Madonna was 25 before she released a record. She says this is important to understand. Prince signed to Warners in his teens. Michael Jackson could see himself as a cartoon on TV as a child. Madonna had 25 years to live without scrutiny, to become an adult in a normal way, and this is why she is different. “They isolate themselves too much,” she says. “If they would just come outside and mingle with humanity, everything would benefit – their art, and whatever relationships they may have. They’ve made such a big deal about being secretive that now it’s going to be even harder for them, because the more you say, ‘I’m not going to show you, you can’t see’, the more everybody wants to see. It’s just the way it is.
“I could never say that either of them were friends. I’ve spent a good deal of time with both of them. They’re very different people, but I felt the same with both. I felt like a peasant next to them, like this big clumsy farm girl. Like, when I’m hungry, I eat. When I’m thirsty, I drink. When I feel like saying something, I say it. And they have these manners and they’re just so careful about what they eat and what they say. I had dinner with Prince once, and he was just sipping tea, very daintily. I was stuffing food down my face and I was like, ‘Aren’t you going to eat?'” She mimics a delicate, whispered no. “And I thought, ‘Oh my God!’ I have this theory about people who don’t eat. They annoy the fuck out of me. It’s something about being in control.”
But people say you don’t eat.
“Honey! I have flesh. You could grab any part of my body and come up with a handful, so that’s absurd. It goes with the thing that I’m lonely, I can’t get a man and I’m suffering. But going back to Prince and Michael Jackson, it’s never too late to start being a human being. If they could just try being some-thing close to that, then that would be the way to… I mean, fuck salvation in the public eye, I’m just talking about being happy in your private life. Just being able to go to a basketball game or for a bike ride. I can’t imagine either of those guys putting on sweat pants and sneakers and going for a run, playing outside with a dog or just being silly and hanging out with your friends without your make-up on. You know what I mean? I don’t think they do that.”
The deal struck by Madonna and Michael Jackson at the start of the Nineties are the deals most pop stars now use as a benchmark, the reason why someone like George Michael can feel that his own deal is “professional slavery”. It is unclear how much either deal is worth even to those involved, as so much of it is dependent on the performance of the companies that were set up as a result. Ever since Madonna opened Maverick’s plush offices in West Hollywood, there have been whispers of impending bankruptcy. Madonna herself is claiming no great successes, but says it’s early days yet, she shrugs.
The film company has so far produced one film – Dangerous Game – and was three-quarters of the way through another with John Candy when the star died. They are stil struggling to finish it. Other films are in development and one, The Year of Frank Sinatra, has just got Susan Sarandon to commit: “I love her, she’s the best. It’s about a mother and a child and it’s a great story, and we’re just trying to find the perfect director.”
The TV company has yet to get anything off the ground, although it is working on several projects, one of them involving Madonna’s friend, actress Rosie O’Donnell. But the music publishing company is taking off nicely, she says, and the record label is enjoying its first top ten album in the US with the band Candlebox – the record has already sold two million. They recently supported Metallica on tour, and Madonna went to see them in Miami: “I felt like a proud mother.”
The label’s other success is Me’shell NdegeOcello, the singer-songwriter who contributes a rap to Madonna’s new LP, and whose own “Plantation Lullabies” LP was one of last year’s overlooked gems. She is not an easy act to market, says Madonna, because there is still resistance to black artists performing anything that doesn’t fit into straight R&B dance categories, but Maverick intends to stick by her. “I want a real record label with real artists. I don’t want to be Prince and have everybody be a clone of me. That’s not having a label, that’s having a harem. They only function for as long as he’s interested in them. I want artists who are going to have a life of their own and who have point of view. People set different standards by what I do. They look at Maverick and say It’s failing miserably. But it’ll happen – that’s the best revenge, to just keep doing it.”
Celebrity has taken a different shape towards the end of the century. As our royal family is finding out on its own, it’s hard to have secrets now. The Garbo option is no longer available. Whether it’s a telescopic lens, a scanner picking up a phone call, or the — of the chequebook, the media has the way – and more importantly the will – to intrude almost anywhere. I ask Madonna if she thinks she could choose not be famous now, whether she thinks anonimity will ever be possible. “No, I don’t. Uh uh. It’s already done,” she laughs. If she tried to emulate Princess of Wales and retire, the premium on a paparazzi shot would be so high that, like Diana, she’d be followed everywhere. “She can’t say goodbye to it either,” agrees Madonna. “Poor thing, I wish everyone would just leave her alone.”
We talk about the Oliver Hoare phone story. “But is it the truth or is it just a story?” asks Madonna. “I can tell you now that 99 per cent of the things you read about me are not true, so that must be true for everyone else. She should just leave the country.”