Happy 60th birthday Madonna
As the pop music icon prepares to celebrate her 60th birthday, she's showing no signs of retiring, writes Julia Molony
She's the mistress of reinvention, but of all the many incarnations of Madonna the world has known, perhaps the most unlikely yet is her new role as a soccer mum. And yet the Queen of Pop will see in her 60th birthday this Thursday, August 16, in her new residence, the Quinta do Relogio palace near Lisbon, Portugal, where she moved her family this year so that her adopted son David, a promising footballer, could attend the soccer academy at SL Benfica.
Life as pop culture's foremost provocateur is on hold, apparently. "Any woman who is a soccer mum could say it kind of requires you to have no life in a way", she told Vogue Italia in an interview to celebrate her landmark birthday, "because things change from week to week and games change from weekend to weekend."
Madonna is nothing if not committed, but there can be no doubt that she will play at being a soccer mum on her own terms.
"I refuse to live a conventional life," she told Harper's Bazaar last year. "I've created a very unconventional family. I have lovers who are three decades younger than me. This makes people very uncomfortable."
Challenging convention remains a reflex for Madonna. Two years ago, Piers Morgan called her a "walking, talking trainwreck" after she twerked on camera in the passenger seat of James Corden's car during Carpool Karaoke. Madonna has made an estimated fortune of $600m from ruffling feathers. She's unlikely to lose sleep over what Piers Morgan thinks.
Madonna grew up as one of six children in a devoutly Catholic family in Michigan, where her father was a Chrysler engineer. When she was five years old, her mother (also named Madonna) died of breast cancer, leaving the children traumatised and in the care of their authoritarian father and a succession of housekeepers. Her home life wasn't particularly happy - her father remarried and Madonna clashed with her stepmother.
Two more siblings were born, and as the eldest girl, she was expected to help take care of her brothers and sisters. "I resented it", she said of that time "because when all my friends were out playing, I felt like I had all these adult responsibilities... I saw myself as the quintessential Cinderella."
By the time she'd reached late adolescence, a determination to stand out from the crowd had emerged. Drawn towards the avant-garde, she started experimenting with her personal style and ways she could use it to elicit strong reactions in her peers. "Drinking beer and smoking weed in the parking lot of my high school was not my idea of being rebellious," she wrote of this time in a 2013 essay for Harper's Bazaar. "Because that's what everybody did. And I never wanted to do what everybody did. I thought it was cooler to not shave my legs or under my arms... I refused to wear make-up and tied scarves around my head like a Russian peasant. I did the opposite of what all the other girls were doing, and I turned myself into a real man repeller. I dared people to like me and my nonconformity."
There was always a focused, serious side to Madonna. She was an A-student and "read more than your average high school student", remembered one early boyfriend, Wyn Cooper. On leaving school, she won a place at the University of Michigan to study dance. But she was, she has said, "impatient to get to the centre of everything" and left abruptly before completing her studies, choosing instead to move to New York with the ambition of becoming a professional dancer.
Those were the wilderness years, the forge in which that titanium spirit that propelled her to the top of the pops was formed. "New York wasn't everything I thought it would be," she wrote in Harper's Bazaar.
"It did not welcome me with open arms. The first year, I was held up at gunpoint, raped on the roof of a building I was dragged up to with a knife in my back, and had my apartment broken into three times. I don't know why. I had nothing of value after they took my radio the first time."
Undaunted by a hostile welcome, she struggled by, immersing herself in the creative melting pot that was New York in the late 1970s and early 1980s. She worked as a life model to pay the rent, "staring at people staring at me naked, daring them to think of me as anything but a form they were trying to capture with their pens and charcoal".
In any case, it took four years of experimenting with different personas and styles and tirelessly working the club circuit before she hit her groove. "Many friends have suggested that she used sex in those days to get attention, a meal, a bed for the night. As a woman who felt powerless, it was one way to show men that she was the dominant one," wrote biographer Lucy O'Brien.
