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Madonna Interview : People

Madonna - People / September 18 2017

Maternal Girl

The Pop Icon reveals her private world, opening about life as a mom, her emotional adoption, journey and why she’s dedicated to helping children of Malawi

Makeup-free and wearing sweatpants, Madonna steps into her London home office with minimal fanfare. As she carefully slurps tea from an overflowing cup while the faint sound of children playing comes from a nearby room, little about her announces the arrival of a legend. This is Madonna the mother, or “Mambo,” as the four youngest of her six children affectionately call her. The differences between the Queen of Pop and Mambo are immediately apparent. Mambo forgoes couture for a holey black hoodie and sneakers. Mambo burns wood-scented candles and stocks her powder room with an air freshener. (Six kids mean even the most spacious townhouse sees plenty of activity.) And most of all, Mambo hugs. She proudly displays photos of her family throughout the house, which—given that this is a woman who once wrote a book devoted to and titled Sex—is jarringly normal, with nary a cone-shaped bra in sight. Recently two new smiling faces have joined the collection of framed portraits in her office. Already mom to daughter Lourdes “Lola” Leon, 20 (with former flame Carlos Leon), and Rocco Ritchie, 17 (with ex-husband Guy Ritchie), the singer in February adopted orphaned twins Estere and Stella from Malawi, the same African country from which she adopted son David Banda and daughter Mercy James, both 11. “I’m just their mother,” says the star, 59, of her youngest daughters, now 5. Their mother also happens to be the highest-selling female artist of all time—not that her little girls know … or care. “They don’t have a clue!” Madonna says, noting that her 1983 hit “Holiday” played at dinner recently, and big brother David tried to explain the song was performed by none other than their mom. No luck. “They were like, ‘Huh?’ ” she says, laughing. Animated fare is more their speed. “First it was Moana, now their favorite movie is Sing—they’re obsessed with it,” Madonna says. “We sing ‘I’m Still Standing’ all day long.”

Their mom, of course, knows a lot about standing strong. Before adopting David in 2008, she founded Raising Malawi, an organization that aims to educate and support health services for children of the impoverished country. But she has also braved international public scrutiny over her adoptions as well as major setbacks with projects in-country over the years. Reflecting on the thousands of children she’s helped, and how the experience has enriched her own family, the star has no regrets. “It’s so worth it,” she says. On July 11 Madonna invited People to join her in Blantyre, Malawi, for the opening of the Mercy James Centre for Pediatric Surgery and Intensive Care, the country’s first-ever children’s hospital. Rocco painted a mural in the ward, David performed a hip-hop dance with boys from a local school for orphans, and Mercy—the building’s namesake—delivered a moving speech. (Lourdes had a dance workshop at college, “but she was there in spirit!” Madonna says.) “I want my kids to be loving, decent, compassionate human beings. I try to set a good example,” she says. “But it’s been a roller-coaster ride.”