This seems the right time to ask Madonna why she felt it necessary to lend her iconographic status to the Gap, by appearing in their automn advertising campaign. Her Kabbalah shtick about how “We are all one” and global unity and lack of fragmentation, sits pretty oddly with a multinational company which has been very publicly accused of allowing sweatshops practices in its Third World factories. Since Madonna doesn’t not read newspapers, she tells me, and we know she doesn’t watch television, she obviously cannot be expected to evaluate whether or not such a partnership is a responsible or not. But doesn’t she have any friends or employees who are more aware of what’s going on in the world ?
She chooses not to discuss the ad campaign, in which she and Missy Elliott get into the groove of corduroy – (a Gap spokesperson tells me that her fee of $10 million in the press has been “greatly exaggerated”) – but focuses on the children’s book deal instead. “Well, they’re helping me, so I did it for different reasons than you think, because they’re selling the children’s books in their store, and all the money is going to the Spirituality for Kids Foundation, so that’s why I did it. It’s not for me. I didn’t get paid for it.
And then, she says: “But that said, there’s exploitation going on in every part of the world and God only knows who has suffered for any of the clothes I’m wearing: the hat I’m wearing or the shoes I wear or…” But shouldn’t that be a concern which has an absolute bearing on her kabbalistic way of thinking? She doesn’t seem to hear me: “I hear that people who grow coffee beans don’t get paid very good wages and they’re treated really badly but I don’t wanna stop drinking coffee, so…” But surely, I ask, there’s Fair Trade coffee, if you’re really serious about thinking globally…? “Yes but one has to educated about these things and I didn’t know.”
We did manage, and this must be partly to Madonna’s credit, to get back on to an even keel after this. She was quite funny on the legendary “imbued with healing through meditation” Kabbalah water she drinks: “I’m not gonna sell it but it works for me, and it has gotten rid of my husband’s verrucas and he’ll tell anybody his boring verrucas story.” And, I never felt more bonded with her – on a basic woman-to-woman level- than when she explained why she was trying to have another child. She said: “The last two times I’ve been pregnant I’ve been sort of basket case wondering – Do I want to stay in this relationship? Am I gonna get married? Is this a good thing? What am I going to do? Now, of course, it’s very different. “But because of my exercising and this, that and the other. I’ve kids of screwed up my cyyle a bit and I’m going to the doctors to make sure I’m OK to have a baby. So wish me luck.” And, of course, with all my heart, I do.
Lola appears at the door – with mother hardly ever calls her Lourdes – and Madonna asks me if I would like to meet the quintessential girl. She introduces us impeccably and is absolutely lovely with her daughter, plying her with questions: “Who was your teacher today? Was it Katherine? Is she nice? Are you tired? Are you in a funny mood? Are you really hungry?” And all I can say is I’ve rarely seen a face so suffused with tenderness.
Lola I look at her mum’s book together and she picks out her favorite pages and then Madonna signs it for me – against express instructions from her publisher – and she does some autographs for my kids, and then she takes off to sort out Lola’s supper – hand in hand with her daughter – and waves goodbye, saying she’ll take me to Kabbalah meeting as her guest next time she’s in London. “Bye, Madonna.” “Bye, Ginny.”
I leave for the airport feeling that she had been hard work, and occasionally tricksy, but that between the two of us we had managed to get a revealing, truthful portrait of one of the most public figures of our time, one who – despite her all-too-human flaws – was seriously trying to get her life on balanced footing. Good for Madonna, I thought.
What followed was any journalist’s idea of a nightmare. The very next day the rumbles started, with complaints about “tabloid” questions. This escalated into a full-blown inquiry with her people threatening to stop dealings with The Times unless they had full approval and control of the interview; something that had never been discussed at any point. The number of people representing the pop star seemed to multiply; her personal publicist in America, her personal publicist in Britain, her published in the US, her published in the UK, her publishers’ publicists, and super-agent Andrew “The Jackal” Wylie. The discussions went on for four weeks and were eventually resolved, with the result that this interview is appearing as it was intended, without any interference.
Flicking through Yehuda Berg’s new Kabbalah book, The 72 Names of God, I was struck by one meditation: “You bring forth the powers of observation to see the truth,,, and the courage to handle it!”