Hey Girlfriend. There are certain things you can only tell another girl. Like what you look for in a man. And why you want to have another baby. Madonna gets together with her close friend Juliette Hohnen to talk about love, London, liking a pint and keeping Lourdes level-headed.
I was 17 when I first contracted a serious case of the Madonnas. From then on, she sang the soundtrack of my life. I vacationed to Holiday, cleared the dancefloor to Into The Groove and got over many a broken heart to Express Yourself. Like many other girld growing up in the late Eighties in London. I felt Madonna spoke to me. I never thought I’d ever actually meet her, let alone become friends with her. But then, life is strange that way.
Perhaps I should have taken my chance sighting of Madonna and Sean during a visit to Los Angeles when I was 20 as a sign. The pair drove right past me on Pcific Coast Highway in a sparkling blue Mercedes. What are the chances of that, after all ? I filed my remarkable Madonna sighting in a mental drawer marked ‘Flukes’. But at least I now knew that she really did exist (and that Sean Penn had really, really shinny hair).
I finally met Madonna quite by chance in 1990 when, having just moved to Los Angeles, I was asked by a friend to accompany him to a rather swanky party in the Hollywood Hills. On arrival, I found myself in a room crammed with celebrities: Michelle Pfeiffer, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, Richard Harris… I was the only person I didn’t recognise. And there, squeezed in on a sofa between Sandra Bernhard and Warren Beatty sat – you guessed it – Madonna.
I had vowed that if I ever found myself in her company, I would be frightfully unEnglish and just walk up and introduce myself. Starstruck, I panicked and headed for the empty buffet. Distracted by the tasty pickings, I hardly noticed that someone else was also now heaping food onto her plate until, suddenly, I turned and found I was standing face to face with Madonna.
‘How can you eat so much and stay so thin?’ I blurted. And, instead of treating me like Kathy Bates’s character from the movie Misery (I believe the phrase ‘I’m your biggest fan’ did escape my lips later on in the conversation). Madonna told me she’s disciplined during the week but ate what she wanted on weekends, before inviting me to sit with her and her friends.
And so, there I sat, cross-legged, eating my dinner at the feet of Madonna, although that is not to say that this is where I have stayed during my friendship with her.
It has now been over 10 years since I met Madonna, or M as she is refered to by her good friends. For some reason, that girl from Detroit and this girl from London hit it off immediately. Perhaps it was because we bonded instantly over our host’s questinable taste in music. But when I asked Madonna years later why she didn’t swat me away like a fly that first night, she jokingly replied: ‘I liked the way you smelled and you had a nice dress on (a cream-coloured Alaia, if you are interested).’ More likely, it was because she sensed in me someone who likes to have fun. For the simple truth is that Madonnais a giggle and, in her personal life doesn’t take herself too seriously. Whatever the reason, she welcomed me into her world and displayed none of the paranoia or guarded behaviour one might expect from someone of whom everyone wants a piece.
In the early days of our friendship, Madonna and I would go out to obscure LA dance clubs or perhaps an Aids daceathon. Sometimes I’d be dancing away happily and then suddenly realise: ‘My God, I’m dancing with Madonna!’ It was really very odd in the beginning. I also visited her in Miami for short vacations and, looking up to her as I do, would try to follow the ‘Madonna regime’. This was in her preyoga days, when she ran 8 miles a day. ‘I’m giving up smoking.’ I would announce as we set off on one of our runs. ‘You’d better!’ would be her surprisingly puritanical response.
Over the years I have found myself in the most surreal situations with Madonna. like the time we decided to go to an art exhibition when she was nine months pregnant. In order to avoid the ever-present paparazzi, we had to lie down in the back of a dirty mini-van. So much for glamorous transportation.
Once she had finished making Evita and was five months pregnant, we got to spend a lot of time together. It was probably the first time in years she was forced to stay in one place for a while. We giggled when we went on our trial runs from the house to the hospital (in unfashionable downtown LA) in preparation for the big moment. No matter how many times we practiced, we always made a wrong turn somewhere and then, like a couple of squibbing sisters, we would blame each other for bad driving or bad navigating.
