In 1983, when Bonnie Tyler was first asked to represent Britain at the Eurovision song contest, she turned it down.
She was rapidly approaching the height of her career: her single Total Eclipse of the Heart had gone to No 1 in the UK and later that year would hit the top of the charts in the US. To do Eurovision on top of that, "I didn't think it was fair! It just didn't seem right," she says, bright blue eyes widening under thick false lashes. "But now is the perfect time."
Will the UK win with Tyler as its representative this year? She is a good tactical choice – she regularly tours in Scandinavia, Germany, France and Russia, so her existing European fanbase might give Britain an advantage. She says she loves the song, Believe in Me – "I don't think we had a good enough song last year" – though I wonder if she is only saying this out of loyalty. The song is a bit insipid. And the video is no Total Eclipse of the Heart. Tyler, dressed in leather jacket and fringed over-the-knee boots, looks sedate as she goes for a nice walk on a beach, when really she should have been given a song where she's unleashed and able to rock out with a wind machine. Perhaps lasers. It feels like a squandering of her power. Still, no point whingeing now.
We are sitting in a room in a very nice hotel in central London. Tyler is perched, straight-backed, on the edge of a sofa. She is a sight to behold – masses of impeccably blow-dried blond hair and perfect makeup, wearing tight jeans and a giant diamond ring. Draped over the sofa behind her is a fur coat. Is it real? "Oh, I don't know," she says (she does; it is). Her voice, a growl softened with a musical Welsh accent, is extraordinary. She says things that would sound outrageously boastful coming from most people – "In Europe, when I go to my gigs, I'm the only one [on the bill], so they've paid to come and see me. And I do sold-out shows" – but Tyler gets away with it because it's delivered in such a matter-of-fact way, and warmly. When a young woman comes into the room with a tray of tea and elaborately pours it, Tyler remarks to no one in particular: "I don't know why they've got a strainer, there's only about two tea leaves in it." I believe her when she says later: "I've never changed and everybody will tell you that. What you see is what you get."
Perhaps, I suggest, Eurovision will help introduce younger fans to her music. "It's funny, I've never seemed to have had much of a problem with that," she says. "People that were my age when I started singing bought my albums, then their children had them. I have got young fans as well." There is a barely perceptible bristle, which I fail to grasp, and before long I'm heading down a line of questioning – essentially: does she feel she is not taken seriously enough in the UK? – that Tyler does not seem too happy about.
Why does she think she's so much more successful in Europe than in the UK? "I don't know," she says. "I think probably because [the radio playlisters] stopped playing a lot of bands that are more rock in this country after the 80s. But I've just made a new album which I think is very kind of 'today'." Rocks and Honey is Tyler's 16th studio album and features songs written by Desmond Child, a longtime Tyler collaborator who has also written for Bon Jovi and Aerosmith, and the country star Carrie Underwood. "I think it's in with a good chance."
But she's a woman with huge record sales and three Grammy nominations, and yet, in my view, she hasn't really been given the respect she deserves. I'm probably not phrasing this right, because I can see she is getting irritated. Maybe she felt she wasn't allowed to move on from the 80s, I suggest. "No, I have moved on," she says. I mean, perhaps the reaction from the music industry, a snobbish music press … "Well, everybody seems to love my new album. The pre-sales are fantastic. I'm not part of the 80s, I'm part of now. I'm sorry if you want to go down that angle." In the face of such defiance, delivered with a direct look and a tightening smile, it seems churlish to point out that, in the UK at least, Tyler hasn't had a big hit album since 1983's Faster Than the Speed of Night. I don't mean to belittle her success elsewhere, but the phrase "big in Germany" never conjures up a feeling of giddy delight.
But weren't her glory years something? Tyler's best-known songs – such as Total Eclipse of the Heart and Holding Out for a Hero, released in 1983 and 1984 respectively – have probably never been bettered in the overwrought power-ballad genre. I believe they never will. Tyler may not have written them, but few people could have delivered them with such unselfconscious passion. She looks delighted when I tell her that, like thousands of others, Total Eclipse is my karaoke song of choice. "It was Sony's No 1 karaoke song," she says. "It's not an easy song."
Does she ever get tired of singing them? Never, she says. "I like singing them, they're what gets the crowd going." Why does she think they have lasted so well? "It's just amazing writing, lyrics," she says of the songwriter Jim Steinman's work. "I don't do every song that comes my way, I'm very choosy. I was once offered a Bond theme [for Never Say Never Again], but I didn't do it because I didn't believe in the song. It was about the only Bond theme that had never been a hit. I was so thrilled when they said they'd like me to do it, but I was gutted when I heard the song and I stuck by my guns." She loves Adele's Bond theme, and she loves Adele. "Have you ever met her?" she asks, as casually as if we're talking about someone who lives in the other street. "No, me neither."
Gaynor Hopkins, as Tyler was then, grew up in Skewen, a village a few miles from Swansea, the youngest of six. After surviving Dunkirk, her father was registered as disabled and they lived in a council house with a large garden where her parents grew vegetables. There was always music in the house, and her mother loved singing. Tyler left school and went to work in a grocer's, and started singing three nights a week in local clubs. "And then it got to six nights a week, so I thought I had to give the day job up because I couldn't get up in the morning," she says. "In those days it was easier for people to come in the music business because there were a lot more clubs and dance halls. It wasn't so much DJs around then, it was live bands. So I was singing in clubs for seven years. I was doing everybody else's hits then. We had different nights – one night we'd do blues, one night we'd do pop or country, and on a Sunday people used to do ballroom dancing."
