Is there, then, a fundamental need to create people who are too good for us?
“I would say absolutely. We all need people to look up to. The bravest and most dignified thing about Diana was that while she exposed herself to the public she also said ‘I’m not perfect, I have my problems.’ I’m not saying that I agree with everything she ever did. But look, what we need is not role models who get up there and say ‘I’m perfect,’ but ones who say ‘I’m flawed, and I’m vulnerable and I am going to try to change and be a better person.’ We need those people now more than ever, because everywhere we look, whether it is the movies or TV or even fashion photography, we see the glamorising of death and violence and drug addiction.”
She talks of the resources she has been able to use in her struggle for a healthy relationship with her own fame. It is here that resemblances between herself and Diana finally, poignantly, break down. For these resources are no more and no less than her friends. If she had not been able to unburden herself regularly to her own “incredible” close ones, she does not know how she could have survived. “I sensed a kind of desperation from her, and I realised that she just did not have the same kind of support from friends as I have. That, I guess, is what makes this all the sadder, because here [Dodi] was someone who she really got on well with, and who was part of a family.”
Family. The word, an ominous one from the very start of Diana’s life, strikes an odd note once more. Then comes the related word, monarchy. Madonna goes on talking, but the shadow of the word hangs over her speech like an old, entrenched front of English weather.
Monarchy, Diana’s embracing enemy, was something Madonna did not have to contend with. The closest counterpart, in terms of oppression and manipulation, would have been Hollywood, but that institution was an amateur by comparison.
“Thank God,” she continues, “I have my friends, and not a monarchy round my ankles like a ball and chain.”
I ask her if she has any answers to the questions of overwhelming fame, and by way of reply she says that she is losing sleep over how to protect her daughter. She then makes a plea similar to the one made by Libby Purves in yesterday’s Times for some truce with the young. “The first thing we need is a law that says the photographers can’t take their pictures before a certain age. Let’s face it, they didn’t ask to be famous. Let them at least have the semblance of normality in their early years. They would have to be strong laws. People say they exist in France but that’s baloney. I was talking to Demi Moore and she was saying that when she went to France with her children the photographers followed her everywhere, and in the end they couldn’t leave the hotel.”
“Freedom of the press, yes, I’m all for it. Write whatever you want to write. But you cannot stalk people and take pictures of them inside their bedroom windows, or chase them through towns at 100 mph. Like I said, we are destroying the things we love.”
It is no longer family and monarchy that hang over the speech, but freedom and destruction. They are there again, with the same sad proximity they always had in Diana’s life. “I mean, the woman was caged,” says Madonna, with the utmost bleakness. “The only hope I can see coming from all this is that…”
Is that what? She pauses for a moment and I wait for her to say something about the Princess not dying in vain if we learn the lessons of her tragic death. But this is not Hollywood and the words don’t come.
She tries again: “The only hope I can see coming from all this is that… is that now she is free.”
© The Times