On the Road… with Cher

The 2022 Pirelli Calendar aims to capture the atmosphere for a performer on tour – for musical icon Cher, it’s been a way of life since she was a teenager

Superstar Cher, “Goddess of Pop”, Oscar-winning actress and icon to generations, arrived on the set of the Pirelli Calendar photoshoot as youthful-looking as ever. With her long, dark hair worn loose, and dressed in beautifully tailored clothes, she posed backstage at the Palace Theatre in downtown Los Angeles for several atmospheric action shots. In line with the Calendar’s theme of “on the road”, she was captured by photographer Bryan Adams dragging a lipstick across a mirror in a dressing room and striding purposefully from the room as if heading to perform on stage.

The singer, actress and activist – to list just a few of her roles – has been in the public eye for more than 50 years, since the age of 19 when she began performing as one half of the husband-and-wife duo Sonny and Cher. She has blazed record-setting trails across the male-dominated music industry, releasing 26 studio albums to become one of the top-selling female artists of all time, with hit songs in every decade since the 1960s.

The longevity of her success is testament to her versatility as an artist, her powers of innovation and reinvention, and, of course, her stamina: despite now being 75 she was still touring with her most recent album Dancing Queen before the Covid pandemic forced her to stop. She talks about fame, the stress she feels before a show and her favourite “on the road” memory.

What are the effects of being a star? What does being a star mean to you?
I can try to tell you in a million different ways, but it can be really great and it can be really terrible; you have no privacy but you can go to the head of the front of the line. And it’s strange, I’ve been famous since I was 19, I don’t really know anything else.

How do you prepare for a live show?
Well, I go in with the girls in my dressing room, I have a Dr Pepper and I sit and get my make-up on, and we have girl talk and then I’m ready, and then I’m nervous and then I go to the stage and then I’m still nervous. Then I go on and then I’m pretty fine. I’m okay then.

How do the experiences of new places, people and culture influence your creativity?
I guess in some ways they energise you, I like meeting new kinds of people. I’ve been travelling my entire life – I don’t think there are very many places that I haven’t been – but sometimes it can be really fun and you get energised and sometimes it’s not so much fun and you go work out.

What does it mean to you to be part of this year’s Pirelli Calendar?
I really don’t know because everyone is telling me, “Oh my God, you’re in the Calendar” and I didn’t know there was such a thing. I’ve always had Pirelli tyres on my cars, on my Ferraris, all my cars I’ve had them, but I didn’t know there was a Calendar. And then my friends are calling me, [the actor] Val Kilmer texted me and went, “Ethel [Kilmer’s nickname for Cher], you’re in the Calendar!” And I went “yeah, yeah, I guess if you think it’s cool, it must be cool”.

How was the experience of working with Bryan Adams?
It was good. I don’t know what I expected, you never know when you work with a new photographer and you don’t have real expectations. I was nervous but he was really fun and gracious and quick and I liked it.

What is your favourite memory of being “on the road”?
I have many and it’s hard to pick them. When my son and I were on stage together and he was playing the guitar, that was fun.

What does touring mean to you?
Well, I’ve toured my entire life, I’ve been touring since I was 19, I started with Sonny and then when I left him, I just toured by myself. It can be really fun. It’s very exhilarating and it’s like a whirlwind, kind of, it just picks you up and swings you around the audience.

The dressing room is a place intended for preparation but also for waiting: let’s talk about waiting before going on stage, the pressures, the stresses…
It’s good that I’ve got the girls and it’s good that all the people in the show are my friends, the dancers and everybody, people doing costumes and wigs and all that stuff, but I rely on my friends in my dressing room a lot and it’s stressful for me, I’m not one of the people that can do it easily. It’s stressful but then I get over it and then it’s great.

What relationship do you have with photography? What do you ask of a portrait?
Make me look good.

Anything else you’d like to share with us?
I saved an elephant last year, so that’s pretty cool. The Smithsonian came with me to Islamabad because they made me go and pick him up. And so we took him from Islamabad, he was kind of in a jail, and we took him to Cambodia. He’s amazing, he’s happy and he has got a girlfriend and I’m thrilled.