Bonnie Tyler: the soundtrack of my life

Bonnie Tyler headshot
(Image credit: Tina Korhonen)

Don’t dismiss Bonnie Tyler as just the lungs and hair behind 1983’s tearstreaked break-up ballad Total Eclipse Of The Heart. Born on June 8, 1951, her childhood in the Welsh mining village of Skewen was soundtracked by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Janis Joplin, and she's kept her ears open during a career that’s taken in collaborations with Rick Wakeman, Francis Rossi and Rod Stewart. But as she reminds us, her myriad influences all began with her beloved mother.


The first music I remember hearing

There was always music in our house. There was none of this: “Shhh, the baby’s sleeping.” My mother would be singing at the top of her voice! She had the most astonishing voice. She’d play a lot of Mario Lanza, but because I’ve three sisters and two brothers they’d be playing Elvis songs like Hound Dog. They’d roll up the carpet, jiving all over the house. Three of us became singers. It was inevitable.

The first song I performed live

I entered a talent competition in the local rugby club when I was seventeen and a half – when you’re young, you don’t forget the half. I sang Elvis’s Can’t Stop Loving You, and came second, which gave me the confidence to start joining bands. I was fine about coming second, but I wasn’t happy about coming second to an accordion player

The song that reminds me of my adolescence

I was painfully shy as a teenager. How the hell I ever thought I could get up on the stage, I don’t know. But when I was young I used to tune in to Radio Luxembourg every night, and the Stones’ Honky Tonk Women was on all the time. I remember singing that in the car when we used to go on caravan holidays to Happy Valley in Porthcawl. I saw the Stones at Wembley a few years back and they were awesome. 

My anthem

Janis Joplin’s Piece Of My Heart. She didn’t always sing in tune, but it was the feeling she put into everything. When I was young, I’d be in my bedroom with a hairbrush, singing into the mirror and thinking: “One of these days I’ll be on stage”. I never dreamt about being famous – not like these kids today – I just wanted to be a girl singer in a band.

My hard rock favourite

Sweet Child O’ Mine. That riff! I wanted it as the ringtone on my phone. My God, I loved Axl Rose. I thought he was horny as hell. But now, so many people have got tattoos, I’ve got right off that. Guns N’ Roses were so rebellious. I just loved the cheekiness. And Axl Rose was great to watch. Really sexy. Not now, but anyway…

The best live act I've seen

Frankie Miller in about 1974. I was in awe. My God, he’s only got to open his mouth. I mean, that voice. But to make it he had to do something commercial like Darlin’, and it doesn’t show his voice off the way he really is. He always regretted doing that song.

The song that makes me cry

Without You [a huge hit for Harry Nilsson in 1971] written by a Swansea boy, Peter Ham [from Badfinger]. He ended up committing suicide. He got ripped off right royal in America. He never got the royalties for Without You – and he deserved them. What an awesome song.

The song that set me on my path

I got discovered by accident in 1975 by [talent scout] Roger Bell, who saw me in a nightclub. He’d come down from London to listen to the boy upstairs. Luckily for me, he came in on the wrong floor and heard me. And when he went back to London he told them about me too. I was singing Nutbush City Limits. Tina Turner really inspired me. Although I did record Simply The Best two years before she did it – then she released it and it was Number One all over the world. 

The song that proves I rock

People are always surprised how hard my shows rock. There’s one I do with Rod Stewart called Battle Of The Sexes. It’s been my dream to sing with him all my life. Then I did a song with Francis Rossi. While I was in Portugal we were invited to Cliff’s [Richard] house for lunch. I played him the demos and he said: “That’s fabulous – but what about me?” 

The songwriter

Jim Steinman changed my life. When I left RCA in 1976, I wanted to try going more rock. Muff Winwood, the head of A&R at CBS, said to me: “So, who would you like to work with?” I said: “Well, I love whoever is writing for Meat Loaf.” I knew I could do those type of songs. Muff laughed at me: “Oh, Bonnie, you’ve got to be joking. He’s never gonna do it.” I said: “You don’t know until you ask. And they did ask him. So I went to New York, and Jim took me into the studio and played me Total Eclipse Of The Heart on the piano. Talk about a song making you cry. It just hit me. I was looking at these lyrics, and the tears were falling.

The song I want played at my funeral

I’ve always said Those Were The Days by Mary Hopkin. Because it’s all about friendship, y’know?

Bonnie Tyler celebrates the 40th anniversary of Total Eclipse Of The Heart with a European tour later this year, and has festival dates lined up throughout the summer. For full dates and ticket links, visit Bonnie Tyler's website.  

Henry Yates

Henry Yates has been a freelance journalist since 2002 and written about music for titles including The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Classic Rock, Guitarist, Total Guitar and Metal Hammer. He is the author of Walter Trout's official biography, Rescued From Reality, a music pundit on Times Radio and BBC TV, and an interviewer who has spoken to Brian May, Jimmy Page, Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie Wood, Dave Grohl, Marilyn Manson, Kiefer Sutherland and many more.