Derbyshire dancer reflects on her years of work and friendship with Tina Turner
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Raised in Eckington, Clare Turton-Derrico, 46, is now settled in Los Angeles thanks to a career performing alongside some of the most famous artists around, but she owed her biggest break to Turner.
Recalling their first encounter 25 years ago, Clare said: “I was living in London, working as a commercial dancer. I had toured with Boyzone and Steps and done television and theatre work.
“Artists as big as Tina don’t normally come to the UK for their dancers, they usually do everything stateside, so the audition was a huge deal. Initially it was just for the promotion of one single, When the Heartache is Over, but it was Tina Turner – a once in a lifetime opportunity. All the agents sent all their dancers and everyone was hungry for the job.”
She added: “I remember the moment my agent called me to tell me I’d got it, I was crossing Oxford Street and just screamed. My life was truly about to change.
“Years later, Tina told me she couldn’t believe how much soul I had in the audition tape, that I was like an angel. That compliment is the highest I could ever get.
“Dancing is where I feel most complete, where my soul is happy. It feels like I am connected to something otherworldly and I know that’s how Tina felt when she performed. We shared that connection, and she saw that in me.”
As one of three auditionees handpicked by Turner, that first promotional run was followed by an invitation to join her next world tour, and Clare spent 11 years on the road, becoming the production’s dance captain.
Clare said: “When we met for the first time, we were so nervous. Tina walked in and her energy was electric. She was so radiant and powerful but straight away we went Into work mode. ‘Come here girls,’ she said, and we stood in front of a mirror.
“She started to move and she asked us to follow her. We were all moving as one unit and she smiled and said, ‘Super! Super! Yes!’ And so it began.”
She added: “I think she was excited to see us experience it all and relive her first times through us – the first time seeing crowds so big, the first tour bus or private plane, being in new countries and places, trying fine wine and foods.
“I remember trying oysters for the first time at dinner with her, and when she brought these famous hot dogs for everyone at rehearsals in LA. She really wanted us to experience them.”
Their time together brought Clare both personal and professional insight, and she still credits Turner as one of her most important mentors.
Clare said: “To watch her every night run out over the audience in six-inch heels, with no harness and no fear on a really thin platform was amazing, especially in the rain. She was completely fearless.
“Just to be around her, absorbing her energy, taking in her knowledge and wisdom, her work ethic, her passion, her kindness and generosity – she was a giver. Every day she gave something to the world in ways big and small, and left it a better place.”
She added: “I sat back and observed everything on tour. How it’s important to pay attention and listen; always be full-out and give all you have; to be kind and generous, polite and handle yourself with grace; to care and know all around you, from the bus drivers to the riggers to the caterers to wardrobe and ticketing, the list goes on. Tina knew that without each and every person on that tour it wouldn’t be possible.”
Reflecting on the source of Turner’s star power, Clare said: “Tina was one of the first women to sell out stadiums and stand up for herself unapologetically – to tell the world that your trauma and past does not define you, you can overcome, you can change things . To be at the height of her success in her later years was also inspirational – to stand in your truth and be so sure of your purpose.
“She will always be remembered as a woman who did it all on her own terms. After the bad times, she truly did it her way with fire and light, joy and passion, strength and humility, grace, roots and determination. She was someone who did exactly what they were put on earth to do and left people with something to hold onto.”
Winding back to the on-stage highlights of those years, Clare recalls a date at Wembley stadium, a Millennium Eve show with Elton John, sharing the Grammy awards stage with Beyoncé and a birthday bash for Oprah Winfrey, but there is one night that stands out above all.
Clare said: “I never forgot my roots and where I started. When we came back to perform locally, I always invited my beloved teacher Sue Jones, and the whole family from Kickers Dance Studios in Chesterfield. I took great pride in the fact that they were in the audience.
“For Tina’s final performance in Sheffield, she generously gave me tickets for all my family and friends, and Sue was there. Tina was excited to introduce me to the crowd and she knew how much it meant to me to be there with her and all my loved ones there to support me.”
She added: “Sue also passed away recently and that was another blow. She was our fearless leader. She instilled in us discipline and ethics, passion and joy. She pushed me and embraced my talent, and prepared me for the career that I went on to.
“I hope I made Sue truly proud in that moment in Sheffield. I won’t be able to visit her on my next trip home but her daughters are continuing her amazing legacy and Kickers still continues to change children’s lives.”
Then there are the off-stage moments, which revealed sides to Turner’s character which the rest of the world would rarely see.
Clare said: “Some of my favourite moments were in her dressing room, just the two of us. She would be doing her makeup and would call me in to give notes for the dancers or talk through moments of the show. That’s when we would have some really nice talks. She had such a young childlike spirit, her laugh was infectious and she loved being girly.
“When my mum died in 2005 she sent the most beautiful flowers to her funeral. I have had so many strong amazing matriarchs in my life. Sadly my mother, grandma and mother-in-law are gone now but their imprints on my life are so deep and Tina was one of those women
“When she heard I was engaged, she was very protective but also excited. She wanted to know all about Justin, whose now my husband, and told me never to settle. Justin’s a guitarist who I met working with Pink, so I suppose, in a way, Tina is responsible for that.
“She even got her husband Erwin to take Justin shopping for a ring in Switzerland. She had her jeweller design some rings for him to look at. That was really special.
Working on those early tours opened many doors for Clare, and she went on to land many other high-profile gigs before her taking her current career break.
Clare said: “I was working with Taylor Swift when I got pregnant with my daughter and, although I was heartbroken to leave her and working, I decided to take a hiatus from touring to focus on being a mum.
“It’s definitely one of the values that Tina instilled in me: if your gonna do something, be all in, no regrets and do it even better than the thing you did before. So currently I am trying to be the best mum I can be and I teach dance and perform when I can. But I definitely intend to start working again soon because I miss the stage and I’m sure Tina would be disappointed if I didn’t.”
The last time the two women spoke was over lunch at Tina’s home in Zurich, where Clare introduced her to daughter Indi Rae, now six.
She said: “There was always a part of me that was hoping Tina would decide, ‘one last time’, and we could step onstage with her again, even if it was just for one performance. Everyone to her was important and every person would drop whatever they were doing if Tina had said, ‘One more time’. I’m sad that now that’s never to happen again and the world has lost her fire and light.”
“That she got to meet Indi is something that I will be forever grateful for. My lasting memory of Tina, how I see her in my mind’s eye, is smiling – always smiling that huge beautiful radiant smile.
She added: “I was volunteering at my daughter’s school when I heard the news. My phone was blowing up with calls and texts and I opened one and it just said, ‘Clare, it’s Tina … She’s gone.’ My heart sank and tears welled up straight away. I was just in shock.
“I went to my car and just sobbed and then started to reach out to the other ‘flowers’ – Tina’s name for the dancers – and friends who shared our journey.
“On one hand I was devastated, but on the other I had this overwhelming sense of gratitude and joy. I started reminiscing, remembering forgotten memories, watching performances, seeing how much love and joy there was.
“I know she went peacefully and she was ready. She wasn’t afraid of death she saw it as a transition and when her time came she was excited to see what’s next.”