Shania Twain: 'Playing the Glastonbury Legend’s slot? It’s a real holy s**t moment!"

To quote Shania Twain’s most iconic catchphrase of all, bellowed with gusto everywhere from gay bars to hen dos – Let’s go girls!”

The bonafide country-pop legend behind classic hits like That Don’t Impress Me Much, Man! I Feel Like A Woman, and You’re Still The One is taking on Glastonbury's prestigious legend’s slot this weekend, and to put it mildly, she’s excited. “It’s a real holy shit moment.”

Since the late Tony Bennett set the bar high in 1998, the Pyramid Stage has hosted a musical icon every single year on Sunday afternoon, with previous performers including Kylie Minogue, Paul Simon, Tom Jones, Neil Diamond, and James Brown. It’s often one of the most special moments of the entire festival.

“The legend slot belongs to Diana Ross, Dolly Parton and Lionel Richie, you know?” Twain says. “So I just feel super honored. I plan on making the most of it. It will go by way too fast, I already know that.”

The country star has never been to Glastonbury before, and plans on getting fully stuck in as a punter when she’s not performing. She has been considering customising her wellies with crystals – like previous legends slot artist Dame Shirley Bassey – and has another trick up her sleeves in case the weather takes a turn. “If you're in the rain, there's nothing like a Stetson,” she quips.

 (PR Handout)
(PR Handout)

Glastonbury will give her the opportunity to catch up with old friends, and even make a few new ones. Twain has never met Cyndi Lauper, and is determined to try and hunt her down now that they’re on the same line-up at Worthy Farm. “Anne Marie just had a baby, so I'd love to be able to congratulate her in person,” she adds. “And my fellow Canadian is there! Avril Lavinge! There’s lots of women there actually this year, which is refreshing.“

Was she pleased to see a better balance after Glastonbury was criticised for its all-male headliners last summer? “Yeah,” she says. “A balance is merited because there's enough of both, of all, out there. Let's just spread the love.”

Alongside Glastonbury, Twain is also headlining her own day at London festival BST Hyde Park the following weekend, and says that she feels a particularly special connection with the UK in general. “It feels like a sister country,” she says. Her mum was a first-generation Canadian, and most of Twain’s aunts and uncles were born in the UK. Is there a part of British culture she’s particularly fond of?

“Growing up, we ate a lot of boiled things,” Twain says. “Boiled ham, potatoes, turnips… I know that might sound weird, but it was a staple thing for us; we didn't have a lot of money.”

The country singer-songwriter had an incredibly difficult childhood, and grew up in poverty – as a minor, Twain would perform songs in raucous bars to intoxicated crowds, often sandwiched between strip acts, to earn money for the family.

“I certainly understood a lot more for my age than any other 8 year old or 10 year old at the time,” she says. “I would say that it prepared me for what might have been intimidating to me going into my recording career,” Twain says. “I didn't have my first hit until I was 30. I've been on live stages since I was eight years old. I wasn't a pushover. I wasn't shaking at the knees at all.”

“I've been on live stages since I was eight years old. I wasn't a pushover.”

Shania Twain

Carrying so much responsibility on her shoulders, when she was so young, was hugely daunting though. “I was the big hope. It was a lifeline for my mother; she looked forward, very much, to when I would perform next, or [hearing] a new song that I had written. She was so set and obsessed with me being the next Tanya Tucker, for example. Most days, she would not have gotten out of bed otherwise. That was a lot of pressure, yeah.”

When Twain was 21 years old, both of her parents – her mother Sharon, and stepfather Jerry – were both killed in a car crash, and she ended up supporting her siblings by earning paychecks singing at a golf resort. Jerry had been violent and abusive towards both Twain and her mother during the singer’s childhood. In an exceptionally moving interview with Louis Theroux last year, she said that she has forgiven him.

She has also expressed similar sentiments towards her ex-husband and former collaborator Robert "Mutt" Lange, who collaborated on many of her biggest and best known records, including 1999’s breakthrough album Come On Over. He cheated on Twain with her then-best friend Marie-Anne Thiébaud, and the couple divorced in 2008. In a neat twist of fate, Twain is now happily married to Frédéric Thiébaud – Marie-Anne’s ex husband.

 (PR Handout)
(PR Handout)

Out of every challenge she has faced, though, Twain says the hardest to overcome was losing her voice. In 2003, at the height of her career and a year after the release of fourth album Up!, she contracted Lymes disease, which caused nerve damage to her vocal cords. Twain didn’t release another album for 15 years, and eventually had two risky vocal surgeries during her long recording hiatus.

“That changed my perspective on a lot of things,” Twain says. “I can’t say I’m happy it happened.. but I am happy with how I grew from it. I’m stronger in so many ways. It was an absolute tragedy for me. I believed, for a long time, that I may never sing again.”

Getting to where she is today, she says “is such an independent triumph. You know, love and relationships of all kinds take more than one person. But when you decide to overcome something that only you can decide to do… it’s a different level.”

As well as forgiveness, and an apparent ability to unearth silver linings in desperate situation, Twain frequently seems to turn to humour; in the past, she has joked about burning countless socks on the fire she and her family used to keep warm when they had no money left for heating. In her songwriting, too, it plays an integral role. “I can't believe you kiss your car good night,” she famously quips on That Don’t Impress Me Much, “C'mon baby tell me, you must be jokin', right”

“In country music at the time, a lot of the stuff I said was kind of bold.... it was sassy!”

Shania Twain

“It might be one of the more important factors that balances the more abrupt attitude in a lot of the songwriting,” she says. “In country music at the time, a lot of the stuff I said was kind of bold. Like, [1995 track] Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?... for country, that was sassy!”

“I felt cheeky about it, so I expressed it that way. I think that really helped the men to not be offended by it. They were cool about it. I wasn’t being bitter, I don’t feel bitter, so I do tend to write with a sense of humour.”

Looking beyond a summer of festivals, Twain has also been “writing like crazy” – throughout last year’s Queen of Me tour she used her “warmup time on the microphone” to trial “a bunch of ideas” which she is now in the process of developing. “I plan on making a new record,” she says.

“I don't know how it's going to develop stylistically, but a lot of them are more…. maybe melancholy in a way? I think it’s maybe because Sony is working on a biopic,” she reveals. “I'm having to reflect a lot on my youth, so that could be part of it, too? I’m just putting this together now, as we’re speaking, but I’m writing a lot about that.”

First up though, of course, is the prospect of playing one of the world’s biggest festival stages, and amid what feels like a huge wider renaissance for the crossover genre she helped to pioneer in the Nineties, the timing couldn’t be better.

From Beyonce entering her yee-haw era with Cowboy Carter earlier this year, to the glittery sprinkling of subtler country influence on Sabrina Carpenter’s latest hit Please Please Please, country-pop is all over the charts right now, and Twain is very much here for artists such as Bey and Lil Nas X doing brand new things with the genre.

“I love it!” she says, “I’m so excited. There’s so much room.”

Shania Twain plays Glastonbury on Sunday June 30, and BST Hyde Park on Sunday July 7