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TORONTO (CP) - For a girl who had to cook for herself at the age of five and sang with aspirations of one day being a backup singer for Stevie Wonder, being awarded the Order of Canada was not even part of Shania Twain's wildest dreams.
"Yeah, (the honour) is overwhelming and I don't even believe it," Twain said, letting out a loud guffaw Thursday towards the end of a daylong media blitz in Toronto. "So, I'm pretty excited."
Adding her name to the growing list of perfume-pushing celebrities, Twain was in town to promote her new fragrance, Shania by Stetson. But when a reporter has less than 10 minutes with one of Canada's biggest stars, questions must be chosen carefully and quickly. Fragrance didn't make the cut.
"We ran out of time, I don't know what happened, but I gotta catch a plane," she said, apologizing for ending an interview to get to the airport. She was flying to Ottawa where she'll receive the Order of Canada on Friday alongside others who have made a difference to the country, including former B.C. premier David Barrett and athlete Catriona Le May Doan.
Despite her international success as a country singer, pop star and spokesmodel for Revlon, Twain has not forgotten her less-than-humble beginnings.
While she admits to having had a rough childhood in Timmins, Ont., where she basically raised herself, she won't get specific other than admitting sometimes going to bed with an empty stomach.
"Hunger is one I can share comfortably ... there are a whole host of problems that come with poverty," said Twain, looking fresh even after a day of answering questions.
Like almost any mom, she wants to protect her four-year-old son from just about everything bad. But she absolutely never wants her son to go through what she knew too well: wondering where the next meal is coming from.
"I don't have any regrets," she said of her childhood, adding that a lot of times she simply couldn't depend on her parents - not because they didn't want to be there, they just weren't always able to be there.
Beyond ensuring a full pantry for her son, Twain is doing more for children: an unnamed school in Ontario is the recipient of her financial goodwill. She provides a salary for a full-time teacher at the school to provide underprivileged kids with tutoring and healthy food, and to help them integrate with the rest of the kids.
"This doesn't just tackle the food and hunger," she said, trying not to sink into the very large couch in a downtown hotel suite.
"A lot of underprivileged kids really don't fit in very well in school ... which is exactly what it was like for me in my primary years," she said, adding that by the time they hit high school, kids have either learned to cope or are heading towards disaster.
By the time Twain got to high school, not only was she fitting in, other kids used to sneak into bars to hear her sing - perhaps out of rebellion, or maybe these kids recognized a diamond in the rough. Twain has gone on to win Grammys, Junos and Country Music Association Awards.
Between her music career and caring for her son, the 40-year-old doesn't find the time to work out. More accurately, she hates gyms. Twain said she owes her still-petite frame to her genes ("My mom was a bone rack her whole life"), going for long, brisk walks and a diet free of meat, poultry and fish.
She admits to having cellulite - and to loving chocolate. Not pure chocolate in delicately rich, tiny portions. She's talking about candy bars.
And her down-home tastes don't end there. Before she adopted her husband's carnivorous-free ways, her favourite meat was roast bear.
Just as well she made the switch. A wild-meat eater might not make an ideal perfume-pitch girl.
© The Canadian Press, 2005