Monday, 30 November -0001

Wind beneath her wings

Famous for making us laugh, cry and sing out loud, Bette Midler is back in the UK for the first time in 35 years.

Written by Katie Wright
This July, Bette Midler will play a string of gigs across the UK, her first here since 1980. So why has she been away so long? Was it something we said? ‘No, no, no,’ insists Midler, who is perched on a sofa in a plush London hotel suite. ‘I wanted to come, but I guess life interfered.’

To be fair, the artist, also known as The Divine Miss M – the title of her 1972 debut album – has been pretty busy. As well as racking up a trio of Grammy Awards and selling more than 30 million records worldwide, she has proved her acting chops, starring in comedies like The First Wives Club and Hocus Pocus, not to mention the ultimate tearjerker Beaches, for which she also recorded her most famous ballad, Wind Beneath My Wings. In terms of music and movie success, only Cher can rival the Hawaii-born performer.

Midler hasn’t shied away from the stage, either. She completed a two-year stint of nightly live performances in Las Vegas in 2010, a time she looks back on as ‘the most beautiful show I ever did. That means a lot to me’.

Not that she misses the gruelling schedule.

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‘It was hard work,’ she recalls. ‘I had a little adrenal failure, where you just can’t get up every night. I was having a lot of vitamin B12 shots to get through it.’

More recently, Miss M was back in the studio, recording It’s The Girls!, an album of girl group covers. It was an idea she jokes had been ‘floating around since 1871 or something’.

Featuring ladies-only tracks from the 1930s onwards, Midler says she wanted the production style to reflect the 1960s girl group heyday. ‘It was rough back in those days. The music had an immediacy, because it wasn’t processed, and that’s part of the charm, selling the music to teenagers because they sounded like teenagers.’

So does the 69-year-old think her voice can cope with such a youthful sound? ‘There are certain parts of my voice that sound very young. I never smoked like a real fiend, so I didn’t lose the top end of my voice. You can keep your high voice, but you have to look after yourself.

‘I run on the treadmill. And it’s only for the pumps – I don’t care whether I’m thin or fat, but I care about whether the lungs are working to drive the voice. It’s like a car, you have to take care of it, clean those spark plugs, baby!’ she adds, laughing.

Whatever Midler’s doing, it’s clearly working; it’s hard to believe that the slender 5ft 1in singer is heading for her eighth decade. Nibbling on macadamia nuts and apricots during our chat (which she happily shares), Midler tells me she keeps up with contemporary music too, and chose all the modern tracks on the album, such as TL C’s Waterfalls, herself. In fact, she wishes she’d been able to do more. ‘I was going to do Bills, Bills, Bills by Destiny’s Child, because I love it.’

The R’n’B hit didn’t make the final cut, but she says she’s a huge fan of ‘fantastic’ Destiny’s Child. ‘They were the last of the girl groups. I can’t think of another group that had their power. They had the close harmonies and the attitude to go with it. It’s otherworldly what Beyoncé can do.’

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Midler professes her admiration for ‘divine’ Nicole Scherzinger too, but she doesn’t feel the love for all the female artists in the charts today. She hit headlines when, during an interview, she slated 22-year-old pop star Ariana Grande for ‘slithering around on a couch, looking so ridiculous’.

But the pair soon made up, after Grande responded on Twitter saying she’s ‘always a fan no matter what’, and then Midler replying, asking for forgiveness.

Right now, the universally adored star is focusing on the future and the transatlantic tour. ‘People here [in the UK ] are real music fans. They like that I tell jokes on stage, they like the entertainment, but really they want a music show. And you Brits get the music hall element of it all. You have that old showbiz tradition. In the States, a lot of people think what I’m doing is brand new, but it’s so very, very old. I’m grateful to come to a place where this all makes sense, without having to explain it.’

As usual for an artist of advanced years, rumour has it this will be Miss M’s farewell tour. Are the whispers true? ‘I don’t know – possibly,’ she admits. ‘I don’t know how wise it is to go on forever. If the spirit is willing and the flesh is strong, then go for it, but if something is holding you back, you shouldn’t be chained to the idea that you can’t retire.

‘There are people who come alive when they think about the possibilities of travelling in their retirement.’

One of those people is Midler herself, who talks animatedly about a trip to Mexico City last year. ‘My whole life, people have been telling me not to go, that it’s polluted and filthy, but going there was the greatest thing that ever happened to me.

‘It wasn’t the cleanest place I’ve ever been, it certainly has major problems with inequality, but there was a vibrancy there and the food was fantastic, and the art and the history are overwhelming.’

The trip was an eye-opener. Despite touring the globe for decades, Midler now realises she actually saw very little. ‘Nothing. I saw the inside of every hotel, a studio, and sound stages... but didn’t see anything.’

It sounds as though Midler quite fancies spending her dotage on a grown-up’s gap year, roaming the globe. So a safe bet would be to snap up a ticket now, and catch The Divine Miss M while you still can.

It’s The Girls! by Bette Midler is out now on Warner Bros.
The Bette Midler: Divine Intervention UK tour runs until 19 July. For tickets: 0333-321 9999, www.ticketmaster.co.uk


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