Written by Prince, the song was named the “world’s number one single” by Billboard magazine in 1990, selling 3.5 million copies worldwide.
And a powerful video saw O’Connor become a household name overnight.
The singer told the documentary, to be broadcast on Sky later this month, how the trauma of her childhood provided the emotion behind that iconic tearful performance.
O’Connor’s mother would banish her to the garden as a form of abuse.
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She said: “Every time I sing the song, I think of my mother.
“I never stopped crying for my mother, for Jesus. I couldn’t face being in Ireland for 13 years. I never even called home. I just cut myself off entirely.
“But it took me 25 years to stop crying. So yeah, I was thinking of her. And I suppose my subconscious was thinking of that little girl that sat in the garden.
“One of the very traumatic things that happened to me growing up was my mother had me living in the garden.
“So once when I was eight I lived in the garden 24/7 for a week or two.
“I’d be screaming, begging her to let me in and she wouldn’t. The light would go off and the house would go dark.”
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The documentary focuses on her career from 1987-93, charting her rise to fame.
Describing her troubled childhood she said: “My parents separated when I was quite young. My mother was a very violent woman, not a healthy woman, mentally at all.
“She was physically, verbally, psychologically, spiritually and emotionally abusive. And my father was the type of man who didn’t want anyone talking about what happened, and that’s what was wrong with me. It wasn’t talked about even in the family.”
Sinead went into a care home at 14 and as a punishment while in there, she was dispatched to a hospice.
Now 56, having married four times, Sinead recalls: “The nun, she could be terribly kind, but terribly cruel as well.
“She sent me to sleep in the hospice part of the laundry as punishment a couple of times, to remind me that if I didn’t behave myself, I was going to end up like these women. It was awful.
“I didn’t know what to do. I was terrified.”
But her extraordinary voice would be her saviour, and she would go to London from Dublin to establish her career.
Record producer John Reynolds, her first husband, said: “The first time I heard Sinead’s voice was unbelievable.
“It was jumping octaves, going from whisper to scream in half a second. A young kid from Dublin, you know.”
Regarding Nothing Compares 2 U, Sinead adds: “I looked in some magazine the other day and it said the record had been the fourth biggest in America. I nearly dropped dead! I didn’t have the slightest idea!”
● Nothing Compares available on Sky Documentaries and NOW from July 29
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