I met Madonna in 1990, quite by chance, when a friend took me to a party in Los Angeles. Upon entering the house, I was suddenly surrounded by stars, and the only person I didn’t recognize was me. I searched the room for my friend who had seemingly been sucked into the celestial vortex, never to be seen again. Seated on a couch nervously pulling my wayward dress closer to my knees, I surveyed the land: Michelle Pfeiffer here, Jack Nicholson there, Al Pacino, Andy Garcia. Was there no end to this impenetrable wall of fame? Apparently not, because squeezed in between Sandra Bernhard and Warren Beatty sat Madonna. I had always been a fan of hers and had promised myself should I ever be in the same room as her I would be frightfully un-English and introduce myself to her. (Heavens above!)
As I sat on the opposite side of the room I was now listening to the endless twitterings of some starlet who was informing me of how she lost her virginity, aged 12. I could fake interest — but I was new in town and hadn’t quite mastered the art — or I could make good on my promise to myself. My eyes darted over to the buffet table, which, despite being laden with delicious-looking food, had no one around it. As if by magic — and in a way not uncommon to me in times of high stress – I scurried over to the chow.
I hardly noticed that Madonna was also heaping food onto her plate until there we stood face to face, each holding our grub. “How can you eat so much and stay so thin?” I blurted out. As opposed to treating me like Kathy Bates’ character from Misery, she told me how she was disciplined during the week, but ate what she wanted on weekends. She then invited me to sit with her and her friends. And so on the floor, cross-legged (difficult in previously described dress), I ate my dinner at the feet of Madonna. That is not to say that this is where I have stayed during my 10-year friendship with her.
It’s early 2000, and I have been dispatched by Jane to interview Madonna in New York about her new movie The Next Best Thing, which costars Rupert Everett. In it they play two best friends — he is gay and she is single — who raise a child together until her character falls in love with the tasty Benjamin Bratt. She is forced to decide whether she and her child should stay with Rupert or start a new life with her future husband.
I arrive at her Upper West Side apartment at the appointed time. (She is a stickler for punctuality). I am greeted by her assistant Ellie-Mae, who instantly returns to her computer and mobile phone in an attempt to keep the mogul’s life ticking like clockwork.
As I wait for Madonna — who has just finished yoga and is probably scanning her wardrobe for a pair of Jane-appropriate shoes — I find her daughter Lourdes (read: Lola) in the kitchen. She is patiently waiting for her nanny to make her toast before a trip to the movies with her father, Carlos Leon.
Madonna enters. Knowing she doesn’t have to impress me–after all – I saw her in labor — she is wearing her version of combat trousers, a black tank top (bra straps showing, natch) and a pair of divine intricately beaded slip-on Fendi shoes. Her blond shoulder-length hair, parted in the middle, is still wet. We make our way upstairs to her living room. The room has leather couches, red satin curtains and a colorful rug. The walls are dark green. She plops herself on the floor. “I’m going to do the interview lying down,” she announces as she lies flat on her back. Having interviewed her for MTV and ABC, I note a big difference today. Not only is she without the constraints and pandemonium imposed by film crews and makeup and hair people, but she is also in an excellent mood. This is the real Madonna: my friend, relaxed, funny and willing to poke fun at herself.
Myth #1: Madonna, the Party Girl
Searching for the reason for her sunny disposition. I blurt out, “So how was your New Year’s?”
“It was a night of decadence and debauchery,” she says, giving me her naughtiest look. “The best New Year’s I’ve had, funnily enough, because I didn’t expect to have a good one. I said, ‘Okay, I’m going to a dinner party and then a party afterward, no big deal.’ We took a boat across the bay in Miami to Donatella’s [Versace] house for dinner. People were dancing. I mean people who never dance were pogo-ing, jumping up and down on the furniture. I don’t know how many drinks I had. All I know is they kept sloshing out of the glass and pretty soon you have 20 half drinks and then it was 5 a.m. and I had really horrible blisters on my feet and I had to go home.”
As I make a mental note never to spend a Millennium’s Eve in L.A. again, I console myself with the fact that this woman — who is possibly the most clean-living person I know — must have suffered the next day. M, as she is sometimes referred to by her friends, is so healthy in fact that for years when I visited her in Miami for short vacations, and looking up to her as I do, I would try and get myself on the “Madonna regimen.” This was pre-yoga, when she ran eight miles a day. “I’m giving up smoking,” I would announce. “You’d better!” came her surprisingly puritanical response and off we’d jog without a trainer. The first time I did it I collapsed in a purple – faced heap as she continued on alone, followed by a car filled with three strange men who bullied and jeered at her. “I’m never doing that again,” she said, once inside her house, obviously quite shaken by the experience. “Neither will I,” I said to myself, thinking I’d never walk again, let alone run.
“So how was your hangover?” I just can’t help myself from asking. “Um, it was forceful,” she giggles.