Tina Plays The World

With the mystery over her her marriage deepening, Tina Arena is playing to a whole new audience as she breaks into the US market

Tina Arena is not a little girl anymore. Gone are the days when the dark-eyed, big-voiced cutie would pull up her knee-high socks and belt out a tune on TV's Young Talent Time. There she grew up before our eyes, from a seven-year-old to a blossoming teen over seven years.
      Her fans watched, wide-eyed, as she grew into a new image - sultry, sexy, womanly - crooning scorchers such as I Need Your Body and parading in video clips with half-naked men.
      They saw her fall in love, with her manager Ralph Carr, and would have loved to see her wedding day, too. But, scurrying quietly into a Melbourne church in December 1995, Tina chose to keep that day from her extended Australia-wide family.
      Now those closest to her believe she's also keeping her marriage break-up a secret. She has travelled to Los Angeles for extended stays during the past seven years - sometimes with her husband, sometimes without. And when asked on a US chat show if she was married, Tina replied "No". Her Melbourne management office dismissed it as a joke.
      Ralph himself has denied the marriage split rumours. And he seems content to trust Tina to the hands of Sony Music's US boss, Tommy Mottola, the man behind Mariah Carey's success.
      With American support, our Tiny Tina has become Tina the Diva, recreating herself for a new audience that's been brought in by her chart hit I Want To Spend My Lifetime Loving You, from the soundtrack of Hollywood blockbuster The Mask Of Zorro. She's currently touring the US to promote the track.
      As if to dispel the rumours, Ralph was on hand when American writer Jesse Nash met Tina recently at a New York restaurant. Arriving late and a bit bleary-eyed, Tina wore jeans and a jacket that looked tailor-made for someone important. Strangely, the pair gave Jesse the clear impression that they were not a married couple. "If she is married, she's doing a great job of covering it up," Jesse says. He soon found himself drawn into an intriguing conversation...

You were a child star on Young Talent Time. Is that where you cut your teeth?

Absolutely. They're quite sharp!

That was such a wholesome show, yet your image now is different. Was it hard to break out of that?

Yeah, I think it's always difficult for any child star to make the transition. I was on television at seven. How could I possibly have a concept of normality? For the first two years after Young Talent Time I went to school, then I did some jingles and stuff, and got really tired and bored of that. I was very disillusioned, and worked a 9 to 5 job, and hated that too.

What was the most disappointing thing anyone said to you as you were trying to find a new path?

The thing that really disturbing was the negative attitude - "She'll never make it". I must have heard that a thousand times, and I believed it. And a result, it took me a long time.

Did you go for therapy, or anything like that?

No, I didn't go through any of that. I retreated, basically, and wasn't terribly sociable. I was a relatively rebellious teenager. And I started to get into spirituality at that time, reading Louise Hay, and started thinking, "I can sit and take this negativity from people, or I can take and turn it into a positive." I decided it was not about them, it was about me.

At 31, you've really never been through therapy? You speak very therapeutically.

Well, I have a couple of times. I've probably seen a therapist, in my entire life, maybe four or five times, four or five different occasions. That's really been about it. I read. I observe. I watch people. I try to learn from people's mistakes, which is sad, becasue somebody always pays a price.

I can sense a strength in you, and an explosiveness. It seems you could chop someone's head off if they annoyed you!

Well, I'm a Scorpio! If someone really, really rubbed me up the wrong way... But seriously - and I've realised this - there are those who will bite your head off and ask questions later, and then there are those who are little, feisty kind of dynamos, and you've got to poke and prod them a little bit. But if you really annoy them, their lids might burst. And that's me.
      I spent a lot of time biting my tongue, though. And I don't think that's necessarily really healthy either. If you're unhappy about something, I truly believe in expressing it - while being as diplomatic as I possibly can. Because, at the end of the day, I'm a Scorpio who really does care, and I'm totally into harmony and balance. Yin and yang are the most important things to me in my life. And karma.

Ralph Carr, your manager, must be important to you. How and where did you meet him?

I've known Ralph since I was 17, so I've known him 14 years. He was pretty much into the modern music scene - rock'n'roll, R&B - and he had a cool bar and restaurant at the time. He'd get people such as Stevie Wonder, who would be in town, and have them come down to the bar and jam there. So he had an interesting kind of scene going. I met him there one night and drank him under the table, basically. [Laughs] And I did it well, like a true Australian girl.

Are you in a relationship with Ralph?

Yes, I am. We've been together for a while.

There must be a lot of pressure on a relationship between a manager and an artist. How do you keep the fire and the love alive?

Well, like any couple, we have our battles. And we've both got pretty firm armour suits too. We're like any healthy sort of people - and normal. At the end of the day, you've got to strip yourself of what it is you do for a living and go, "Hang on a sec. As two human beings, what do you do?" It's amazing how incredibly rational you can become.

What's the hardest thing about this kind of relationship?

