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TORONTO SUN -- Interview with Shania Twain

TORONTO SUN 2002 EVIAN-LES-BAINS, France -- Canadian country superstar Shania Twain's new album is called Up!

And she's not kidding about that title. At least she's not kidding when it comes to the high-altitude location of The Toronto Sun's recent, exclusive Canadian newspaper interview with Twain at a deluxe hotel perched on the hill above this small French town, famous for its world-class water and the towering European Alps nearby. Just across from Lake Geneva below is the upscale enclave of Tour-de-Peilz, Switzerland, where Twain and her husband and music collaborator Mutt Lange bought a posh cliffside chateau three years ago.

She says moving to Europe was a deliberate effort to retreat from the huge fame and celebrity that followed the phenomenal success of her third album, Come On Over, in 1999. Only now is she about to step back into the spotlight, leading up to the new album's scheduled release on Nov. 19.

Why Switzerland? "Oh, there's lots of reasons," said the immaculately groomed Twain, 37, sitting on a sofa in a large suite at the hotel where she spent two weeks in August for select interviews with the world press.

"At the time, when we were deciding where to be, where to make our home, there was a lot going on. I was really having a hard time finding privacy and solitude," Twain says. "Since I've been here, I realize why Switzerland is so famous for that. People are very discreet. They really play down the fact that they're amongst a celebrity. There are many well-known people just in the general area." Phil Collins and Peter Ustinov are among them. And, while you can take the girl out of Timmins, where the Windsor-born Twain was raised, it's hard to take Timmins out of the girl.

"I like the snow. Mutt and I both love the snow," Twain says. "We like to ski. We're not great skiers, but we love to go up the mountain, kick around in the snow and have a hot chocolate. Such a Canadian thing to do, and I have to have that. So we thought this would be a good place. And he loves Europe and so do I. So we had to find a middle ground where we could both be happy and, so far, this is working out."

You can see where Twain is coming from. A quick tour of the quiet and beautiful Tour-de-Peilz, about a 45-minute drive from the hotel, recalls such rich-and-famous haunts as Beverly Hills or Palm Springs. It has a decidedly European bent, with designer stores on the main drag and the postcard-perfect mountain peaks in the distance.

"I just love it," says Twain, decked out in Gucci shoes and and a Mark Bouwer black leather duster coat. "I have the best shopping I could ever have anywhere. All of the great designers that we love over on our side of the world are from here, so they're very accessible. Here, you can live in a small village and have access to Versace and Armani and Gucci. All the little villages have these shops."

And if she did want to go to London or Paris or Milan, it's not a big deal to get there. "My family loves that. They love coming to visit."

But, surely, Twain wants to be closer to her family members, who all live in Canada, especially now that they're aunts and uncles to her and Lange's one-year-old son, Eja.

" 'Cause I travel so much to work anyway, it doesn't really make a difference whether I'm flying them to L.A. or I bring them to Australia with me, whatever," says Twain, who says they often come for two- or three-week stretches at a time to Switzerland."My work takes me everywhere, so it's just as easy to fly them to me when I'm home in Switzerland. The travelling's not a big issue. You have to realize, it's just not."

Helping matters is the fact that Twain also owns a cottage just south of Timmins. "When I go home to visit them, I have a cottage up north. I like going there. We have a cottage compound.We all just come and go from there."

Apart from moving to Europe, the second biggest change in Twain's life in the past three years was becoming a mother to Eja. But it came naturally to Twain, who -- as the often-told story goes -- became the matriarch of her family at age 21 when her mother and stepfather, Ojibwa forester Jerry Twain, were killed instantly in a head-on collision with a logging truck.

"I think I'm more emotional since I've had the baby. I'm just more sensitive," says Twain, who says the transition to motherhood has been seamless. "I'm really enjoying it. He's a good baby, though. He's a very sweet guy. He only fusses when he wants something specific. There's no mystery to him at all. He's got so much love. He loves everybody around him, very easy going. He's got such a placid nature -- like my husband."

She's certainly not spoiling him, despite her and Lange's untold riches. For Eja's first birthday -- this past Aug. 12, one day after this interview took place -- she had planned only to bake him a chocolate cake. "I have a famous, double-layer chocolate cake," Twain says with a smile. "And, being one year old, he's not exactly going to be knowing what's going on. So I figured I'll take the photos with the cake and candles and mommy and daddy and that sort of thing. But there's no gifts or anything."

