From the ELLE archive: Madonna

Read the full interview from 2008

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Since we met Madonna for our May 2008 issue, she’s been as busy as you’d expect. Her albums, Hard Candy, MDNA, and her third greatest hits album, Celebration, all reached number one. In addition to music, she created a 1980s-inspired clothing line with her daughter Lourdes, and opened a series of fitness centres. Unfortunately, just a few months after we interviewed Madonna, she split with husband Guy Ritchie.

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Now, she’s rumoured to be performing at the Grammys this weekend, and we hope the rumours are true. We can’t wait to see what the Material Girl will pull out of the bag.

Watch Madonna’s behind-the-cover video

See Madonna’s style over the years

Words: Louise Gannon

A hot, hazy day in Los Angeles, and the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills is buzzing with burly bodyguards and scandalous blondes.

A stiletto-thin, strained-looking Paris Hilton arrives in a silver Mercedes bristling with security, apparently for a meeting with her troubled friend, Britney Spears. Britney has a regular crash suite here (despite the fact that her own home is less than a few hundred yards away).

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Like Mrs Rochester in Jane Eyre, Britney’s presence is not seen but felt. There are whispers of her looking bloated, blotchy and bruised. She has apparently been spotted aimlessly wandering the corridors, without shoes and holding handfuls of fake hair. It’s sorry, sordid stuff.

The lesson in exactly how to deal with fame, how to stay on top without ever sinking, lies two floors up. There, the most celebrated blonde of them all – Madonna Louise Ciccone – is chilling out behind the doors of the hotel’s Benedict Suite. There are no bodyguards, no frantic hangers-on, just the sound of her incredible new album, Hard Candy (her 20th album in 26 years and her 11th studio album), playing in a neighbouring suite, and the occasional muffled burst of laughter from Her Madgesty.

As with Paris and Britney, Madonna in the flesh comes as something of a shock. But unlike Paris and Britney, in Madonna’s case it’s in a good way. She looks utterly amazing.

Dressed in a battered black leather jacket, close-fitting black trousers and high-heeled yellow pumps, she looks softer and curvier than she did when we met two years ago. Her hair has been cut into a loose wavy bob, parted by two very girlie pink diamante hair slides. But it’s her face that’s really surprising. She has lost the gaunt look of 18 months ago and her heart-shaped face looks fresh, youthful and very, very pretty. She may be 50 in August, but age has somehow never touched Madonna. With her unswerving drive and self-belief, she just won’t allow it to. ‘I’m not going to be defined by my age,’ she says. ‘Why should any woman? I’m not going to slow down, get off this ride, stay home and get fat. No way!’ She pulls a face. ‘I would never get fat.’

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‘I feel great and if anything, I’m probably speeding up. There’s so much more in my life to deal with. I’ve got work to do, children to raise, a husband to please and a world to save. I have a total sense of urgency about it. I don’t feel I’ve done everything. I do feel I want more, more, more.’

Still, even with her unnatural levels of energy, you have to wonder how Madonna manages to look the way she does. No amount of discreet surgery (‘I’m not against plastic surgery, I’m just against discussing it’) can give the sort of sparkle to the eyes and glow to the skin that she has. ‘Does good sex really give you a glow,’ she says with a tantalising smile, ‘or is it just about being loved up? I think you do look better when you are loved up. But we’re not always loved up all the time…’

This is classic Madonna. She’s never been afraid to tell it straight if you dare to ask the questions. While the rumours fly about her relationship with Guy Ritchie and the tabloids devote pages to speculation about the state of their marriage, she holds the cards close to her chest.

Right now, she’s in the mood to talk. She flits from teasing to honesty, humour to emotion. From Lourdes’ ‘Goth phase’ to the joys of Cadbury Creme Eggs. From Amy Winehouse to oxygen facials, and from the difficulties of a long-distance relationship, to her career, her unconquered demons and – always – back to Guy.

‘I’m sure people aren’t that interested in my marriage,’ she says with a knowing smile. ‘Posh and Becks are much more interesting. Maybe even Camilla and Charles.’

