Madonna is at present in Miami, where she has a home. She says she would love to live in New York, but the press interest in her every move makes it unthinkable.
“I can’t spend time there because there are kids on electric bikes, with video cameras, and they are holding onto the bumpers of my car. And I think, they don’t care if they die. I mean, what have we created?”
She expresses an equally strong love for London, but an equally strong fear of being hounded by the British press. In the States, she says, it has reached the point where the press dictates to her where she can and cannot live. The irony of her own “imprisonment” is that she finds herself effectively barred from the places that draw her, and driven to the ones that do not. She mentions Los Angeles in particular. “It’s the most boring place. That’s why I’m there.”
Has it all become so much more acute since John Lennon left England for New York in order to be left in peace by the press and the public, only to meet his own death? ‘Oh yes, that was 17 years ago. The media has changed immensely since then. And you really cannot win. If you ignore them or run away, they think you are being uncooperative.
“If you co-operate, they say you are being manipulative. They were constantly doing that with Diana. I find what they are doing now just as unforgivable. They were so awful to her, and now they are f***ing – excuse my French – now they are putting her on a pedestal and saying she is so great and fabulous, and yet two weeks ago they were ripping her to shreds.”
The problem, she says, is not confined to America and Europe. When she was in Argentina filming Evita, the paparazzi were paying young children to lie under her car so that she would accidentally run them over and they (the photographers) would have a picture. She was more fortunate with her driver than Diana. He spotted the boys and stayed put until they had gone. Not that this stopped the pictures being taken anyway, some of them posed to make it look as though the boys were trapped under the wheels.
On the surface it looks as though Diana was right: Madonna has handled her press relations more effectively than the Princess, and has acquired a protective layer nearer to armadillo-thickness than Diana ever managed. If you do believe our tabloid press, then she has even imposed a vow of public silence on Carlos Leon, her partner and father of their 11-month-old baby daughter Lourdes.
Yet even her staunch defence of privacy has an effect on the market, inflating the scarcity value of Madonnabilia. When she was about to give birth, there was a stake-out of every maternity ward in Beverly Hills, and a reward of $350,000 (about =A3220,000) offered for the first shot of the baby. The parallels between the two women are obvious, if misleading. Both have been intrigued and alarmed by the power of their fame. Both have been single-minded single mothers whose quests for love were turbulent. One achieved stardom through the membership of a particular family; the other went the opposite, American way, made regal by the movies. Neither dreamt at the birth of their public selves that they would embody the fantasies of masses, or become snagged for real in such soap-operatic plots. Both have been called icons, and although it is a vague designation it is given to very few. In the tragic absence of the one, the other is as famous a woman as the world has to offer.
The implications of that status, she agrees, are grave. “Yes, it’s true, people had the same fixation with her that they do with me. You were never allowed to make mistakes without being hanged in the public square. You also just got taken apart in the papers, and this time I don’t mean the photos, but the psychiatric kind of pieces that claimed to have an insight into your character. Then there was this idea that neither of us could have a relationship with a man; that we would never find one who we could connect to because our marriages had failed; that we were unlovable.”
Did this ever feel like a self-fulfilling prophecy?
“Well, it takes a pretty brave guy to go out with someone like that [us]. You’re going to be in the public eye, even if you are a janitor. You have to expect that if you are involved with someone like us. I have always said God bless the man with that kind of courage. There aren’t a lot of people like that in the world.”
So what is going on if this same press that makes her unlovable is also adulating her? Is it trying to make out that mere mortals wouldn’t be good enough? Is it being possessive, in some perverse way, on behalf of its public?
“They [the papers] certainly want to perpetuate the idea that a mere mortal would never satisfy me, which is hardly true, I can assure you.”