Shania Twain's life sounds like a country music song. Raised in poverty by her mum in an isolated mining town after her father left when she was two, she learned how to hunt, trap, and strum a guitar. As a teenager, sometimes she could afford only one meal a day, and wore homemade clothes fashioned by her grandma as she played gigs to support her family.
But that's where the Country and Western stereotype ends for the Canadian-born beauty. "I grew up in freakin' Timmins, Ontario," she says. "I'm not a cowboy. We had snowmobiles, not horses."
Born Eileen Regina Edwards in Windsor, Ontario, on August 28, 1965, Shania spent most of her life in Timmins, about 500 miles north of Toronto. Raised by her mum Sharon and her stepfather Jerry Twain, an Ojibwe Indian, she helped plant trees during the summer, and spent winters working at a fast food restaurant, all the while singing at community centres, homes for the elderly and "everywhere (my parents) could get me booked". Later, as she approached her graduation from Timmins High and Vocational school, she sang with a local rock band in bars. "She had big hair, like everyone in those days," recalls one band mate. "She was only 16, but she could really sing."
In 1987, she was 21 and on the cusp of pursuing her musical career when her mother and stepfather were killed in a car crash, leaving her to care for her two half brothers. "I knew I had to look after my younger brothers," she says. "I really needed to keep the family together. I just put all my singing ambitions on hold until the rest of the family had grown up."
The children raised, in 1990 she changed her name to Shania an Ojibwe word for "I'm on my way" headed to Nashville and cut a demo. Her recordings were heard by South African Robert John "Mutt" Lange, a record producer for high-profile artists from the Backstreet Boys to Def Leppard, who called her to say he wanted to work with her. "I had no idea he was a world-famous record producer... which was good, because I wasn't intimidated by him," she says. The two felt a certain spark over the phone, becoming trans-Atlantic friends, and finally met in 1993. "We haven't wanted to be apart from that moment on," says Shania, who married Mutt, 16 years her senior, in December of that year.
Her self-titled debut only had one of own songs on it, but with her new husband, she co-wrote all the tracks for her 1995 follow up The Woman In Me. The disc sold 17 million and won best country album at the Grammys the first of Shania's five trophies.
With crossover hits like It Don't Impress Me Much and Man! I Feel Like A Woman, the 5ft 5in beauty's style her midriff-baring outfits led one TV channel to ask the question "Is she too sexy for country?" helped her snag a $3 million contract with Revlon, but undermined her credibility with some country music fans. "People said, 'You have to decide what you are, either pop or country or rock or R&B', but I couldn't make up my mind," says Shania, who has sold 50 million records worldwide. "And in the end I didn't have to. I wound up doing a little bit of everything. And it's wonderful."
After completing a sold-out world tour in 1999, Shania took a break from the spotlight, spending time with her husband and five horses at the couple's Swiss chateau. In August 2001 the couple had a baby boy, Eja (pronounced "Asia"). Unfortunately, though, their 14-year marriage came to an end seven years later in 2008.
The star had returned to the music scene with a highly anticipated new album - entitled Up! - in November 2002, following this with the release of a greatest hits collection in 2004. A self-described "sensible person" and non-smoking vegan, Shania is a big star who maintains ties with her humble roots. Timmins has built a museum in her honour and Shania, who played a concert at a local school and attended her high school reunion in the small town, donated $1 million worth of memorabilia for display. Items included her wedding dress, lyric sheets and, of course, a suede skirt made for her when she was a child by her grandma.