Having kept my friendship with Madonna as private as possible over the years, it is strange suddenly to be interviewing her as a professional journalist. The occasion is the British release of her first film since Evita, The Next Best Thing which co-stars Rupert Everett. In it they play two best friends – he is gay and she single – who raise a child together, until her character falls in love with another man (played by the tasty Benjamin Bratt). She is then forced to decide wheather she and her child should stay with Everett or start a new life in New York with her new love.
At the appointed hour (Madonna is stickler for punctuality), I arrive at her Upper West Side apartment. I am greeted by her assistant, Ellie-Mae, who instantly returns to her computer and constantly ringing mobile phone, in an attempt to keep the mogul’s life running like clockwork.
As I wait for Madonna, who has just finished yoga, I find her daughter Lourdes – Lola to her friends – in the kitchen, waiting for her nanny to make her a toast before a trip to the movies with her father, Carlos Leon. Madonna enters. Knowing she doesn’t have to impress me – after all, I saw he in labour – she is wearing combat trousers, a black tank top (bra showing) and pair of divine, intricately beaded slip-on Fendi shoes. Her blonde hair, parted in the middle, is still wet. After telling Lola where she’s off to and what she’s doing, she leads me up to the spiral staircase to her upstairs living room. There are leather couches, red satin courtains and a colourful rug. The walls are dark green. She plops herself on the floor. ‘I’m going to do the interview lying down,’ she announces. Having spoken to her before for MTV and ABC, I note a big difference today. Not only is she without the usual entourage, but she is also in an excellent mood. This is the real Madonna, my friend – relaxed, funny and willing to poke fun at herself.
‘So how was your New Year in Miami?’ I begin. ‘Let’s just get down to the nitty-gritty,’ she laughes. ‘It was a true night of decadence and debauchery. It was the best New Year I’ve ever had, funnily enough, because I didn’t expect to have a good New Year’s. I just said, “OK, I’m going to adinner party and then I’m gonna go to a party afterwards, it’s no big deal.” Anyway, we took a boat ride across the bay. We went to Donatella’s (Versace) house for dinner. There were shirtless men with oiled bodies dancing on podium and there was a mambo band playing and this really yummy food. People were pogo-ing , people were jumping up and down on the furniture. I didn’t know how many drinks I had,’ she beams. ‘All I know is they kept sloshing out of the glass and pretty soon you have a 20 half-drunks and then it was 5am and I had a really horrible blisters on my feet and I had to go home.’
Given that Madonna is posibly the most clean-living (substance-wise) person I know, I wonder how much she must have suffered the next day. ‘How was your hangover?’ I ask. ‘Um, it was forceful,’ she laughs. ‘Fortunately New Year’s Eve fell on a Friday and we don’t do yoga on Saturdays I wouldn’t have been able to do one forward bend without puking.
The thing about this New Year’s Eve that I’ve never noticed before,’ she continues, ‘was that this time everyone was happy. And I was with the perfect group of friends – minus you, of course,’ she adds mischievously. ‘You were sorely missed.’ ‘Thanks,’ I reply, making a mental note never to spend another New Year in LA, dubbed the place with the most lacklustre celebrations in the US by the New York Times.
So, what else did she do with her ‘perfect group of friends’ in Miami, I ask begrudgingly, ‘We did yoga,’ she replies. ‘That’s my one indulgence. I flew my yoga teachers in. I have to have yoga wherever I go. And we did really, really exhausting, taxing thing like fishing and swimming and playing backgammon and eating. A lot of eating. I’ve grown very fond of Doritos and beer.’ ‘At last,’ I quip, ‘I’m having an influence on you.’ ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me,’ she says wryly. It doesn’t really go with my yoga regime. I think it was because there were a lot of strange people staying in my house and my refrigerator was suddenly full of foods I don’t usually eat. You know when that happens and you think “I’ll try that?” I feel like a big fat slob now as a resault of my holiday, and I’m going to throw myself into a regime of deprivation and self-flagellation.’