As if… Two of the songs on her new album seem to spring from Madonna’s complicated relationship with Guy. The first, Miles Away, tells of her sadness at being apart from him so often. ‘It is inspired by Guy,’ she admits. ‘But you take it on. So many people have to deal with long-distance relationships. It’s not easy. You have to work hard to make it work.’

Incredible is a twisted love song about wanting to get back to how they used to be, set to a sweeping melody. In the midst of the song, she sings, ‘Sex with you is incredible.’ Another one about Guy? ‘Absolutely. Sex with Guy is incredible.’ There is a pause while she twinkles a little. ‘And surprise, surprise it’s his favourite song on the album. Actually, maybe it’s not his favourite song, but it’s definitely his favourite line.’

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She then digresses into a moment that combines humdrum domesticity with stellar celebrity.

‘When I was making the album, I used to play it to Guy and the kids on our long drives to our house in the country. They would all give their views on the music. Guy isn’t worried about being critical about my stuff. He’s always the first one to groan and say, “I don’t like that.” But I like that about him. He always has an opinion, even if it’s the opposite of mine.’

Madonna has never had easy relationships. Her three-year marriage to Sean Penn was disastrous, and subsequent liaisons – with Warren Beatty, Tony Ward, Vanilla Ice and Carlos Leon, father of her 11-year-old daughter, Lourdes – stalled largely because of her career.

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When she met Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels director, Ritchie, in 1999, she knew instantly he was one of the few men who could ‘cope’ with her. She is the first to admit their relationship is not an easy one. When we last met, she described the marriage as ‘an on-going struggle between two people who are both used to having their own way’.

For a woman who is obsessed with control, Ritchie’s greatest attraction is that he is one of the few people in her life to say, ‘No’. She laughs at my assertion. ‘Well, that was a big thing. But it was also his sense of humour and his intelligence. That was huge.’

She pauses. ‘I had to marry someone as tough as me. Guy’s definitely tough, he doesn’t give in. But he’s obviously been put in front of me to teach me things and vice versa. I had to marry a challenge because otherwise I would just get bored. Whatever else Guy is, he’s never boring.’ Then she laughs. ‘Actually, that’s not true. He can be incredibly boring on the subject of jujitsu. After 20 minutes of going on about choke holds and various positions my eyes glaze over and I have to tell him to stop, or threaten to talk about Pilates for half an hour.’ She shakes her head and the half smile that plays on her face whenever she talks about Guy returns.

‘He can be intolerant of my behaviour, but he has certain personality traits which need to change as well. We’re both there to help each other and challenge each other.’

Has he changed her? ‘I think I’ve been honing and finessing my feminine side. I’ve always been very comfortable with my masculine side – the confidence, the ballsiness. I’ve learnt to be more pliant, more vulnerable – and to be comfortable with that.’

As for changes she’s made in Guy… ‘He doesn’t criticise my clothes anymore.’ She pauses and laughs again. ‘And he’s learnt to sleep with his BlackBerry like I do. We lie right next to each other with our BlackBerrys under our pillows.’

I tell her she’s just ruined our image of her hot sex life and she laughs out loud. ‘Well, it’s romantic because we can talk to our lovers while we lie right next to each other. [She is joking.]

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‘But it’s not unromantic. It’s practical. I’m sure loads of couples have their BlackBerrys in bed with them. I have to sleep with my BlackBerry because I often wake up in the middle of the night and remember that I’ve forgotten something, so I jump up and make notes. Guy doesn’t use his for anything like that. Guy’s always waiting for me to come to bed, so he plays Brick on it until I’m ready. I’m his Brick breaker.’

He complains about her being a control freak. So do her friends. Twenty-six years in, she’s still obsessed with exercise and diet. There are no short cuts to being Madonna. It’s all about hard work, whether it’s music, acting or keeping in shape. ‘In an ideal world, I’d like to exercise for three hours a day. I couldn’t live without exercise. If you want to know how I look like I do, it’s diet and exercise and being constantly careful. I swear by oxygen facials, I’m obsessive about staying out of the sun. I don’t drink much and drugs are out.’

