers with a delighted “Oh my goodness, these are absolutely fabulous!”
As she held the patchwork trousers in front of herself, I turned to my producer and smiled a satisfied smile. It was the last time I ever took fashion advise from anyone who wasn’t a stylist.