Exclusive Interview with Mother of Re-Invention
Madonna talks frankly about her adoption struggle, her newfound love for filmmaking – and being a crybaby.
Madonna is no stranger to criticism. She faced a storm of controversy over the adoption in 2006 of Malawian boy David Banda, now two. But, showing no sign of mellowing as she nears her landmark 50th birthday, the megastar has again hit back at her critics as she asserts her absolute certainty about the way she has chosen to expand her family.
In this exclusive interview, the music legend goes into detail for the first time about how intensely stressful she found the adoption process. “In the end, I rationalised that when a woman has a child and goes through natural childbirth, she suffers an enormous amount,” she said. “So I sort of went through my own kind of birthing pains dealing with the press accusing me of kidnapping, or whatever you want to call it.”
And she insists David’s father Yohane gave her and her husband Guy Ritchie his blessing to adopt the infant — and also reveals that her 11-year old daughter Lourdes has started doing volunteer work in the same orphanage where she first set eyes on David.
This interview comes as she celebrates getting final adoption approval from a court in Malawi — though David’s dad may still yet challenge aspects of the adoption ruling in order to win visitation rights…
Madonna, you were criticised over David’s adoption and even suffered claims that his father was unaware of what was happening to his son. What’s the truth?
“David was very ill with pneumonia when I first saw him. He had survived malaria and tuberculosis, and no one from his extended family had visited him since the time he arrived at the orphanage. His father’s whereabouts were unknown and he had never been to see David.”
“I later sat in a room with David’s father, who had been traced by officials, and looked into his eyes while he said he was very grateful that I was going to give his son a life. and that had he kept his son with him in the village he would have buried him. I didn’t really need any more confirmation that I was doing the right thing and I had his blessing.”
Did Lourdes and Rocco, now seven, welcome David into the family?
“Absolutely. They are completely in love with him. That’s the amazing thing about children: they don’t ask questions. They’ve never once said, ‘What is he doing here?’ or mentioned the difference in his skin colour, or wondered why he is in our lives.”
Will you make sure David stays in touch with his African roots?
“Yes. he will always come with me on my humanitarian trips to the country, and I will always take him to the orphanage and the village that he came from. I also hope that he goes back when he has finished his education. He was named David for a reason – I think he is going to be a king.”
Do any of the rest of your family come with you on your trips?
“My husband comes with me sometimes and my daughter, Lourdes, because she is old enough to do volunteer work in the orphanage. I know I can trust her to put on her mosquito spray. But the next time I go I am also going to bring Rocco, because I think he is ready for it.”
Would Lourdes like to follow in your footsteps as a pop star?
“She says she wants to be an actress. I don’t mind.”
She’s at an age where she’s very fashion conscious and has great style. Does she get that from you?
“I’ll just say that my daughter has a very strong opinion about clothes. She has got incredible taste, actually.”
Are you concerned that she might take a leaf out of your book and become a bit of a rebel?
“I look back at my twenties and I really was not getting up to much. What do people think I did in my twenties: I don’t think I was as naughty as I could have been. And these days you have cell phones and YouTube that are added distractions. She is very self-possessed and she has a strong personality, so that will be a challenge for me, but it will also serve her well when she gets older.”
Like her mum, then? You’ve always been accused of being a control freak.
What artist isn’t a control freak? If you are doing a lot of things, you learn to let go of control in many details. I keep my eye on things and make sure that people who know what I want are staying in the room after I leave, because I can’t take care of every little detail.”
And, forgive me, an explosive temper?
“I used to have an explosive temper – I named my production company Semtex after French producer Mirwais, who I worked with on many records. gave me the idea. He used to call me ‘Semtex girl’ because I used to go to the recording studio and explode. I don’t explode in that way now but I have a dynamic personality.”
You’re going on tour in August and turning 50. How do you feel about that birthday?
“Not only does society suffer front racism and sexism it also suffers from ageism. Once you reach a certain age you’re not allowed to be adventurous, you’re not allowed to be sexual. I mean, is there a rule? Are you supposed to just die? I’ve never been conformist.”
Is it important to be defined as a strong woman?
“I don’t think strength is gender specific. I know a lot of strong men and women, and I know a lot of weak men and women. I think that most people underestimate their own strength and don’t really tap into the reserves that they actually embody, to be able to know that it is there and to not abuse it and to use it in the right places.”
How do you mean?
“Well, sometime, what we define as strength is not strength. Sometimes to be strong is to do nothing and site versa. Sometimes to do too much but to use your strength is weakness, so there is a contradiction there, but I do admire people who have emotional and mental strength, and use it wisely.”
Do you still hanker after an acting career?
“Absolutely not, because now I’ve tasted directing. It’s like Eve and the apple. I have to have a second bite. If you’re an actress, its not your vision. The director tells the story, you are the chess piece that is moved around. That doesn’t suit my personality.”
Your documentary is very moving. Did you ever shed any tears yourself?
“Yep, I cried during the movie, seen it a thousand times and I still cry. In fact, I’m a big cry baby – actually cry all the time.”
Did your own experience with HIV/AIDS sufferers in your early years in New York influence your interest?
“Well, going to Africa was like experiencing it all over again. I remember being in Manhattan in the early 1980s and meeting one of my friends who was HIV-positive. We didn’t know what it was then. He was a musician, and suddenly he was wasting away and nobody understood what was going on. Then more and more people got sick, and there was this realisation that it was a disease and they finally put a name on it. Back then, the gay community was marginalised and ostracised, and the disease was stigmatised. To watch that happen to so many people I loved, and to watch them die and feel helpless to do anything had an enormous influence on my life.
How has your humanitarian work changed you?
“You cannot be uunchanged by it. I went there [to Africa] thinking that they had it so bad and that we had to come to their rescue and, partly, that is true. But at the same time – and this is the irony of it all – we are all messed up in the West. We all have so much, yet everyone’s complaining and evelyone’s depressed because their lives are in a state of chaos. You start to put things into perspective in realising that having a lot doesn’t necessarily mean you will be happy…”
Do you prefer making movies to music?
“Yes, because you have more time to tell a story. You have an hour and a half or two to save the world.”
Are there any writing or directing projects on the go?
“Yeah. I am writing a script but I’m not giving away what the movie is about.”
What do you still have to achieve?
“Well. I’d like to become a better human being. I’d like to learn more than I already know. I’d like to be a better parent. I still have my children to raise and that is a big responsibility. I’m not done with that. I’d also like to write and direct more films. I’ve only done one, so to me that is the beginning of that career. And I want to make more records because I love music.”