Noting her impossibly flat stomack, I could argue with her, but decide instead to find out just who were her perfect group of friends. ‘My brother (Christopher),’ she sais. ‘Guy Oseary, my business partner, Gwyneth, Rupert (Everett), Orlando (Pita, her hairdresser) and Ingrid (Casares) who lives down there, although she may as well live in my house because she’s always there eating the food out of my refrigerator. Fortunately, her feet are a lot bigger then mine, so she can’t wear my shoes.
As we’re on the subject of Miami, I ask her if she has decided to sell or keep her Miami house, now that she’s buying a house in London. ‘I don’t know,’ she sighs. ‘I hardly ever get down to Miami, so I just feel guilty that I have a house I’m never in. I figure let someone else enjoy it. I did rent it out to that boxer, Oscar De La Hoya. I was in a complete state of panic. I kept thinking, “He’ll break my lamps. He’ll be sparring in my bedroom.”‘
I ask her about her latest property acquisition in Lonson and wheather she really is seriously considering a permanent move there. ‘Well, I bought a house there which I had to sell because I wasn’t really thinking when I bought it. It’s a beautiful house. It wasn’t on the market, but a friend of a friend told me the owner wanted to sell quickly – kind of an emergeny situation. It was a good price and I figured I’ll take it and then I can always turn around and sell it. Real estate never goes down in London,’ she adds, with mock gravitas. ‘I did go through a period of trying to sort out how I could live in that house and make it secure, but there is very low wall and they are really strict about making architectural changes. I just didn’t like the idea of walking outside my door and being photographed. So I sold it.’
Given the reputation of British newspapers, does she worry about all the stories that will no doubt be written about her in the tabloids if she spends more time in London? ‘ There are so many trashy news publications in England and they make up the most outrageous stories. Nobody really believes them anyway so I’m not really worried about it.’ Even given all the stories that Diana, Princess of Wales, was hounded by them and chased to her death? ‘Yeah, but first of all she wasn’t even in England when she was chased, and second I’m not Diana. We have very different personalities. And I’ve had a lot more time to gradually get used to the press. I don’t think she really had an adjustment period. She was a child; she was thrown into it and suddenly she had a family – it was too much for her. And she was expected to be perfectand uphold some kind of stadard; there was too much pressure. I’m allowed much more room to misbehave then the Princess of Wales was.’
In a few days’ time, madonna will be returning to London, where she will carry on with her hunt for a house and get the chance to fonish her latest album with Mirwais and William Orbit, who co-produced ray Of Light with her.
‘Everbody i’m working with lives in England,’ she declares. ‘I Love London; I’m having a major love affair with England. I used to hate it.’ I know this is true because she actually had the audacity to miss my wedding in 1995 because of her dislike of my home country.
‘It’s an exotic place for me,’ she says, attempting to explain her sudden affinity with a country famous for its dreary weather and its alledgedly tasteless food. ‘I’ve lived in thios country for 40 years. I grew up in Michigan and I’ve lived in los Angeles, New York and Miami, and in a way you get a feeling, when you go to another country, that you sort of start again. I don’t want to say the word “reinvent” because that’s so boringly overused on me, but for me Britain is a different culture. It’s exciting. I like how formal everyone is.’ I’m begining to wonder wheather she’s being serious or not, but she is obviously quite taken with the particular topic. ‘Mind you,’ she goes on, ‘I probably couldn’t take it all the time because I wasn’t raised that way. I like the eccentricity that is bred with all that British repression and formality. It makes for good creativity. I feel really inspired when I’m there.’ She passes and adds impishly: ‘And I love to walk to a nice pub.’
Now I’m really confused. Madonna ‘the woman who nagged me for months to quit smoking, kicking back in a smoke-filled beery-smelling pub? ‘I know,’ she says, looking like someone who’s just conformed to something she has rebelled against for years, ‘Never in a million years could I have imagined myself sitting in a pub, drinking.’ ‘And what do you drink when you’re in a pub?’ I ask.
‘Apint, of course.’
