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Madonna Interview : Times

However, it’s one thing to epater le bourgoeis when you’re twentysomething, but it is neither cool nor classy – both of which Madonna aspires to be – for a grown-up woman in her forties to humiliate a member of her staff in front of a stranger. And for that matter. It’s pretty poor display of manners to the stranger, too.
The difficulty of getting into bed with Madonna, so to speak, is that she might already have got out of it the wrong side. Certainly, after our inauspicious start, proceedings for a while looked as though they were unlikely to go any more smoothly. Being a boring sticker for accuracy, I always make sure I’ve got my subjects’ ages right before embarking on the bigger stuff. “My age?” Madonna reacted as though it was, truly, the most flabbergasting thing she’d ever heard. “That’s a strange question.” (Coming up 44, she tells me; but since she was born in August 1958, according to Who’s Who and half-a-dozen other respectable reference books, I guess the extra year must have slipped her mind.)
She then let me know precisely where she stood on interviewing technique: “Here’s what I don’t like to do in interviews, I’ll just tell you right away. Usually people waste a lot of time asking if thousands of things are true or not true. In the end, it doesn’t even matter. That’s why when you asked my age, it’s, like, who cares? Who cares about that because, you know, the inaccuracy is always louder than the accuracy.”
When I have finished checking her children’s ages, their mother laughs impatiently and makes an attempt at crushing irony: “Do you know how much I weigh?” Do you want to tell me? “No.”
People normally ask how much you earn but I’m not going to. “I don’t even know.” But you’d know if people were messing up? “Yeah.” That would be annoying, right? “I always like it when they mess up and say that I’ve earned more than I earn. ‘You’re a Billionaire.’ Hm-hmmm, that sounds good,” she cocks her head as though considering her billionaire-ness. “Not true, but sounds good.”
The conversation does, fortunately, pick up. But even when her brain starts to engage, there is something peculiarly awkward about Madonna’s body language. I might have put it down to the torpid atmosphere, or a grumpy mood, were it not for seeing her recent appearance on television with Jonathan Ross. There were no trace of cigar-chewing peroxide brashness of the Madonna whom the chat-show host had interviewed a decade previously – around the time of her Sex book, Erotica single, In Bed with Madonna documentary (aka Truth Or Dare) and movie, featuring S&M scenes, Body of Evidence.
That woman appeared as languorously at ease in her skin as a car, whereas this one was coiled and fidgety and complained about hating her looks. On the night, I attributed the change to the star’s adaptation to the English way of life (along with her taste for real ale and the Mini Cooper), where self-deprecation, rather than ebullient self-confidence, is the most effective way to go native. In other words, the likeliest explanation was that it was merely latest, although arguably oddest, in a long line of Madonna acts.
But here, in front of me, her fingers flutter around her mouth, she keeps placing her pale hand on her neck, as though attempting to strangle herself (now come on Madonna, the interview’s not that bad); she clutches a cushion, like a security blanket, to her stomach; this amalgam of twitchiness is so disquieting, I am moved to ask Madonna if she’s feeling OK and she says she’s tired, having struggled to read music and play the guitar all afternoon.
I’ve always loved the way Madonna puts herself together, from her plump-bellied cropped-Lycra multi bangled arrival in the mid-Eighties to her Pre-Raphaelite post-motherhood dreamy ringlets on Ray of Light in 1998 to her most recent hipster jeans and Kylie tribute T-shirt. but then, until we met – or, to be precise, until the unpleasant aftermath of our meeting . I’d been a Madonna fan for most of the past 20 years.
She seems to have taken fashion notes from the very young black American rapper Eve for her look today. It’s hotchpotch of styles: Barrow Boy, Great Gatsby, harlem, Shanghai Lil. Her sooty hair on American Life has reverted to her favored blonde, scraped back in a short ponytail beneath a herringbone flat cap. Her blue tweedy trousers are gaucho three-quarter-length flares with splits at either side and sit low on her hips; they should be ghastly nut they suit her. She’s sporting some sort of Seventies shirt and cardigan and Chinese embroidered slippers on her feet. She wears no make-up, and at times, particularly when her inner lip stops curling, she has a striking, although slightly drawn, beauty.
I note the red string bracelet which marks her as a Kabbalah follower and which – according to Yehuda Berg, the son of Rav Berg, popularizer of the ancient Jewish text – “is worn on the left wrist, the receiving side of the body and soul, sealing protective angry within while intercepting negative influences that exist…”
Madonna and I settle into an enjoyable bitch about L.A. before moving on to how the pop star has learnt to make an accommodation with the pitfalls of celebritydom; her take on the latter, which partly accounts for her distaste with the former, is evident from the message of her most recent single, Hollywood. She says the family only comes to Beverly Hills because of work, and right now Richie is working on financing his new film: “I’m trying not to complain too much but I am crossing the days off the calendar.” One can assume that the director is having a bit of a tough time after the fiasco of his last movie, Swept Away, starring the wife, coupled with with the challenge that his new Kabbalah-inspired script must present to the money-men of Hollywood.
I ask her whether she thinks the Brits are chuffed that she’s chosen to live on our side of the pond. “I try not to concern myself too much with what people think of me in America or England,” she says, quite reasonably, “because if you feel flattered when people are happy that you’re in their country, then you get hurt when they say unkind things, too. So I just try to remain immune to it all.”
When Madonna first became famous, she says, now breaking into her arch, sing-song voice, a peculiar hybrid of Kristin Scott Thomas and Loyd Grossman: “I did mistake it for love and approval. Of course. Everyone does, I think at the beginning.” I press her to elaborate on and, at last, she begins to unbend. “For me it meant a lot of things because I grew up without a mother (her mother, after whom the singer was named, died of cancer at the age of 30 when her daughter was only five), and with a father who was loving but quite emotionally detached in his way. I mean he did the best that he could. I had eight brothers and sisters (two of whom were the offspring of his second marriage to the woman who had been the family’s housekeeper) and I felt very awkward and out of place in school. Not popular, not attractive, not special in any way; and I was longing for love and approval from someone.
“And I started dancing and my dancing is what brought me to New York and that’s what brought me to music and that’s what brought me to career that I have. But it wasn’t until I became successful that I felt like I filled up my emptiness; “OK, I am… am…somebody,” she stammers, “I…am…am special. I do mean something.” And of course that’s complete rubbish because none of that means that you’re special; none of that means that you’re loved.
“I made the mistake of thinking that people really loved me. But loving a pop star is so extremely conditional and we all know that real love isn’t, so…”
Her career nadir came in the early Nineties, when there was something of a Madonna backlash: too much fetishistic imagery (the toe-sucking, the orgies, the silver-toothed dominatrix of Sex and Erotica), saying “f***” 13 times on the Late Show with David Letterman, making a public exhibition of herself with the lesbian comedian Sandra Bernhard (still one her favored shock tactics; on stage at last month’s MTV Awards, in a new interpretation of Like A Virgin, she French-kissed Britney Spears, 21, and Christina Aguilera, 22). the residual memory of her married years with Sean Penn couldn’t have helped either: his insistence that his wife be addressed as Madam on various film sets, his beating up of photographers, their combined obnoxiousness prompting them to be dubbed The Poison Penns (which, Madonna, true to her f***-off form, then appropriated to sign the couple’s Christmas cards).