"How a swan learned to fly"

The very personal side of NIGHTWISH - Singer Tarja Turunen
Interviewer: Sandra Eichner, Metal Heart

There is always a bit of sadness, when she thinks back to her school time. It could have been such a beautiful time, if the girls in her class had been different. Young women can be very cruel. She never did anything to one of them. Or is it her fault that she always liked to sing and always did this very well?

Not until years later, NIGHTWISH - Singer Tarja Turunen breaks her silence. She gives an interview, about her experiences as a teenager to a Finnish newspaper that plans a story about mobbing at school. For years she had been teased, mocked and treated badly by her (female) classmates, just because they were jealous of her; jealous of her voice and her success as a singer back in these days. Tarja feels it as a great relief finally to speak about that time and simultaneously wants to give strength to other students who are in situations similar to the one she was in. Her statement releases a real avalanche of reactions...

We talked to Tarja Turunen and took an even deeper glimpse behind the scenes of one of the most beautiful contemporary singers than does the long expected DVD "The End of Innocence.”

Even nowadays Tarja would describe herself as a bit shy. Whenever someone gives her a compliment, she doesn't take this as obvious, but recons it with her sensitive "antennas" and enjoys them deeply. If she sings well? She doesn't want to judge that herself. First of all she likes to do it. Always since she can remember. Like other children start to speak, little Tarja sometime, far before she could run, started to sing. The first time showed up at the tender age of three years. At a family party, under the adults, she suddenly raises her voice to sing a song. It's her mother who first recognises the girl’s strong and clear voice. "I can't remember that myself, but my mother often tells me this story", smiles Tarja. In a hotel in Helsinki she prepares for the first American -Tour in the history of NIGHTWISH. She is very excited, but takes all the time in the world to talk to us. "I'm supposed to suddenly start to sing. My mother than sat me on the table for no one would have seen me otherwise. That must have been the first time I sang to an audience."

A few years later, her mother takes her to the parish. There is a choir which practices regularly. Because Tarja likes it very much and always had a wish to become better, she additionally gets singing lessons in a children's group. "The choir appeared at all possible causes in the region and I was always hardworking with them", she tells further. "That was always a great pleasure to me. My greatest idol was Whitney Houston. I always wished to be exactly like her, and often tried to imitate her. My vocal teacher liked that. He always told me that I would be the next Whitney Houston one day. But one day I started to make an education in classical singing. He never spoke a word to me again. I think he was very disappointed about my decision and would have wanted me to go on singing soul."

At 15 years old, Tarja did her first appearance with an audience of more then 1000 people. It was a Christmas concert in a church where for more than an hour she impressed as a soloist and it was talked about even months later in that area. Her contemporaries can not be happy for Tarja, though. They envy her because she is so talented and always draws so much attention to herself. They would like to be the focus themselves and are jealous of Tarja. One day their envy changes even into hate. “My throat would tie up every morning when I entered the school building” Tarja remembers very precisely. “Every day the girls have thought up new nastiness to maltreat me with. They have been teasing me, playing tricks and have been exhausting me. I never understood this for real because I did no harm to them at all. But I could feel quite exactly how much they hate me. This has hurt me deeply.”

Tarja suffers from her class-mates. She attends lessons only reluctantly and always in fear of becoming a victim of new attacks. In every lesson. Spiritual wounds caused by the girls of her class always sink more deeply. ”Sometime I could hardly sleep any more and became even more quiet and shy than I already was. To defend myself would not have occurred to me even in a dream. I would not have even known how to do it at all.”

Tarja pulled back herself in a kind of snail shell and suffered the nastiness of her classmates. For the first time she had to learn that success and loneliness are very close together. The only real friends she had, meanwhile, are boys. They are not jealous of Tarja but they admire and respect her.

A little later she finds her first boyfriend and with him quite a lot of other friends. All older and more mature than the teenagers in her class. They can accept Tarja as she is and can see in her the person and not the singer. Contact with them helps her to overcome her bad experiences and come out more open. “Altogether it lasted a very long time until I had overcome everything” she understands today.