Just balance, I think. The most important things in life are the basics - there's no question about it. I don't care what anybody says. Material possessions do not make you happy. If you don't know that...

And you'll say that when you have millions more?

Oh, let me tell you, you can talk to me in a hundred years time, when I've got 55 nails in my coffin. And my thoughts will still be the same.

I've seen stories that appeared in the Australian papers, and on the Internet, that you and Ralph spent last New Year's Eve apart. They're speculating on your relationship.

They've been looking for an angle for a long time because, basically, he and I have always had a relatively clean slate. And also, we're private people. We're not real social creatures. It's funny, but we're not.

There's even speculation that you have a relationship with Tommy Mottola.

Well, I haven't read that.

Does that kind of speculation ever affect your personal life?

Well, I think we ultimately have the last laugh. Because we understand it. And because they don't see us.

So the two of you just have a good laugh about it?

Well, we've spoken about it on may levels. And we thought, "Well, this is obviously the perception," and we sit and talk about it, and try to undersand why that's going on. Because we've always spent time apart aswell, because we live and work together.

That can be healthy...

Yes, we've done that purely for health reasons. Because we think that's a smart thing to do, and it works for us. I guess it's also that I have never been a great conformist.

Are you going to get married?

Well, being together kind of means the same thing.

There's always that little piece of paper, and the legalities.

Yeah. It's a piece of paper. [Laughs]

How do you feel about the institution of marriage?

I think it can be beautiful, if people are into it for the right reasons. I think there are a lot of great elements.

What are the right reasons? Love?

Oh, absolutely. Because you want to be together. And you want to go on a journey together.

But what happens when you also have a business situation? Does it become more difficult to make that decision?

That's where the relationship is constantly tested. That's where the communication constantly kicks in. You can't ever afford to let it go. It's constant. It's maintenance.
      My manager is a tough man. To turn around and get a "You were great tonight", I've gotta tell you, it means I have seriously kicked ass. But he'll give constructive critisism aswell.

So you really look up to him.

Of course I respect him. He's a punter at the end of the day. Sits out and watches shows. My show's not the only show he goes to. [Laughs]

His opinion means a great deal to you?

Yes. It's about repect. It's about being open. You've got to be open-minded in this game. If you ain't, get out of it. I've taught him to open up a little bit. He's taught me how to refrain a little bit. Because I'm wild, you know? So I think we've both complemented each other. And I've understood.

A lot of wealthy entertainment industry types won't get married without a pre-nuptial agreement. How do you feel about that?

No, we don't have a pre-nup. We're not that wealthy. [Bursts out laughing] We don't have that kind of problem, so we don't worry about that. It depends on how honest you're prepared to be.

You may be that wealthy soon. They're touting you as the next Mariah Carey.

Oh, that's so scary!

It's the ultimate compliment. And you're working with the guy who made her career, Tommy Mottola.

Look, please...don't get me wrong - I have nothing against Mariah. I think she's an extraordinary, gifted woman. But I just know how different we really are.

Are you prepared for greater fame?

[Rolls eyes] I don't know if you can ever really be prepared for it. I think the most important thing is to understand how it works. That it's meant to happy for a reason, if it does happen. But I've learnt now how important it is to enjoy it.

You look like you have a good time.

Oh, I have a bloody good laugh! Yeah! It's really important to do that, 'cause unless you do, it goes right past you, and you think, "Where the hell did that go?" That happened to me.

A lot of artists have a nip or a tuck - especially the women. How do you feel about plastic surgery?

I've never had anything. It's really funny though, the first time I came to LA, I arrived with a couple of friends of mine, and we happened to walk down Santa Monica Boulevard, not really knowing it the gay area at the time. And one of the very first questions I was asked was, "Who was the doctor who did your lips and breasts?" And I was completely bewildered - I nearly dropped my handbag! [Laughs] It was like, "What? Who did my lips and breasts? Are you for real? Those were given to me by God, and I'm Sicilian. That should speak for itself." [Laughs]

If you ever got to the point where you saw something sagging, would you consider fixing it?

Man, if it makes you happy - do whatever makes you happy.

You've said you write from personal experience, especially if something angers you. What do you mean?

Well, sometimes anger stirs up the truest emotions, doesn't it? I'm not afraid to be vulnerable anymore. I've become relatively shameless.

You seem pretty honest. Cautious, but honest.

I have to be cautious, because I've been bitten on the ass a couple of times. So laughing is important - it's been my greatest weapon. That's my shield. But I also think that it's important to take the piss out of yourself. And I'm very, very good at doing that.

So you don't take yourself too seriously?

No way. Come on the road with Tina Arena - everyone always has a bloody good laugh. What are you gonna do, sit there and play superstar, and get absorbed in all that? Or are you gonna enjoy everything?

Tell me something about yourself that you haven't told me yet.

As if I haven't told you enough!

Tell me something that's a revelation about you, or a dark secret.

I'm just completely nuts, that's what I am. No, there are no dark secrets. I've always been really honest with everything I've done.