‘Oh god!’ is all I can muster. ‘Well, I have to,’ she reasons. I perform the action of pulling draught lager: ‘You mean?’ ‘Yes,’ she says prodly, cutting me of. ‘What kind do you like?’ ‘Guinness,’ she responds simply. As I am picturing fasion icon Madonna sitting there with a moustache of froth on her elegant upper lip, she adds: ‘You can’t get a good glass of wine in a pub.’ What next, I wonder, the dog track? ‘I would never think of going down the street to a bar here and having a drink. It’s weird, but I love going to a pub in England and sitting there with friends and having a drink. There’s much more a feeling of community there.’
It was while recording the music for Evita in London that Madonna really fell in love with the place and made a lot of new friends. ‘What I love about it there is that most of my friends aren’t in the busniess. They are fashion designers and interior decorators and art dealers and writers – eccentric, strange people. We all talk about books and nobody talks about optioning something to make into a screenplay. There’s nothing I hate more than actors or singers or performers sitting down and talking about their work. I just find it deadly dull.
‘Dreadfully dreary, darling,’ she adds, sounding like a latter-day Lady Bracknell. ‘I’ve been practising my posh accent all week,’ she says prodly. ‘I’ve been getting good grades.’
‘For any particular purpose,’ I enquire, ‘or just to annoy people?’
‘The only person who is annoyed is my boyfriend. He likes to keep me on my toes. he thinks I’m really good at the posh British accent, though. He says, “American birds really get upper-class accent down but nobody can do a good London accent.” I told him I’ll work on it.’
Madonna’s boyfriend is 30-year-old Guy Ritchie, the handsome and remarkably down-to-earth british director of Lock Stock and two Smoking Barrels, who has just finished directing Brad Pitt in his latest film, Snatch. The couple were introduced to each other some time ago by relatively new British friend of Madonna’s, Trudie Styler, wife of pop star Sting.
‘Do you want to discuss your boyf…?’
‘No,’ she interrupts. ‘Oh God, no. Well, only in an extraneous way. He was bound to come up in conversation several times, especially as we’re talking about England, pub-going and accents,’ she continues. Aha – the investigator of the pub-visiting episodes? A bit of a lad? ‘Oh God,’ she sighs. ‘You are trying to get me to break one of my rules. I never mention boyfriends. I feel like it jinxes everything.’
The New York Times recently carried a report concluding that the best marriages were the ones in which the women were in charge. Would she be happy in a marriage like that, or would she see it as the man being too weak? ‘I have no interest in being in a relationship with someone who is a pushover. I want someone who’s strong and opinionated. I don’t ecen mind if they want to do something that’s “just not cricket”, you know what I mean?’ she says. I’m just throwing in my English expressiions every once in a while to prove to you that I’ve been hanging out in England.’ She goes on: ‘I think the recipe for a good relationship or marriage is when two people really enjoy life, and love what they’re doing, because if they don’t, it just never works. If you’re both busy and working, then obviously you’re going to spend some time apart, and when you come back you are filled with nex experiences to share. I like that. I think it’s boring to spend every minute of the day with somebody – that’s death. I quite like the way Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn did it. They owned houses a couple of blocks away from each other. It’s good to miss someone. it’s horrible to take someone for granted.’
One person Madonna doesn’t take for granted is her three-and-half-year-old daughter, Lola. I recall her telling me a story recently about Lola looking through a magazine pointing to all the people she knew personally. Has Lola been affected by Madonna’s immense fame? ‘She’s too young to understand what celebrity is. All I really care about is that she’s surrounded by good people with positive energy and love. She’s just as fond of someone who isn’t in a magazine as might be of someone who is, and just as suspicious when she first meets anyone. She doesn’t treat anyone differently and she doesn’t get treated differently. She knows what paparazzi are and she says they’re yucky. But she doesn’t really understand what it’s all for. I don’t think anyone could at that age.’
Would she like to have another baby?
‘Yeah, I would but I want be in a stable relationship. I do think Lola should have a brother or a sister. I think she’s incredibly spoiled. She could do with a bit of competition.’
After all this talk about personal stuff, I ask her why it’s taken her so long to make another film since she starred in Evita. ‘Evita was such a full, all-encompassing, experience, incredibly stimulating on every level,’ she says. ‘I decided I’m never going to do another movie again unless it’s all those things. I’ve made too many mistakes in the past where I liked certain elements and I just thought. “Oh, it will get fixed”, and then it enever did. And then I paid the price for it. I just don’t want to take those chances.’
