On a crisp spring afternoon in London, Madonna’s house is filled with the scents and sounds of Saturday. A yummy dish spiced with apples is cooking in the kitchen, laughter is drifting down from upstairs and Madonna’s 8-year-old daughter, Lourdes (“Lola”), is running around excitedly in a back room. “Look how cool, Mommy!” she is saying eagerly. “Isn’t this cool?”
The house is straight out Mary Poppins, grand and old with gloriously high ceilings and massive woodwork painted elegant black, situated in a quintessentially British neighborhood within kite-flying distance of Hyde Park. A lone vase of fresh-cut red roses sits beneath a majestic museum-quality oil painting in the foyer, where a member of Madonna’s staff has asked me to wait. The feel of this place, which was entirely renovated by Madonna, is decidedly more European manor than Material Girl McMansion. Could this be the sign of yet another new Madonna?
Happily married to second husband, Guy Ritchie, for four years, Madonna, 46, has found in marriage and parenthood the most satisfying second act of her life. The mother of two, with son Rocco now a 4-year-old learning to play chess with his dad, Madonna is a devout student of the ancient Jewish mysticism known as Kabbalah, a spiritual quest she credits for her decision to start writing children’s books. Her first, The English Roses, became an international bestseller in 2003, and she is just now releasing her fifth, Lotsa de Casha. She donates all her profits from the books to the Spirituality for Kids Foundation, an education and outreach arm of the Kabbalah Centre.
“Hello,” she says casually, quietly appearing in the foyer. She’s dressed in a navy-blue workout suit, Nikes and a trucker’s cap pulled tight over her head, shadowing her eyes and a face unadorned with makeup. In person, and even in this unambitious outfit, she is beautiful, perhaps even more so than she appears on film and video. She has a chiseled bone structure, creamy skin and wide, intelligent blue eyes.
She leads me to her office, a spacious room strewn with manuscripts from her children’s books and featuring big windows that open to a lush garden courtyard. This, she says, is where she spends most of her time when the kids are in school and Guy is off working on his movie projects. The couple also have homes in Los Angeles, New York City and the English countryside, but London is where the business of raising her family happens.
We sit together for hours, while she casually wraps her legs in a lotus position. (She is perfectly fit and famously flexible from years of yoga.) She ponders each of my questions carefully, seriously, and occasionally gets lost in thought while toggling or chewing on her zipper. It occurs to me that this Madonna isn’t so much reinvented as she is reintegrated. Having almost single-handedly redefined pop culture in the 1980s and 1990s, the Madonna of the new millennium is softer, wiser – an artist with a social conscience, a spiritual seeker refusing easy answers. This Madonna is every bit as powerful as the old one, but – look out, world! – this one has a purpose.
Madonna: You’ll join me in some tea? You’ve come to London, you must have tea!
Interviewer: Of course! Can you tell me how you came to decide to live in London?
Madonna: I moved her for love. Yeah, no other reason. I never thought in a million years I’d live in London. In fact, I quite disliked the place for a while. When I first started coming here, when I was just starting out my career as a singer, the press was so terrible to me. In those days I paid attention to what people wrote about me, and it hurt my feelings. So this was always a place I’d get in and out of as quickly as possible. Then I met my husband. I realized that if I didn’t live here, I wouldn’t get to see him very much. We had a long-distance relationship for a year where we would both take turns going back and forth to see each other, and I would be in Los Angeles making a film, or New York, and he’s come, but it was very inconsistent. The way I looked at it is, I’ve established my career already, and I have the ability and the freedom to move wherever I want, whereas my husband doesn’t. I thought, somebody has to make a compromise. He was a filmmaker, working mostly in London. It just seemed like it was my move to make, which I did. Then I just fell in love with London, and Guy started taking me to the countryside and I started to actually feel comfortable here. When I’d be in America for a while, I’d start to really miss London, so now I prefer being here. Funny the way things turned out.