Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

How Madonna really is a Ray of Light in the world

We’ve had a rollercoaster relationship over the years, Madonna and I. When I was a teenager I actually wanted to be her; so much so, in fact, that I modelled myself on her like a saddo and at college ended up with the nickname Sadonna.

Then, when I grew up and matured (ever so slightly) I shunned her out of embarrassment for reminding me of all those hideous early-Eighties fashion mistakes I’d made on her behalf. Oh, the leg-warmers! Oh, the pointy bra! Oh, the back-combed perm and the nightclub regulation Ray-Bans!

Fast forward a few years to the Nineties, Madonna reinvented herself for an amazing comeback and I started to like her again. After all, she’d proved defiantly resilient (and there, but for the grace of God, go I, only five years behind her in age).

But soon she started all that weird Jesus/Pope fixation-fantasy stuff (being crucified in stockings and suspenders, snogging statues of Jesus etc ... like you do) and, as a practising Catholic at the time, I felt morally obliged to stop liking her again.

Then she recorded Ray of Light — her best ever song in my humble opinion (and one of the best music videos ever) and I reluctantly welcomed her back into the bosom of my CD collection.

That, however, was short-lived. In 2005, she was off my Christmas card list yet again, after the Live8 appearance where she clearly struggled to contain herself and her gargantuan ego on the main stage at Wembley.

But now, finally, after so much water under the bridge, we’re back on an even keel. I can finally and proudly admit I’m a Madonna fan for keeps. Forever. Amen.

Ok, so her music sucks. She’s still a bit of an embarrassment to my generation, like mutton-dressed as, well, Madonna. She’s doubtlessly an egomaniac, a dodgy religious nut and probably a pain in the ass in every possible way.

But at least she’s doing something worthwhile with her fame and fortune. More than worthwhile, in fact. Exceptional.

Unlike most of her ridiculously wealthy peers, the former Material Girl has spent the best part of the last decade actually doing something positive to alleviate poverty and suffering in the Third World.

For most celebrities, charity begins — and ends — once the paparazzi pack up.

But Madonna has been making poverty history in a real way by pouring her own money into charitable projects in the third world, most specifically in Malawi, the central African country that has been ravaged by famine, drought and disease in recent years and whose population has been reduced by almost a half by Aids.

For the past five years her Raising Malawi foundation has built a £750,000 care centre for orphans of the epidemic, and has provided vital medical supplies, teachers, exercise books, mosquito nets, clothing and shoes for the most needy. The second phase of her relief work included new housing developments, schools and hospitals across the stricken country.

Not only that, but she’s used her considerable influence to raise questions and to bring an end to certain human rights violations in the country, too. The most recent was the case of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, the Malawi couple sentenced to 14 years hard labour for the ‘crime’ of homosexuality.

After publicising their plight on the internet, 50,000 of Madonna’s fans (including me) signed a petition that Madonna personally presented to the country’s president. As a result, he immediately ordered their release. One could say he knew on what side his bread was buttered.

Steven and Tiwonge were freed last Saturday night and the laws in that country are about to be changed forever as a result. Further, Madonna sent a personal “thank you” to every single person who supported the cause.

Think what you like about the woman, her image and her bizarre lifestyle, but no one can deny she is setting a fine example to the rest of us as to how influence and fame can sometimes be used for good.

And, if it encourages other megalomaniac celebrities to compete for humanitarian brownie points, then all the better.

Let’s hope that this becomes one Madonna-inspired fashion trend that can actually benefit mankind in some way.

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