My early teens were difficult. My parents were separated and my mum and I were staying in a battered women’s shelter. We stayed there for a year, and it was the most difficult period of my life. Growing up in a turbulent household brought out a lot of defensive characteristics in me. I was always waiting for the next argument or fight. I also felt very protective of my mother – I was often directly involved in those fights. Which could make me very aggressive if I felt backed into a corner at school.
Growing up in a turbulent household brought out a lot of defensive characteristics in me
I was very shy, very socially awkward. I was also very insecure – I didn’t have a lot in common with the other kids because I was just a music nerd. And I was embarrassed about my upbringing and how we were always scraping by, struggling to pay the bills. So I rarely brought a friend home with me. Early on music became my therapy, somewhere I could go and be safe. I think that’s how I survived it all, why I’m not a drug addict or a nutcase today.
From an early age I was always the little singer in the family. From the age of eight, I would go singing folk and country songs at clubs at the weekend. Sometimes even after midnight till two or three in the morning on a school night. I didn’t enjoy being in those places at all. I developed a lot of stage fright. Sometimes there were strippers going on before me and by the time I went on everyone in there was quite drunk. It wasn’t an environment for a child. I did love the music, I was very passionate about it. But I just wanted to do it in my room, on my own, writing songs and singing to myself. I liked being alone, and quiet. I didn’t want to perform in public. But my mother was trying to help me get exposure, so that I could eventually become a professional singer.
There was definitely a transition in terms of the audience once I was fully developed – very developed – at 16. But I took it in my stride because I was so used to performing by then. I never mingled with the audience, so I was safe in that regard. But the changes in my body. I found those very difficult. I was such a tomboy, and I was definitely not the pretty daughter in the family. I was very athletic but suddenly I didn’t want to be bouncing around so much playing basketball at school with the boys. I was more self-conscious and uncomfortable about the eyes of the boys on me than when I was onstage. It wasn’t until I went into the music industry that I really felt the sexist intimidation of exposure.
My chances of succeeding were incredibly low. So I really had to put myself to the test
A major turning point in my life was when my parents both died [Twain was 22 when her mother and father were killed in a car crash]. It sounds odd to say that but it turned out to be something I made the most of. I had a lot of revelations that year. One was that I realised how much of the performing I’d been doing for my mother, and I didn’t really need that for myself. But by then my friends had all gone off to college and I felt I’d missed the opportunity to do something productive, something tangible, like getting an education. So suddenly, not only did I not have parents, I had nothing but this music career in which my chances of succeeding were incredibly low. So I really had to put myself to the test. And when I finally fully committed to my music career without the pressure of my parents, I felt that was a very positive change. And it led to the most productive 20 years of my life.