Like some locked-down Netflixers, Bonnie Tyler thoroughly enjoyed last summer’s “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga,” the streaming service’s hilarious tale of two underdog Icelandic musicians (played by Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams) bumbling their way into said competition.
Watching it from her home in Algarve, Portugal, the whiskey-throated rock diva perhaps laughed harder than most, however, since she’d basically lived it in 2013, when she found herself representing the U.K. at Eurovision.
“Isn’t that film great? I loved it. And there’s a lot of truth about Eurovision in the film. … so much that it was almost like being back there,” says the good-humored Grammy and Brit-Award nominee, renowned for classics “It’s a Heartache” and “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” Her new effort, “The Best is Yet to Come,” released last week, follows similarly majestic suit.
The Welsh-born Tyler, 69, never expected a Eurovision invite well into her five-decade career. She got it after returning home from cutting a country-flavored record in Nashville, the Vince-Gill-assisted “Rocks and Honey,” which contained a relatively sedate little ballad called “Believe in Me.”
Somehow, an advance copy of “Rocks” made it to the BBC, which quickly selected the random song as its Eurovision entry that year.
“It was something that I never, ever really wanted to do,” says Tyler, who reluctantly accepted the honor. “But what am I going to say? No? I had a new album coming out, and I knew they’d never play my album at all if I refused. But believe it or not, when I actually got there, I actually enjoyed it! It was good fun!”
The annual Eurovision competition had gotten politicized by 2013, Tyler explains, and “Fire Saga” makes jokes about Britain never winning. So Tyler didn’t — she came in 19th. And (spoiler alert) there were no giant hamster-wheel stage props or Song-Along parties with past winners.
Instead, the idiosyncratic roster boasted Romania’s operatic Cezar, Montenegro’s astronaut-suited Who See and Swiss sextet Takasa, comprising uniformed Salvation Army soldiers.
“It was an absolutely wonderful atmosphere there,” she says. “I was being interviewed every 15, 20 minutes, and when I walked out onstage behind the British flag, I thought the roof was going to come off! It was awesome, just awesome!”
Tyler’s own life story reads like a rags-to-riches film script. Like Loretta Lynn, she was born — as Gaynor Hopkins — a coal miner’s daughter in Skewen, Wales, and she entered her first singing contest at 18, and thereafter decided to pursue music professionally.
Changing her name to Sherene Davis, she was fronting her own soul outfit five years later when she was discovered by talent scout Roger Bell, who brought her to London for demo sessions in hopes of securing a recording contract. Then she waited.
“Two long years went by and then I get a phone call, but we didn’t have a telephone in the house — it was a call box down the road,” she says. A neighbor had scribbled a note for her: RCA was offering her a deal, was she interested? “And I thought, ‘My God! It’s RCA!’ Elvis Presley was on that label then!” she says.
Under her new RCA-sanctioned name Bonnie Tyler, her rafter-rattling rasp caught on worldwide via her 1978 hit “It’s a Heartache,” then caught fire with “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” her 1983 sturm-und-drang smash with panoramic Meat Loaf producer Jim Steinman. Those led to movie soundtrack singles like “Holding Out For a Hero” and “Here She Comes.”
She was even offered a James Bond movie theme, which she declined. “The song was rubbish, and I don’t record things I don’t like,” she says
Instead of writing her own material, she relies on a regular team of composers like Desmond Child (who co-penned “Believe in Me”) who can intuit what she’s thinking and tailor it to her panoramic voice.
She’s never short on collaborators — her 2019 disc “Between the Earth and the Stars” featured duets with Rod Stewart, Sir Cliff Richard and Status Quo’s Francis Rossi, and she ended that year performing a Vatican Christmas concert before Pope Francis.
“Best” is yet another showcase for Tyler’s vocals, which can delicately interpret 10CC’s “I’m Not in Love” or go gospel on “You’re the One” or the Child-written “Stronger Than a Man.”
Elsewhere (“Hungry Hearts,” “Stuck to My Guns”), her longtime producer-arranger David Mackay sprinkles in just enough campy synthesizer and squealing guitar leads to suggest her “Total Eclipse” 1980s heyday.
She’s still not sure of the concept behind what’s now become a worldwide go-to karaoke standard, since Steinman never explained it.
“Supposedly it’s about vampires, but who knows what goes on in Jim’s head?” she says. “But now on the web there’s a Lego version of the ‘Total Eclipse’ video, and it’s hilarious. I’m on the top of the staircase, made of Lego, and my head falls off!”