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Headmaster's Address

Tina Turner

Welcome back and I hope you had a great break.

I’ll start with sporting matters and just before half term, the top tennis players in Year 9 competed in a singles tournament called “Play Your Way to Wimbledon”. These tournaments are held across the country by schools and clubs. The winners and runners up go to a county final at Hills Road Tennis Centre in July to compete for a chance to go to the National Finals at The All England Club at Wimbledon.

I’m pleased to award medals to the following players for their success in this tournament:


1st: Phillipa F
2nd: Natalia S


1st: Yazen A
2nd: Daniel H

In the week before half-term, the sad news emerged of the death of legendary music figure, Tina Turner, the pioneering rock’n’roll star who reinvented herself to become a giant figure in the world of pop in the 1980s.

What an extraordinary life she led, and what an inspiration she has been for so many.

Turner was born Anna Mae Bullock on 26 November 1939 and raised in Nutbush, Tennessee, where she recalled picking cotton with her family as a child. She was 11 years old when her mother left and she was forced to move with her grandparents to St Louis. In her teens, frequenting rhythm and blues clubs with her sister, she leapt from the crowd to the stage on which Ike Turner and his ‘Kings of Rhythm’ band were performing.  Seizing the microphone, she gave a powerful rendition of a song by the great BB King. Ike had previously declined her requests to join the band but, having heard her sing, he bowed to the inevitable. Thus began a partnership, both personal and professional, that would go down in rock’n’roll infamy, rife with physical and emotional abuse, exploitation, and Ike’s frequent public displays of domination.

It was Ike who gave her the name Tina Turner – and tellingly he trademarked the name in case she left him and he wanted to replace her in his act.  Dressing her in long-haired wigs to evoke the aesthetics of Tarzan films, Ike sought to invent for Tina a stage persona which consciously played on primitivist trappings: he effectively exploited her by consciously marketing her as animalistic, feral, wild and untamed. Thus Tina found herself trapped and defined by not one but two kinds of patriarchy – dominated and abused in her own home; and defined and constrained by the patriarchy of the rock’n’roll marketplace, underpinned by racialised sexuality.

As a husband, Ike quickly became both emotionally and physically abusive and violent. She later wrote in her autobiography: “My relationship with Ike was doomed the day he figured out I was going to be his money-maker. He needed to control me, economically and psychologically, so I could never leave him.”

Outwardly, and professionally, the trajectory was strongly upward: she made her recorded debut with the Ike and Tina Turner single ‘A Fool in Love’ in July 1960, which broke the US Top 30 and started a run of respectable chart success. But it was their live performances that made them a sensation. They toured incessantly and in 1964, they signed to Warner Bros, which released their first album to chart.

By the second half of the 60s, the duo were courted by many of rock’s biggest names. They supported the Rolling Stones in the UK and the US, and stars including David Bowie, Elvis Presley and Elton John came to their Las Vegas residency. They were a chart-making, Grammy-winning force as the late 60s gave way to the 1970s.

Behind the scenes, though, domestic violence and domination prevailed.  At the beginning, when Turner, having got a sense of his character, did try to leave the group, he had hit her with a wooden shoe stretcher.

In her autobiography, she would later reveal that he threw hot coffee in her face, giving her third-degree burns. He repeatedly punched her, often leaving her with black eyes, and even broke her jaw. Unsurprisingly, she did contemplate ending her own life as a means of escape.

But after two decades of working with her abusive husband, in 1976 she broke free, fleeing a Dallas hotel room whilst on tour, and leaving her husband, Ike, who had been consistently violent and unfaithful throughout their marriage.

She was a solo act now, not only domestically but professionally and after a few false starts, she became one of the defining pop icons of the 1980s with the release of her fifth solo album ‘Private Dancer’. This was the moment when (consciously referenced in the song of the same name), she finally supplanted and transcended her previous image of the shimmying rock’n’roller – and by so doing she was able, in her forties by this time, to reinvent herself as a powerful, mullet-sporting, leather-clad pop icon.

This was the pivotal moment; the moment of arrival, the moment she discovered her authentic voice as a powerful, autonomous artist and interestingly, in the documentary ‘Tina’, she described ‘Private Dancer’ as her debut album, even though it was her fifth. “I don’t consider it a comeback,” she said. “Tina had never arrived.”

Outside music, she starred in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome opposite Mel Gibson in 1985. She published her first memoir, the global bestseller “I, Tina”, in 1986; this was later adapted into an excellent and hard-hitting 1993 film, ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It?’, starring Angela Bassett as Turner. In 1995, she sang the theme tune to the James Bond film GoldenEye.

Turner announced her retirement in 2000, a year after releasing her final solo album, Twenty Four Seven, though she would return to the stage in 2008, performing at the Grammy awards with Beyoncé, and for a final tour to mark 50 years of her career.

That was conclusively the end as a performer– no further comebacks would follow. “I was just tired of singing and making everybody happy,” she told the New York Times in 2019. “That’s all I’d ever done in my life.”

Turner collaborated on the musical of her life, ‘Tina’ which premiered in 2018 and which won Laurence Olivier and Tony awards for its respective West End and Broadway runs. “This musical is not about my stardom,” Turner said of the production. “It is about the journey I took to get there. Each night I want audiences to take away from the theatre that you can turn poison into medicine.”

Turner often said she did not relate to the “invincible” persona that others put on her. “I don’t necessarily want to be a ‘strong’ person,” she told the New York Times. “I had a terrible life. I just kept going. You just keep going, and you hope that something will come.”

In 2020, with a remix of her 1984 hit What’s Love Got to Do With It?, Turner became the first artist to have a UK Top 40 hit in seven consecutive decades. In 2021, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist, 30 years after Ike and Tina Turner’s induction.

But what about Tina the person? Well, in 2013 Turner married for the second time, to German music executive, Erwin Bach. By this time they had already been together for 27 years.  They lived in Switzerland, where Turner lived quite a private life. For many years, she suffered with serious health problems, including hypertension and kidney failure.  In 2017, she was shocked when her husband Erwin offered to donate one of his kidneys to her for a life-saving operation.

What a contrast: from the toxic masculinity, violence and coercive control of Ike, to a man, Erwin, who was willing to endanger his own life to make a selfless sacrifice in order to extend hers. What better example could there be of her mantra of turning poison into medicine: from a partner who endangered her life, to another who saved it? The transplant operation was a success and, despite continuing health problems, Turner reflected that the last 10 years of her life had embodied her ideal vision of happiness.

“True and lasting happiness comes from having an unshakeable, hopeful spirit that can shine, no matter what,” she said.

“That’s what I’ve achieved, and it is my greatest wish to help others become truly happy as well.”

It’s a privilege therefore, to pay this small tribute in farewell to Tina Turner, a woman who affirmed and amplified Black women’s formative stake in rock’n’roll, defining that era of music to the extent that even the iconic Mick Jagger admitted to taking inspiration from her high-kicking, energetic live performances as he developed his own stage persona, and who then broke free and reinvented herself as a solo pop icon, someone whose music is woven into the soundtrack of many generations of music-lovers’ lives, my own included.  With her death, the world loses not just a musical legend but also a role model of incredible human durability and resilience, an embodiment of positivity in the face of setbacks, cruelty and hardship.  I simply cannot improve on her own words, and in this story of resilience and the fight for autonomy and self-realisation, it is only fitting to give Tina herself the last word:

“True and lasting happiness comes from having an unshakeable, hopeful spirit that can shine, no matter what.”