Tina Turner enjoyed ‘normal’ life in Swiss home: A public person in private country

Author: Arnd Wiegmann and Boris Heger
Published: Updated:

In her adoptive country, Tina Turner was more than just a swivel-hipped rock, R&B, and pop superstar. She unapologetically moved to Switzerland for its discretion and calmed, carrying her very public persona into a very private country. She relished her life as a Swiss citizen — and the feeling was mutual.

It seems love’s got to do with it, too: In her 2018 memoir, “My Love Story,” Turner shared her emotion for longtime boyfriend-turned-husband Erwin Bach — a German record producer who had set up in Switzerland. She moved to join him in the mid-1990s, nearly a decade after they first met.

Mourners laid flowers and candles Thursday outside the gate of the couple’s lakeside villa rental, “Chateau Algonquin,” in the upscale town of Kuesnacht, southeast of Zurich, where they settled, got married in 2013, and lived for decades until her death on Wednesday at age 83.

It was an understated tribute — reflective of the Swiss discretion that had drawn her to the rich Alpine country in the first place.

Neighbors didn’t gawk, hound her for autographs or snap photos. Many Swiss felt a sense of pride that she could retreat here from the pressures of the media spotlight. It afforded her the semblance of a normal life after a turbulent one in her native United States, including at the hands of her late former husband Ike who discovered her, married her and — according to her memoirs — violently beat her.

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Celebrities of the past, including Charlie Chaplin and Freddie Mercury, as well as living stars like Sophia Loren and Shania Twain, have been drawn to Switzerland — often for its reputed respect for private lives. Roman Polanski holed up in an Alpine chalet briefly to skirt U.S. justice, and some of the world’s financial magnates and business gurus have been attracted by the country’s relatively low taxes and secrecy about money matters.

Turner, who moved in the mid-1990s and took Swiss citizenship in 2013 — dispensing with her U.S passport — was arguably the most famous resident in recent years.

Swiss President Alain Berset tweeted a tribute to Turner, calling her an icon and saying his “thoughts are with the relatives of this impressive woman, who found a second homeland in Switzerland.”

Markus Ernst, the mayor of Kuesnacht, a bucolic town on the shores of Lake Zurich, said Turner was engaged in the community — regularly lighting the annual Christmas tree and once inaugurating a municipal rescue boat that has been christened “Tina” — but locals went out of their way to help an overwhelmingly public figure enjoy a private life, too.

“One of the reasons she came to Switzerland was to have a completely normal life,” he said by phone. “She could go to restaurants without being photographed all the time … in the street, people didn’t stare at her or ask for her autograph.”

Dropping by to pay her respects, art dealer Renate Fetscherin, who has lived in the town for decades, said people in Switzerland “would never bother anybody, you know?” and the couple could rest easy: “They don’t worry about paparazzi because we don’t have them!”

“Kuesnacht was very proud of having such a famous person here,” Fetscherin said. She recalled how Turner and Bach — clearly ensconced in Switzerland for good — had reportedly bought a villa last year just down the lake from the town.

At his upscale eatery just a couple hundred meters from the villa, restaurateur Rico Zandonella recalled Turner as “very dear friend” and a frequent guest who once celebrated a birthday there with colleagues “who sang for her: It was a really great celebration.”

“Tina Turner is a very big personality when she enters a room. She has a really great aura — a personality that explodes like a bomb like she is on stage.”

A statement from her longtime manager, Bernard Doherty, said a private funeral ceremony among close family and friends was planned, adding: “Please respect the privacy of her.”

Years ago, Turner narrated milestones of her life and her affection and affinity for Switzerland in a glitzy TV ad for communications company Swisscom, featuring young actors who portrayed her in both early life and in highlight moments of her career.

It alluded to stereotypes about Switzerland, such as the home of William Tell or a hub of ice-skating prowess; she sat in a rocking rowboat in a lake ringed by majestic mountains, mobile phone in hand. Turner recounted how her friends had to adapt to her Swiss tastes, as one actor portraying her carried out a pot of cheese fondue to quizzical looks from fictionalized guests.

Another actor waved off fans as flashbulbs popped while she clambered into the backseat of a limousine next to the real Turner, and the superstar quipped: “As time went by, I learned more and more about Switzerland, like that security and discretion are people’s top priority — just like they are for me.”

“And when I finally moved to Switzerland, it felt like home right away,” she mused. “People respect each other’s privacy here, take care of each other.”

WINK News contributed to this article.

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