«Let me make this very clear, what I’m doing for Vogue Italia – the visuals and the imagery – is about my life in Lisbon and the year I just spent living there. So it doesn’t make much sense to talk about anything else does it?». Madonna, who turns 60 on August 16, made it clear she prefers to talk about the present.
And her present includes the one year she has been living in Portugal with four of her six children: David Banda and Mercy James, 12, and twins Stella and Estere, 5. Everything started from David’s passion for football and his desire to become a professional player.
Xerxes Cook: So, what prompted your move away from New York?
Madonna: Soccer. My son David, who is going to be 13 on September 24th, has wanted to play soccer professionally for years. I’ve been desperate to get him into the best academies with the best coaches, but the level of football in America is much lower than the rest of the world. I saw his frustration, and I also felt it was a good time. I felt like we needed a change, and I wanted to get out of America for a minute – as you know, this is not America’s finest hour – not that leaving America makes anything different or changes anything. I’ve lived in other places; I lived in London for 10 years. I like to put myself in uncomfortable situations and take risks.
XC: How did you settle on Lisbon?
M: It was actually between three different cities that had soccer academies.
And I thought, let me see if I could live somewhere else for a year and put my four youngest kids in a different environment, as I think it’s also important to expose them to different cultures and live in different places. It was between Turin, Barcelona and Benfica in Lisbon. I went to all those places and tried to imagine myself living there. Of course, Barcelona is a super fun city, and I like Turin as well, but Turin is not really a city for children. It’s a city for intellectuals; they have incredible museums and beautiful homes, but I didn’t think it would be fun for them. I have to take everyone into account, not just whether it will be a good academy for David. So I went to Lisbon, and it seemed the best all-around choice. The first thing I did when I got there was to go to Sintra, which is a magical forest – there’s a lot of mystical energy there.
XC: What has Lisbon got going for it?
M: I believe Portugal is the oldest country in Europe. It’s steeped in history, and the Portuguese empire has made its dent on the world. The architecture is amazing. It’s also the birthplace of slavery, and so there are musical influences which come from Angola and Cape Verde, and also from Spain. And then on top of all of that, one of my favorite things to do in the whole world is to ride horses.
XC: Do you live in the city or the surrounding countryside?
M: I live in Lisbon, in Lapa, but when I go horse riding I go to Comporta, I go to friend’s houses, I go to Alcácer. There are lots of different areas outside of Lisbon to ride. Whenever my son doesn’t have a soccer match on Sunday, then that becomes an adventure day, and we would pick a place to go riding.
XC: You mentioned that you like to challenge yourself. In 1979, you left Michigan for New York with just $35 in your pocket. So this time around, what kind of challenges have you faced as a single mother moving to a foreign city with four kids?
M: It’s a different kind of challenge. When I moved to New York it was just about me, and taking care of the child in me. I’m still in survival mode, but now I have four younger children to think of, their education, looking after them and making sure they’re happy. Lisbon is an ancient city and no one is in a hurry to do things. You can have all the romantic notions you want, but once you are in a house and your staff doesn’t show up and the pipe starts leaking and you don’t speak the language, all of a sudden you’re like, fuck what have I done? [Laughs].