Or that, at least, is the myth that Madonna has built. Her brother, Christopher Ciccone, has a different view. Though he was employed by her as a designer for many years, theirs is a troubled relationship, and they were estranged for several years after he published his unflattering tell-all biography, Life With My Sister Madonna, in which she is described as tight-fisted and a control freak.
His account of her early years in New York diverges from hers: "Far from being this lost and friendless little waif who didn't even have a crust of dry bread to eat, when Madonna went to New York, she had money in her pocket, plenty of contacts and a support system all in place," he wrote.
In 1982, Madonna finally got her foot in the door, signing with a record company. But it wasn't until her third single, Holiday, was released that she was anointed as a hit-making star. By then, she'd also begun to fine-tune her trademark look; the bleached blonde hair, the lace, the bra tops which made her a style icon of the 1980s.
Self-determining from the first, even as a young and relatively inexperienced performer, she fought for autonomy, arguing with the record label because of her determination to produce her own music.
By 1985, fame became infamy when pictures taken during her nude modelling days made their way into Playboy. Rather than being cowed by the exposure, Madonna shrewdly turned it to her advantage, reinventing herself again to best capitalise on this new turn of events. Drawing on motifs from her Catholic childhood, she embarked on a campaign of controversy and provocation. She kissed a black Jesus in the video for Like A Prayer, and incorporated a groundbreakingly frank approach to sexuality into her act. In 1992, she published SEX - a book of coffee-table erotica which featured nude and intimate photos of the artist herself.
"It was my own personal rebellion against my father," she later explained to Vanity Fair. "Against the way I was raised, against the culture, against society, against everything. It was just a huge, massive act of rebellion - and it was also about having fun."
If she was wayward in her professional life, her private life was no different. In 1985, she married the actor Sean Penn after a whirlwind romance which started when they met on a film set.
She had achieved global stardom, and he was one of Hollywood's most promising new talents. She dedicated her album, True Blue, to him, calling him "the coolest guy in the universe". At their wedding she wore a black bowler hat under a white veil.
The noise of the press helicopters above drowned the bridegroom's toast to his bride, so in a fury, Sean shot into the air with a .45, recalled Madonna's brother, "while Andy Warhol, disco entrepreneur Steve Rubell, Cher (in a purple spiked wig) and the rest of my family and I watch, amazed".
The relationship was volatile, characterised by vicious rows. Madonna has always vehemently denied rumours that he assaulted her, but nonetheless, her brother remembers witnessing their explosive arguments. "I hear him smash his fist against a wall. Then the sound of a table sent flying," he writes in his book. "I am about to break down the connecting door between our suites when, all of a sudden, it flies open. Madonna runs into my suite. Her face is flushed and she is crying. Sean is in hot pursuit, snarling with rage. Just in time, I slam the door right in Sean's face - and lock it. We listen in silence as Sean yells and bangs. Finally, Madonna falls asleep in my arms. In the morning, she's gone."
The marriage lasted two years.
"At 35, I was divorced and looking for love in all the wrong places," she has said. "I decided that I needed to be more than a girl with gold teeth and gangster boyfriends. More than a sexual provocateur imploring girls not to go for second-best, baby. I began to search for meaning and a real sense of purpose in life. I wanted to be a mother, but I realised that just because I was a freedom fighter didn't mean I was qualified to raise a child. I decided I needed to have a spiritual life. That's when I discovered Kabbalah."
After a period of searching, Madonna found her faith, and remains devoted to the controversial Jewish mystical sect. She'd also found the man who would be father to her first child. She and dancer Carlos Leon welcomed their daughter, Lourdes, in 1995, but their relationship lasted just two short years.
Another reinvention was to follow when she met film director Guy Ritchie at a party hosted by Trudie Styler. The pair fell in love and were married in a lavish ceremony in a Scottish castle in December 2000, soon after the birth of their son, Rocco. She moved to England and embraced the role of lady of the manor. She began wearing tweed and she and Ritchie hosted shooting parties on their estate. "I consider moving to a foreign country to be a very daring act. It wasn't easy for me. Just because we speak the same language doesn't mean we speak the same language. I didn't understand that there was still a class system. I didn't understand pub culture. I didn't understand that being openly ambitious was frowned upon. Once again, I felt alone. But I stuck it out and I found my way, and I grew to love English wit, Georgian architecture, sticky toffee pudding and the English countryside," she has said.
