As she swans down the grand staircase of Manchester’s lavish Brittania Hotel, Madonna looks every inch a star. A rare quality in this day and age when pop stars can get away with a daft haircut, a rather arty video and very little else. In fact, a lot of people are labelling this 23-year-old from Detroit, America, as some sort of female equivalent to Michael Jackson. Not surprising when you consider she can sing, dance and act and once shared the same manager as Mr Jackson.
She’s just appeared on a ‘dance special’ edition of The Tube that featured a live link-up between its home base of Newcastle and the Hacienda club in Manchester. Outside a long, black limousine purrs in anticipation. The entire Madonna entourage — two dancers, one road manager-cum-minder, three record company executives, a chauffeur and me — pour through the hotel entrance and into the car. Record companies always seem convinced their American artists are going to be ‘difficult.’ “I just play up to that image to keep them on their toes,” she says cheekily.
She constantly has a ‘knowing’ look about her. Some people would call it an aura. This is obviously part of the reason people are frightened to answer her back. For instance, tonight she’s due to appear onstage at the Hacienda, but she’s having none of it. “I’m exhausted. I’ve had to cancel two phone interviews today already. I just haven’t had a second. Last night it was Top Of The Pops, today it was The Tube and tomorrow I’m going to Los Angeles.”
So she cancels. After a meal back at the hotel — salmon and generous helpings of Campari and Orange Juice — in which she laughs a lot, listens intently and makes more than her fair share of wisecracks, she slinks up to her suite, “to slip into something more comfortable!”
Madonna’s apartment’s not exactly run-of-the-mill. It’s in two tiers — a bed on the lower, a couch on the upper. In between answering the door and the phone, she runs through the day’s events.
“People seeing me for the first time today must have thought I was a fruitcake. No, seriously, they probably thought I was sexy. A real live wire. But I can’t come on and be sexy without humour.”
Don’t get the wrong impression. Although she appears to be in the mould of the typical blonde female singer, she’s certainly not dumb. Far from it. As she says, “there’s a lot more to me than can possibly be perceived in the beginning.” And, as I found out, she’s extremely bright, with a sharp business sense — a valuable asset for someone so ambitious.
It seems this ambition derives from the “competitive environment” in which she was raised. She comes from a big Italian family — the Ciccones; Madonna’s her real name — of eight brothers and sisters. She also went to Catholic school, which, “like all of America, gives an incentive to win — to aim for the top rung of the ladder”.
So she did and here she is: on the verge of success both sides of the Atlantic. Not bad for a girl fresh from the streets of New York. She moved there when she was 17, starting out playing drums in a band called The Breakfast Club. But ambition took over again and she formed her own band, Emmy. She sang and played guitar. It was a real ‘paying your dues’ time. She lived in a studio and wasn’t bothered by having to “wear the same clothes for three weeks”. After hawking tapes round the hip local clubs her persistence eventually paid off, gaining her a deal with Sire. After she’d put out two 12″ singles she felt the need for a manager.
“I thought, who’s the most successful person in the music industry and who’s his manager? I want him.” The answer was Michael Jackson and, at the time, he was managed by Freddie De Mann. She got him. Instantly Madonna became hot property, being asked to do promotional tours — much like the one she’s on now — across the world. She can’t resist telling the story about the time she met Boy George on her summer ‘81 jaunt.
“He came up to me at the Camden Palace. He had big high heels on and he had a big entourage of people all dressed the same. He kept going on about this group he had, but I wouldn’t believe him. Six months later he was Number One.”
But it seems people aren’t always as keen to impress her.
“When I laugh out loud in the streets here I’m made to feel as though I’m doing something wrong. You know, that sort of young, bold, aggressive quality the more reserved and sophisticated British people hate. Most times people aren’t very nice to me here.” And that’s not all. “I don’t have many women friends either. It’s because I haven’t found many who are worldly wise and intelligent. Then again,” she adds cheekily, “I just seem to get on better with boys.”
I suggest this may also have something to do with the way she looks.
“I have mixed emotions about the way I look. I wish I was taller (she’s 5 feet 4 1/2). I probably look taller ‘cos I’ve got such a big mouth. I think it’s important to try and look larger than life if you’re a performer.”
She’ll certainly be able to do that on the big screen. She’s just appeared in a film, Vision quest. She plays the part of a singer, once again called Madonna. “The only difference is that I sing in front of a band in the film.”
The phone rings. It’s New York on the blower. An ‘adviser’ wants her to come home to appear in a video on Tuesday. Madonna agrees. She wakes up a record company person to change her flight from LA to NY. This is The Big Time alright.
Her next project is a follow-up LP. It’s to be produced by Trevor Horn, possibly Nile Rodgers and John “Jellybean” Benitez — her on and off boyfriend (off at the moment). In any case it’s bound to be absolutely massive. Madonna puts it all into perspective.
“Three to four years ago dancing was the most important thing — now it’s music. That will lead on to something else … acting. Above all I want to be an all-round entertainer. And happy.”