The singer reflects on meeting her husband when she was just a girl

By Janine Rubenstein
Updated May 19, 2016 08:40 AM
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Credit: Yu Tsai

Céline Dion opens up for the first time since losing both her husband, René Angélil, and brother Daniel Dion. Subscribe now to read how she and her family have found strength and peace, only in PEOPLE.

As Céline Dion works to move forward from the loss of her beloved husband René Angélil, who died from throat cancer at 73 just four months ago, she can’t help looking back on their history together.

“I started to know René when I was 12 years old,” Dion, 48, tells PEOPLE in this week’s cover story. “Not in a relation to that level, but with as much respect and love.”

In those days Angélil, her manager, was helping to transform Dion from an unknown French-Canadian beauty with a uniquely strong voice, into one of the most celebrated artists of all time.

“I never wrote my songs. I didn’t even know how to read music or play an instrument,” she says. But, “I had a great manager who surrounded me with the best people.”

It was a few years after they began working together that Dion, then a teenager, began a romantic relationship with Angélil. “We kind of kept it cool because of my career,” says Dion of wanting to dodge scrutiny over their 26-year age difference. “I was living that love secretly.”

Then, “when I was at the age to be able to say to people,” she says, “It was like bang! love! Love always wins.”

The Story Behind the Story: Celine Dion’s Life After Loss

For much more on Céline Dion’s heartbreaking loss, how she told her children, and how they are all finding the strength to go on, pick up the upcoming issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

The couple went on to marry in 1994 and spent 21 years together, welcoming sons René-Charles, now 15, and twins Nelson and Eddy, now 5½. Angélil and Dion relocated the family to Nevada after he successfully secured for her one of the most lucrative performance deals of all time for an ongoing residency at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

“René and I met through the passion of show business,” says the “My Heart Will Go On” singer. “Through the therapeutic music that made us be together.”

As she returns to the Caesars stage this week, Dion says of performing, “It’s what he would want for me. It’s what he always wanted for me. We still live that together.”