Her father wasn't too happy about his 17-year-old daughter singing in a nightclub but soon after, in 1969, she started going out with the club's manager, Robert Sullivan (who would become her husband), and her parents liked him. Sullivan, a handsome man with grey hair, is sitting on a sofa in the lounge just outside our room with Tyler's manager Matt Davis (both men have had slightly odd careers – Sullivan represented Britain in judo at the 1972 Munich Olympics, while Davis is currently also a Tory councillor in Waltham Forest).
The club in Swansea had two floors and a talent scout had come to hear the band upstairs. "And, luckily for me, he came in the downstairs floor," says Tyler. "He heard me singing Band of Gold, I think it was, and he came back to London and told Ronnie Scott [the songwriter who wrote Tyler's early hits Lost in France and It's a Heartache] and asked me to come to London." She did a demo, "and I never heard anything off them for two years. I thought they obviously didn't like it, but two years later I get a phone call from RCA [saying] they'd like to sign me."
For Tyler, the 80s passed in a blur of travel and hits and adoration and quite a lot of hairspray. She was one of the first western artists to tour the Soviet Union, and her singles sold millions in the US. "I never forget the first time I was on Top of the Pops, my bass player said: 'You've made it!' I did used to think, when I was younger, that I'd be on there one day."
How did her life change when she started making money? "One of the first things we did was buy my mother and father a house close to us, down in Mumbles," she says (Tyler splits her time between houses in Mumbles, on the Welsh coast, and Portugal).
Did it change the family dynamics? Was there any jealousy? "No. Honest to God. Everybody says we are an incredible family – three sisters, two brothers, 16 nieces and nephews, 12 great-nieces and nephews, and we all get on and see as much as we can of each other. When I used to go shopping with my mother, people would say: 'Oh Mrs Hopkins, you must be so proud of your daughter', and she would say: 'I am, but I'm proud of all my children.' My father probably used to brag more about me, when he used to go down the pub, but my mother never treated any of us any different. And my sisters, they love me and I love them. They're so supportive. And their kids … I have a real supportive family."
How rich is she? She laughs, totally unfazed. "I don't know. I really don't know. I know that without my husband, it wouldn't be half as much because I'm a very generous person." And he's very mean? "No! He's very good at investing. I suppose I don't have to work but I do love working. I class myself as a working-class girl and I've never stopped working. When I'm offered shows here, there and the other, I do an awful lot because I feel other people would love to be offered what I'm offered, who am I to say no? I'm definitely working class and I always will be."
The longevity of her marriage was helped, she says, by the fact they were married before she became successful (there were a few minor dalliances with other people in the early days of their marriage, but "we were young, it was nothing"). "I was still doing the clubs for years after we got married," she says. When she did become famous, her husband was, she says, "totally at ease with it. He comes with me everywhere. He didn't for the first 10 years because we just thought it was a flash in the pan and then I'd be back in the clubs. But no, it went from strength to strength."
Does she ever get a little bit nervous that the best of all the years have gone by? Tyler generously laughs. "Thank God for Botox," she says, adding that she has it injected in her forehead and around her eyes twice a year. Has she had anything else done? She says she had a bit of filler put in one side of her lip, "because one side was fatter than the other". She leans in close to show me. Tyler is 61 and her skin is almost completely unlined. She does look remarkable. But other than that, she says, no, she's not a fan of facelifts: "Cheekbones up here, they can't move their mouth. Look like hamsters."
She does, she says, wear a lot of makeup and has worn false eyelashes almost every day since she was 17. "I never forget my eldest sister saying to me, because I look up to her so much: 'When you get married, always look nice for your husband.' Bit olde-worldy I suppose, but it always stuck in my head, always try and look nice. But I like to look nice for my-bloody-self anyway, you know?"
Would she describe herself as a feminist? "No," she says, stretching the word out. She remembers doing an interview with a magazine in the US once, and the "girl that was interviewing me was very sort of against men. She said: 'What does your husband do around the house?' And I said not a lot. I said I didn't think I'd really fancy him if I saw him with a Hoover in his hand. She thought that was absolutely terrible!" She laughs, then thinks for a second. "These days [men have to do their share of housework], in all fairness, haven't they? Women are so busy with the kids and everything. My nephews, they all do housework."
I take a moment to wonder – given our relatively short time together – whether it's sensible to get into a discussion on gender equality with the woman who sang "it's gonna take a superman to sweep me off my feet". Maybe being a feminist is about things like wanting to be paid equally, I suggest. "Oh yes, I'd agree with that," she says with a laugh. "But no, I thought you meant [we should] make men do their own ironing, their own washing, I'm not like that." She has a cleaner now, but before, she would always do the housework. "My husband wouldn't know how to do it."
They don't have children. "One regret I have is not starting to have children earlier. We always said 'next year, next year' and 'next year' didn't come until I was 39." She became pregnant almost straight away, "but unfortunately I had a miscarriage, which was awful." Then she brightens. "But I have got loads of nieces and nephews. To be honest, I wasn't very maternal when I was younger. I think I'm far more maternal now, but it's too late. I just adore my nieces and nephews. I love them and they love me and I'm a good auntie."
Does she have any ambitions left? Obviously she wants to win Eurovision, she says, and "I'd love to have a No 1 album with Rocks and Honey." I love Tyler, and I'd love her to be in the charts again with bonkers videos and histrionic power ballads. But I won't call it a "comeback", because I think that would annoy her.
Emine Saner's favourite Bonnie Tyler tracks
• Bonnie Tyler's new album Rocks and Honey is out now.
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