She certainly seems happy ensconced in her Swiss chateau, which she describes as more like a mansion than a castle.

Her and Lange have done some modern renovations, such as installing a recording studio. "It's not like Versailles or something like that," Twain says. "I think all of the chateaux in this region have an interesting history. But there's nothing particularly special about ours. It's just a big house ... It has a great view. And French architecture from the 1800s."

When they first started looking for a place they didn't really know what they wanted, she says. "We just decided to look. We did try to narrow it down to the region we're in because we like it. They grow palm trees there. It's very temperate. And, of course, you're right in the Alps. So that made it really special for us."

Speaking French, it turns out, wasn't a problem for Twain either, who has a firm grasp of Canada's other official language. "Not fluently, no," she claims before adding with a perfect accent: "Mais je peux parler un peut francais."

So, what on earth is the citizenship of the Swiss-born Eja, who has a Canadian mother and South African father? "He's a British-Canadian," Twain says. "He has two passports."

And bound to be musical, given his parentage. "Well, he dances when he hears music," she says. "He definitely has an ear for it. Of course, he loves the studio but that's because it has lots of buttons and lights. I don't know if he will be musical or not; we don't really care."

Daddy Lange came up with his unusual name. "It was East Indian-influenced. It was short, it was interesting and Mutt picked it. I can't believe it!" Twain says. "I'm such a control freak, usually. I thought for sure I was going to pick the name."

Twain's pregnancy prevented her from visiting the Shania Twain Appreciation Centre in Timmins when it opened last year. Her absence generated a small controversy. "I have not been there yet, but I will," she says. "I'm going to be doing some travelling and promotion in Canada before the album comes out, and then I'll go."

Still, she did manage to sneak into her Timmins high school reunion in 2000, pre-pregnancy. "I'm so glad I did," Twain says. "I definitely felt like the centre of attention, and it was a little awkward, but the people there, they're just normal people." So how did she manage to keep her attendance a secret? "I've got so many, good, close friends there, it was easy to do. Because I trust them. I knew they were going to keep it a secret and so it actually wasn't that difficult to pull off. My sister and I were able to go together, which made me feel more comfortable."

Twain was also unable to make last September's all-star America: Tribute To Heroes TV telethon, which took place less than two weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. "Like a lot of people, I just wasn't moving," says Twain, as Eja was just a month old at the time. "Because I'd just had a baby, that was my thing. It would have been very, very different, of course, if I didn't have the baby. I would have been there to support for sure. And I really regretted not being able to, but there's no way with a baby that small. I was nursing five times a day at that point. So it just wasn't do-able."

Twain says she was at home in Switzerland watching the terrible events unfold live on TV, just like everyone else.

Her reaction? "Just total shock, I couldn't believe what I was seeing," she says. "The world is in such a bad state of affairs, it's scary. But you know, you can't live in fear. I don't believe in living in fear. I realized that day that you have to snap out of it. You have to recognize what's happened, but you have to just carry on. As with any other disaster that's ever happened in our history -- and there have been many huge ones, all as impactful on the world. So I try to see everything in perspective and say, 'Well, we just have to keep going. I have a new child now and we have to carry on. We can't get caught up in fear.' I think it's been really great how the Americans, from what I've seen, seemed to have adopted that attitude as well."

Twain says, unlike most people who wanted to immediately be with their loved ones, she wasn't in a big hurry to reunite with her family back in Canada that day. "I mean, of course, I was on the phone right away with my family and everybody was really shaken up. I was calling them to say, 'Do you know what's going on?' And we were very careful for a while about flying, which I think a lot of people were. I didn't want my family flying, so I wasn't going to rush to get them on the plane to get over here, or me the other way."

Twain also has made it a point not to be judgmental. "I became, I think, more objective about what's going on in the world. I realized that until we know a bit more about these people and the problems that are going on, don't judge."

She has become more conscious of world events, too. "I'm a lot more aware today about world affairs than I ever was before. It was an eye-opener, and I've made a point to try to pay more attention to what's going on. Not to freak myself out, just to be aware."

By JANE STEVENSON -- Toronto Sun, November 20002


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