Behind the scenes of Tina Turner’s beach date with oiled-up NRL stars while filming Simply the Best
Thirty years after the release of Simply the Best in rugby league, Tina Turner’s iconic song is still indelibly linked to the sport.
But the beloved artist, who has died aged 83, was all but overlooked in a scheme that would have seen her music for rugby league commercials covered by another singer.
Instead, on a day of shooting in London, a year-long partnership began that took the sport to a new level.
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As the world mourns the loss of Turner, former Australian rugby league boss John Quayle opens up on the journey that began with 1989’s What You Get Is What You See.
“It was a wonderful time, wasn’t it?” he said to Sunrise.
“A lot of people don’t remember the first commercial. They all relate to Simply The Best.”
League officials initially tried to get someone else to sing along to the original campaign, but “just couldn’t do it.”
So they went to Turner.
“We only had one day to film in London and that’s what we did,” said Quayle.
“We brought footballs and sweaters to Tina, told her everything about the game and we did it incredibly well.”
Years later, the roles were reversed.
Turner’s manager Roger Davies, an Australian, called rugby league advertising guru Jim Walpole with a one off offer.
“Roger called Jim and said, ‘I think we have a song on Tina’s new album that’s written for the sport,'” Quayle recalls.
“And we flew to Los Angeles and the rest is history.
“We were able to secure the rights to Simply the Best for the next five years in the southern hemisphere and it’s still considered one of the greatest sports anthems today.”
Behind the scenes of Tina Turner’s NRL commercials
Quayle paid tribute to Turner as “a wonderful woman” who genuinely cared about the process.
“She came to the grand finals in 1993 and then we sponsored one of her national tours,” he said.
“She was just a wonderful woman. She could relate so well to the players that they felt so good about it every time.
“Every time she walked onto a set, she made everyone relax. That’s why it was such a wonderful time.”
Turner also created lasting memories.
“She never changed,” Quayle said.
Turner’s genuine enjoyment of producing the 1990 “Simply the Best” commercial, which was shown on multiple locations, remains a highlight.
“The reaction when we took her to the beach — she was passing soccer balls around, barefoot,” he recalled.
“The reaction to the players – I remember a couple of scenes where we had them with no tops and no football sweaters.
“And they’re going to oil her up and there would be muscles – and she’d want to touch her and do all these things!”
“It often happened that she passed them a ball, we wanted them to hit her (and she said, ‘Oh no, I can’t do that!’).
“And then she would laugh and hug. It was just wonderful.”
Balmain legend Benny Elias first met Turner while they were filming a scene for the rugby commercial at a North Sydney nightclub.
“It was the wow factor,” he recalled of a scene that didn’t air.
“It was Tina Turner who came and patted me on the back.
“It was a special moment… I was blown away.
“It’s no longer a secret that she revolutionized rugby league. It was a big risk. John Quayle flew over and the rest was history. It was a golden blow from what Quayle did.”
Elias joked that he tried to renew his friendship with Turner when she returned for the grand finals.
“‘Tina, do you remember me?’ She had no idea. I’m just kidding,” he said.
“But it was a wow factor that she physically came back in 1993 to sing the song with Jimmy Barnes, it was a super, super stroke of genius.”
When asked by Sunrise presenter and Port Adelaide AFL chairman David Koch if Simply the Best’s rights deal had turned out to be a steal, Quayle refused to play along.
“You know in the AFL we don’t disclose those numbers! “Oh dear, it was very cheap back then,” he said.
“We were competing with your sport back then so I can tell you now it doesn’t matter what we spent – it was just a wonderful time.
“Only two white books were made and I have one of them here at home. I’ll have to take a look and see how much it costs and then let you know.”
Nat Barr replied, “Whatever it is, I think you got your money’s worth.”
The NRL briefly revived Simply the Best for a campaign in 2020 to get fans excited for the return of rugby league after a hiatus at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.