‘Anyway, acting has always taken a back seat to music’, she explains. ‘For the past 10 years, I have been much more involved with making records and going on tour. I don’t think I was that scrupulous in ,y choices. I’ve made 10 movies now. If you count Truth or Dare, 11. I think half of them have been good and half of them have been shit. I’ve got two things working against me. One is that i’mreally successful in another area and it’s really hard for people to let you cross over into anything else. Also, because I was in a series of really bad movies, it was given people a licence to say “Oh, she can’t act, she can’t do this, she can’t do that”, but honestly I can think of Academy Award-winning actors and actressed that have done more shit movies than I have.’
Madonna’s good friend and co-star Rupert Everett recently said to me: ‘I just don’t see her having patience to act, but she can do anything she wants to. She has this amazing energy to do things.’ When I mention this to Madonna, she shrieks in mock anger. ‘How dare he say that! Listen, I’m imapatient in the recording studio. I’m impatient everywhere. No one ever works fast enough for me. I’m tireless workhorse. I hate everyone sitting around and I hate waiting. I’m always that way on my video shoots, in the recording studio. I can’t stand it when people take meal breaks, I go mad. I don’t even want anyone going to the bathroom.’
Apart from Everett, who she thinks is divine, Madonna counts very few thespians in her circle of friends, although, over the past couple of years, she has become friendly with Gwyneth Paltrow – also a yoga enthusiast. I ask her about their friendship. ‘I don’t rat on my friends,’ she jokes playfully, before relenting, and telling me to go ahead. Gwyneth always refers to Madonna as being like an older sister; does Madonna in turn see Gwyneth as a younger sister? Gwyneth is experiencing the upsides and the downsides of being incredibly famous for the first time, and I think people taking pictures of you and writing stories about you putting their nose in your business for the first time is going to be disorientating. I wish I could have someone to turn to when I was at that point in my life. I don’t think I would have taken a lot of things so personally. So I’m happy for her. I do see her as a younger sister, although she is very sophisticated for her age. Mostly, she just wants to know where I get my handbags. It’s funny. Even though I’m 13 years older than her, girls are always just girls, constantly coveting each other’s wardrobes: I want those shoes. I want that handbag. Where did you get that? It’s relentless.’
Madonna, unlike a lot of other celebrities, doesn’t have the kind of ego that requires her to socialise exclusively with other famous people. Having accompanied her to several Oscars parties over the years. I can vouch for this. She would rather talk to her friend she is with than scan the room for celebrities. Although when I saw her presenting an award to Sir Paul McCartney recently, she did look a little overawed, so I can’t help asking what was it like to meet him. ‘I was probably a bit starstruck, because I didn’t really hear what he said. I thought he was histerically funny. I don’t know how the rumour started that he came back to my apartment, but it was a strange rumour.’ She smiles and adds, irreverently: ‘Anyway, everyone knows I like younger men.’
And what about his daughter, her new friend Stella McCartney? ‘When I first met her she was sewing dresses and suits and selling them out of some tiny room on the third floor of some horrible place someone dragged me to in London. I thought she was a genius. I don’t know how anyone could have a line of clothes. You have to stand on top of it and you have to lick every fashion editor’s butt.’
There’s time for just one last question before madonna has to rush off to her next meeting. Having had a chance to relax over the New Year, has she thought about what she’d like to achieve in the new century that she didn’t in the last? ‘I looked back at the past 20 years of my life, and I’ve worked really hard. I’ve accomplished a lot. I’ve had an incredible life. I tend to be really hard on myself, saying “You’re not good enough, you have to work harder.” but on this vacation I had a chance to look back and relax and say, “OK, you don’t have to win any races. Pat yourself on the back and take a deep breath.” The pressure doesn’t really come from anyone else but myself. I don’t look around and I see people doing things and there are always twinges of jelousy or envyy. I know about what people have then I ask myself, “Do you really want that life?” And the answer is “No. So shut up.” I mean shut up to myself,’ she qualifies. And then she turns and smiles.