Then she started doing exactly the right things – she speaks about her experiences and lets everybody know about it. Even today she is ready for it and emphasizes the importance of not being silent. A while ago, some east Finnish daily had published an article about teasing in Finnish schools. She is ready to give answers to the editor. She did not tell the name of her school. “Somehow the journalist has nevertheless found out and has mentioned the name in his report. I received a few days later, a letter from the director of that school. He has informed me how sour he was that I have told such things. The school is of course afraid that pupils will stay away because they do not want to go there after this story. Just because I’m so famous in Finland it was embarrassing for this school.”

Tarja kicks in a wave of confessions. Suddenly many other former pupils dare to talk about their experiences in mobbing. “It is important to give air to yourself and talk open about it” Tarja knows today. “Only by doing so you can find a way out of this teasing. It requires lot of courage because you become more shy with time and pull back onto yourself just because of fear to provoke new cruelties by class-mates, with every step you do. But by this you are offering more of a target to them and get even more vulnerable.”

If Tarja thinks about her former class-mates today, she still feels something like hate for them. She still can not understand that they could have done all of this to her. She is finished with them as best she can. She is happy not to see those people any more and not to have any contact with them. “If you would offer today to see them again, I would be saying no” she says determined. “I do not want to be forced to look at those faces again. I haven’t forgiven them completely and I will probably never be able to do so. Today I can talk about my experiences at that time and feel relieved. But when I think about those girls that have done all this, I’m still kinda sad. I’m glad that they do not belong to my life anymore.”

Invitations to class meetings go right into the garbage for Tarja. She is not interested in what these people are doing today; she does not feel the need to participate in such events. The Nightwish voice feels comfortable with her life in the meantime and is very grateful to have found exactly those people that do good to her.

Until she could say this of herself, several years had to pass in the land. She becomes the singer for Nightwish and experiences together with the band a success story second to none. But the higher the albums of the band climb in the charts, the more so-called friends turn out to be a beneficiary that just wants to be in the vicinity of famous Tarja.

“In the past I had many so-called friends which showed more and more interest in me the more famous Nightwish became. They have not seen me as a person, though, but only as the Nightwish vocalist and only associating with me therefore, “ she tells. “When I realised this, I was deeply hurt. In a case of friendship, I want to be seen as a person and not as star or someone who brings advantages to those people.”

The people left over after the process of constantly becoming more famous are the real friends of Tarja. She can trust in them – the aspect of friendship that counts most to her. Even if she can contact them only a few times a month by mail, because she is away constantly, they stick by her and love their Tarja independent from Nightwish. “They are always happy when they hear from me and I feel that they stick by me” the Nightwish voice describes. “I’m missing them when I’m on tour and I often think of them. Whenever possible I want to see them.”

Since Nightwish enjoys such big success world-wide there is only one real chance: Christmas. Tarja loves everything about this season and devotes herself exclusively to her friends and family. “I look forward to it like a child,” she smiles. “Since I’m away so often, I’m looking forward even more than in my childhood. For me it is the only chance to really switch off and feel myself really safe.”

Part of her family are primarily her two brothers and her mother in whom she shares a very strong and friendly relation. Mama Turunen is proud of her daughter and supports her wherever she can. “She is about the most important person in my life” Tarja says. “She gives me so much strength when I talk to her, regardless where I am on this earth. She is always there for me and listens to me.”

Her mother was, in the end, the decisive reason why the Finn with the powerful voice has interrupted her song education in Karlsruhe and went back to her native country. “ I simply have missed home too much and couldn’t bear it in Karlsruhe any more,” she admits. “The fact of living so far away from my family and not being able to see them when I wanted was simply bad for me. I do not want to say that I have not liked Karlsruhe, please don’t get me wrong ! I had a fantastic time there and I have always felt pretty comfortable during my studies. But I simply wasn’t right at home there and now that I am again – it feels fantastic.”

Tarja isn’t really with her family now either. Even if she lives in Finland again, she is separated from her mother by 500 kilometres. But it is 500 kilometres in her own land and those are much easier to handle than from a foreign country to home. “To make a visit at home, you simply can jump in the train and do not need to book a flight and coordinate with the university” Tarja explains.

