Both are self-educated. “It’s what I was attracted to in Guy because, like me, he is hungry for knowledge,” says Madonna. “When I first met him he was reading voraciously. His thing was Darwinism and the evolution of the species and we would get into these philosophical debates about Christianity versus atheism and Darwinism versus Genesis. I had never had these conversations with anyone before. And I found them thrilling.”
Juggling life as mother, wife, singer, dancer and writer – as well as the CEO of Madonna Inc – is tough. “I get frustrated. I think I can manage my day and fit it all in. But it gets to eight o’clock and I go, “Shit, I promised I would read to the kids”. The thing I have sacrificed here is a social life. I don’t go out much. If I want to do my job, pay attention to my children and have a relationship with my husband, I don’t have time to go out with my friends. If it wasn’t for e-mail, I would fall deeply out of touch with everybody.”
But family overrides everything for Madonna: “Everyone needs to be stopped in their tracks by parenthood and marriage, otherwise you are just selfish satellites spinning in space.”
Madonna’s early days in New York were fraught with the tensions of poverty and potential failure. “I remember having very little money and starving and budgeting myself, alternating between being able to buy a packet of peanuts and a container of yogurt one day, and a large bag of cheese popcorn and a container of cranberry juice the next. That was my diet. But I refused to accept that anything but success would happen.”
And if it had all failed? “That was not an option. I was not going back to Michigan, no matter what. I’m not going to depend on anybody, no matter what.”
Madonna was just five when she lost her mother to cancer. “I remember her death and everything about it,” she says. “I remember not really understanding what it meant but accepting that she was never going to come back. I remember being so frustrated at not having the words to express my feeling of loss.
“My dad had to deal with so many things and we kind of got farmed out to people’s houses. I went down the street and lived with this family for a while. This poor woman had to put up with my rages and tantrums and I was told to put on this dress and I was so angry I ripped it off. The woman had a daughter in a wheelchair with cerebral palsy who I thought was luckier than me because she had a mum.
“I no longer feel sorry for myself. But I look at my daughter or son and think, “Oh my God, that was how old I was when my mother left”.”
She is tender but tough with Lourdes and Rocco: “I’m pretty strict about their diet. I have a macrobiotic chef. We don’t eat dairy, there are treats once in a while but they generally don’t have sugar.” Coca-Cola? “No sodas, no Coca-Cola – disgusting! No video games, nothing that I would perceive as a mindless time-waster.
“My daughter is a voracious reader and I know it’s because she doesn’t watch TV. She came home from school quite crestfallen the other day. She said, “Guess what my new name at school is?’ Everyone had to fall into a category and she was the bookworm. I said it was a compliment. And she said, “But it means I’m a nerd and a geek.’ I said she would change her mind in a few years.”
Home is definitely England (despite the vitriolic press that Ritchie’s latest film Revolver received) and she loves being here with her diamond-geezer husband. She has taken to English traditions such as shooting. But, although pheasants are still reared at her home, Ashcombe, she has put her Purdey to rest.
“That all changed when a bird dropped in front of me that I’d shot. It wasn’t dead. Blood was gushing out of its mouth and it was struggling up this hill and I thought, “Oh God, I did that. I am not a vegetarian and I understand animals die for my meals. I respect that. But I just couldn’t do it any more. I haven’t shot since.”
Madonna is used to people saying that everything she does is connected to Kabbalah. “I find it frustrating because my life is always interpreted through a filter of misinformation.” So what’s the truth about her changing her name to Esther? “I didn’t. I took on another name. Nobody calls me by my Hebrew name, Esther. How it works is that everyone calls me M.
“That’s how it has always been and always will be, but names have energy. From a spiritual point of view, I wanted to attach myself to a name that had a lot of strength. I was named after my mother, Madonna, but my name means something else in the Catholic church. I was reading about all the women in the Old Testament and I thought Queen Esther was an amazing figure.”
So did you become Madonna Esther? “No. It is completely metaphysical. Nobody calls me that name. When I was confirmed I took on the extra name Veronica. In the Catholic faith you align yourself with someone. I took on the name Veronica because she was the one who wiped the face of Jesus on his way to being crucified. I just liked her chutzpah because she walked out in front of this crowd and he was sweating and crying and she took the cloth and helped him. It was a beautiful symbol of compassion.”
Madonna mixes the sacred and the profane like nobody else. Just a few minutes earlier we had been discussing her swearing and why she uses the F-word: “Because it just feels so good to scream it out loud, sometimes positively, sometimes negatively. And I just love how much it irritates everyone.”
With that, Guy’s missus is off, into the streets where a drizzle is falling. “Come on, who needs an umbrella?” she says. “Let’s just get wet.” And, with her two super-smart assistants, she disappears.
Confessions on a Dance Floor is released by Maverick on November 15. I’m Gonna Tell You a Secret is on Channel 4 on December 1
© Tatler Magazine