The Mistress of manipulation
Madonna shows Dan Cairns all too clearly who is in control — of her life, her astonishing 27-year career, and their meeting
The British nerve centre for Madonna Inc is to be found in two adjoining townhouses in central London. The buildings are a home for the singer and her four children when they are in this country, plus offices and a personal gym. From the outside, the six-storey edifices are standard-issue London mansions — that is, way beyond the standards most of us are accustomed to. There is something impregnable about such streets: an air of discreet luxury pervades them. Litter seems not to blow or rattle down their immaculate expanses; no chewing gum or urgently expelled kebab encrusts their gleaming paving stones. You might glance up at Madonna’s perfect residential pair and admire their symmetry, the cleanness of their architectural lines. But you would be more likely, unless you were a lurking paparazzo, not even to notice them; they are merely two houses in a long, wide street of the things. Anonymous, ordered, well maintained and with a touch of class. Madonna wouldn’t have it any other way. “Where do you live?” she asks when we meet later. Dalston, I say. The name doesn’t register. Stoke Newington, I add as a pointer. “That’s not even in London,” she scoffs. And it isn’t, to be fair. Or not in this London, at any rate.
The evening before I walk down her street and ring the doorbell, I visit another imposing building near the singer’s home. A few days earlier, a leaflet had been thrust into my hand. “It’s a Sign: it read, and considering that it went on to invite the bearer to an introductory talk on kabbalah at the centre Madonna bought for the organisation six years ago, it seemed just that. The lecture offered an hour-long precis of what cynics would dismiss as woolly mumbo jumbo. One per cent of each of us is concerned with our corporal beings; concentrate on the remaining 99%, the speaker suggests, and we locate the key to a spiritually nourishing life. There is, however, an impression of calm, wellbeing, even complacency. And Madonna, as even a cursory knowledge of her questing, controversy-courting 27-year career will attest, needs calm. Because the opposite of calm, of control, is? “Chaos: she says later. “Pain, suffering.”
We are meeting to discuss Celebration, the two-disc, 36-track greatest-hits collection that marks Madonna’s final cons tractual obligation to her record label before she skips off into the $120m embrace of Live Nation, the American con-r! cert promoters. Conditions have been imposed: no questions it about adoption, about her divorce, about her love life, her faith; discussion is to be confined to her music. Refereeing ithe joust is the singer’s longtime American publicist, a fonni- x dable, don’t-mess-with-me powerhouse named Liz Rosenberg, whose manner, if not appearance, puts one instantly B and inescapably in mind of the character of Roz, the giant (1, snail in the film Monsters Inc, with her catch phrase: “I’m B watching you, Wazowski. Always watching.” She has worked for the singer pretty much from the moment, in 1982, when Madonna was first handed the keys to the candy store of stardom. “By the way,” Madonna says at one point, “my dream was always to work in a candy store. It was because of my obsession with candy; I don’t have it any more, now that my teeth are all rotten. I did go to a university for a year, as shocking as that might sound to people, and there was a candy shop that I used to go to all the time, an old-fashioned one where all the candy was in these big glass jars. I used to go in there and look at all the candy and think, `God, it would be really cool to work in here; I could have candy whenever I wanted.’ So I did want the keys to the candy store, but I had different keys: Confectionery’s loss, pop’s gain.
In Life with My Sister Madonna, Christopher Ciccone’s bitchy and embittered memoir, the singer’s brother recounts how every single minute of his sister’s day is planned and accounted for. Today, however, that schedule has gone awry. Seconds before I am due at her front door, a call comes through advising me to delay by 15 minutes. Which I duly do, only to be parked in the reception hall for a further quarter of an hour. It gives me a chance to take a look around. As I wait, Madonna appears briefly before descending to the basement, from winch various sounds drift up: a peal of throaty laughter; a burst of her new single; and the noise of a vacuum cleaner. Is she catching up on housework, geed up by one of her own songs on the stereo and skipping round, Dyson in hand? Unlikely, but it’s an appealing image. In the hall where I wait, a painting by the 17th-century Dutch baroque artist Gerrit Dou hangs on one of the walls, which are covered with blue brushed velvet. On another wall, a pair of circular canvases show a troupe of pierrots, rope-dancing. Scented Christian Dior candles fill the air in a space so dimly lit, it seems both slightly theatrical and quasi-religious. A huge telephone with multiple extensions bears labels such as M study, M dressing room, M bathroom, Laundry, Music Room, Kitchen, Mews. The picture is one of great wealth combined with logistical and organisational rigour. Discipline, control, precision. And that’s the definition of me?” Madonna says later, finishing my out-loud train of thought. “Yeah, but I don’t even think, when people write that, that they really believe it. I just think people are tapping into a zeitgeist and repeating things they’ve heard other people say; and it makes good copy.”