Nevertheless, she will finish her classical song education in Karlsruhe. She gets private lessons from the university and goes by flight to Germany in between. Tarja will do this until her education is completed officially. By this, she has found a way to realise all her wishes. She can study, be with her mother and, most important for the fans, remain the foremost vocalist from Nightwish.

Since her return to Finland she is really happy with the band again. By being able to be together with Tuomas Holopainen and the others and rehearse with them, the very tense internal situation has improved. In brief, Nightwish will remain Nightwish without changes in the line-up. The whole formation really enjoys this. Everybody seems to be happy that it has turned out good for Tarja. “The boys are completely different to me” the dainty Finn laughs. “On our first tours, things had lead to some displeasure on both sides, but we have learned to compromise in the meantime and to accept each other as we are.”

“Completely different” does mean in the case of Tuomas Holopainen & Co.: party after shows, alcohol, laughing loud and watching porn in the tour bus. “On the tours for our first two albums, this had got on my nerves in a frightening way,” she tells. “I just wanted to be left alone and take a nap, but I would hear the others and their partying constantly. Now we can communicate way better. For the boys it’s OK that I do not want to party with them and they take care not to disturb me when I sleep. And I am happy for them when they can drink.”

Even if Tarja prefers to be alone in a hotel room of her own instead sharing the tour bus with the band and crew, she can have fun along with her musicians. “In principle they are sweet when they drink and party” she smiles. “They are like little children then, to whom you can bring a great delight by a bottle of beer. I have understood how much they enjoy it and I’m glad for them to have it.”

Excessive parties will never belong to Tarja’s life. Because of her experiences as teenager, she is a sensible, profound and earnest person that appreciates true friendship and a glass of red wine but she is not attracted by fast pleasures. Just as little as she has partied, she never had a one nightstand in her life. “That’s absolutely nothing for me” she says determining. “It is just not the type of feeling that I have for men.”

Tarja is a person that appreciates long-term relationships and needs them too, as she admits very frankly. “I need much support”, she describes. “I need someone on my side who gives strength to me and pushes me forward. If left alone, I feel often feeble and do not have the courage to do something. In such moments I need somebody who sticks with me and who understands me and tells me that we can do it.”

Inner beauty and the option to remain herself are the most important things in a man. “Lots of people think they must bend for the partner,” she has watched. “They do too many compromises because they think a relationship will not work otherwise. To me however a relationship only works if you respect each other as individual and mutually supporting what you are doing. Men who are jealous about my job or the people who are with me day by day do not help me along.”

Blind trust and understanding is judged as perfect by Tarja. “The most beautiful moments are the ones where you just sit next to each other without speaking and nevertheless know very well that you understand the other,” Tarja thinks. “That is a wonderful feeling.”

Blind trust often needs to reach out over this many kilometres in the case of the Finnish exceptional voice. She is away with Nightwish every weekend all through the summer 2003 with the crowning finale to be a North America tour where she will perform within one week in Atlanta, New York, Montreal and Mexico City. Although Tarja never was in the US before, she already knows some of her fans there – from concerts in Europe. “Sometimes it is really unbelievable how far people are travelling, just to see us live.” she tells. “It is difficult for me to understand what is so extraordinary about us and what fascinates spectators so much. Of course I feel that we do something good for the people, when we get so much excitement for them. This makes me happy and a little bit proud as well.”

Stars at the moment could not be any better for Tarja. The time of being pushed back and forth has come to an end. She no longer needs to decide between Nightwish and her song education. She no longer needs to swing between Finland and Germany. The dainty woman with the clear, spotless face has made it – thanks to her staying power and courage – to unite all her dreams. Although: one little dream she still cherishes deep inside: she would like to be an actress in a movie somewhere in the future…”This is such a secret childhood dream of mine,” the Fin, who has learned to defeat her class-mates by this, lets it out. “No role in such a Tomb-Raider movie though, but something that fits to me. Something more sensible. I don’t consider myself as a fighter not at all.”