In 2008, the couple adopted a baby from Malawi, David Banda, but by this time the relationship was already on the rocks, and later the same year, the couple split, with Madonna saying the marriage "wasn't what I thought it was going to be".
Ritchie's response was acid: "She's obsessed with her own public image, obsessed with being seen as some kind of global soothsayer. It's silly - she's a pop star. Some of the advisers around her, some of whom have gone, made it impossible for us to have a semblance of a normal life. They worshipped at the altar of Madonna.
"I just wanted a regular husband and wife thing, not least for the sake of the kids, but it was always a great song and dance just to do ordinary stuff."
The fallout from the divorce was toxic, and the antipathy rumbles on. Just two years ago, Madonna became locked in a bitter custody battle with Ritchie when their son, Rocco, who was 16 at the time, walked off Madonna's Rebel Heart tour and went to live with his dad. The pair spent eight months battling things out in court before it was agreed that Rocco would stay with his father in London.
Madonna's second divorce was the start of one of the most turbulent periods of her life. Her adoption of David launched her headlong into a media storm, and this time, the controversy knocked her for six. She faced accusations that she had used wealth and influence to bypass due process in the adoption. "I was accused of kidnapping, child trafficking, using my celebrity muscle to jump ahead in the line, bribing government officials, witchcraft, you name it. Certainly I had done something illegal!
"This was an eye-opening experience. A real low point in my life. I could get my head around people giving me a hard time for publishing my SEX book, even kissing Britney Spears at an awards show, but trying to save a child's life was not something I thought I would be punished for."
The issue raised its head again when she adopted another child, Mercy James, also from Malawi, and early last year when she added four-year-old twin girls Stella and Esther, also from Malawi, to her brood.
But as she poses, smiling with her sprawling adopted family in Italian Vogue, it's clear that Madonna has come through with her spirit intact. "One of the many things I learned from all of this", she said, "is if you aren't willing to fight for what you believe in, then don't even enter the ring".
She remains, to this day, full of fight, and approaches retirement age as defiant as ever. Still performing and writing music after almost four decades of chart-topping hits, she is still an innovator, a controversialist, a gay icon and the most self-determining, outspoken woman pop music has ever known.
She might have latterly decided to become an earth mother and a soccer mum, but her overt, defiant sexuality remains at the forefront of her brand, whatever Piers Morgan or the rest of the world might think.
Two years ago, she arrived at the Met in New York poured into a take-no-prisoners confection of latex and lace, which had been laser-cut to expose her uncannily spherical buttocks and breasts.
As Madge turns 60, her face and form represent, undoubtedly, some plastic surgeon's best work. But the woman she has become is all her own design.
Five memorable moments
Like A Virgin at the 1984 MTV awards
Dressed in a long white wedding dress, she panted and sighed her way through a rendition of Like A Virgin.
Madonna identified enormously with Eva Peron (Evita), Argentina's former First Lady ("Like me, she left her hometown in order to succeed. I went to New York and she went to Sao Paulo.") and took on the title role in the eponymous musical penned by Andrew Lloyd Weber and released in 1996, for which she won a Golden Globe.
On stage with pop starlets Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera at the 2003 VMA awards, Madonna joined in a rendition of Like A Virgin which culminated in Madonna kissing both of them square on the mouth.
The cone bra
Part lingerie, part armour, the metallic pointy bra that she wore on her 1990 Blonde Ambition tour was designed by Jean Paul Gaultier and became the clothing item that crystalised in her fans' minds everything that Madonna represented.
Topping the rich list
In 2013, after 30 years in the business, Madonna is named by Forbes magazine as the highest earning celebrity in the world.