To get to where she is – the world’s number one female performer – is all about knowing you can never slack for a second. She nods. ‘There are no tricks. Tricks don’t work. Discipline does. I’ve always been this way. I can’t help it. Guy tells me to loosen up, my friends do too, but I can’t. It’s entirely a product of my childhood. I have dealt with a lot of my demons, but the biggest one is still to do with my mother dying when I was young. That is still with me in so many ways. As a child I had no control. I felt the world around me was chaotic and I needed some control. That’s when the self-discipline started. It was my way of survival.’

She says that becoming a mum was the start of the process of dealing with her mother’s death. ‘It definitely marginalised my feelings. But I still have abandonment issues. I still don’t like to be alone, I can’t really deal with it.’

If there is anything that truly softens her face, it is when Madonna talks about her children – Lourdes, 11, Rocco, seven, and adoptive son, David, two. ‘Lourdes is the most like me,’ she smiles. ‘Right now she’s just about to hit her teens, so that’s another challenge for us all to face. She’s much more rebellious than I ever was at her age. Much cheekier, too. At the moment she’s into the Goth thing. She lives in spray-on jeans, but criticises everybody else about what they wear. No one is excluded.

‘Rocco is just Guy. He’s very aware, very funny and doesn’t let anything drop. David is this incredibly bright, smart, bundle of energy. They are all so different and completely full-on.’

Despite her fame, Madonna’s problems are pretty much the same as any working woman’s. ‘I have a career, a husband and kids. It’s a lot of hard work. I always end up failing a little bit in one of those areas and then I try and compensate for it the next week, or the next month.

‘I feel most guilt about not spending enough time with my children. I always think I should have been there for this or that – this ballet lesson or that parents’ evening. You cut yourself into pieces.’ Home remains England, despite rumours she is thinking of a move back to America. ‘I think of Britain as my home. My kids are at school there, my horses are there. And I love the weather. All that rain and moisture is so good for the skin.’

Madonna is still intent on pushing boundaries and discovering new ideas. Liz Rosenberg, her publicist and a long-standing figure in her life, says, ‘People asked me if she’s changed and I can honestly say she’s the same girl who walked into my office 26 years ago. She was lit up like a Christmas tree, it was so obvious she was something special.

‘When I got her first television performance, the producer started telling her what he wanted. She pulled faces, then told him what she wanted. “Who the hell does this girl think she is?” he asked. She’s still the same – still fearless, still pushing. I’ve enjoyed this ride so far – and it’s far from over yet.’

This year is all about new beginnings. Hard Candy is Madonna’s final album with Warner Bros (bar a compilation offering). Last year she became the founding artist to sign with concert promoters Live Nation – a £60 million, 10-year deal, which cements her status as the world’s biggest female star. It also pays testament to the fact that the industry continues to see her as an artist with a huge future.

She is an icon who refuses to rest on her laurels. Her new album is produced by the hottest stars in the business – Timbaland, Justin Timberlake and Pharrell Williams. ‘A lot of divas in the room,’ smiles Rosenberg. ‘It was interesting for her to work with other people with strong ideas, definite directions.’

London fascinates her. She is a huge fan of Amy Winehouse. ‘I think Amy is amazing,’ she says. ‘She has demons she needs to deal with, but she’s young. She has amazing talent. I hope she makes it through.’

Her album is called Hard Candy. Looking at her lithe, toned body, it’s hard to imagine she ever succumbs to the delights of any form of sugar.

‘Oh God, are you kidding?’ she says. ‘One of the worst things about Britain is that it has such fabulous candy. I can’t allow myself to have it too often. But if I’ve done something good, if I have achieved something, then I will allow myself a treat.

‘I love Cadbury Fruit and Nut, Crunchies and Maltesers. But my absolute favourite is a Cadbury Creme Egg. They are totally deadly but so delicious.’ And how does Madonna eat hers? ‘I bite straight into it and suck all that good stuff right out,’ she grins. ‘Then I make sure I pay back with discipline.’

Could this be her metaphor for life? Paris, Britney take note. Madonna is unstoppable.

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