Christopher Ciccone «Life with My Sister Madonna»
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Madonna - Celebration: The Video Collection (КУПИТЬ)
The Confessions Tour (КУПИТЬ)
Мадонна: Во имя игры (КУПИТЬ)
THE NEXT DAY, my parents arrive, along with Paula. Initially, Madonna didn’t invite her. Paula tells me that she called Madonna and said she really wanted to be at her wedding, and Madonna said that as long as Paula paid for her own plane ticket and incidentals she could come. I am really pissed off at Madonna for treating Paula so badly. She is working as a graphic artist and only earns a modest salary. Yet Madonna still expects her to pay her own plane fare to this far-flung place.
My mood improves when Rupert, Alek, Gwyneth, and Donatella arrive. We take a golf-cart ride, and I tell them about the homophobic toasts and how awful everything has been. They laugh and console me. Gwyneth says, “Poor Christopher, we’ll look after you.” We spend the rest of the day together. The christening is in the evening. A long line of Range Rovers pull up in front of the castle, ready to take us to Dornoch Cathedral. A press pack of five hundred photographers and even more journalists is waiting for us outside the castle gate. We drive past them, but they follow us all the way to Dornoch.
More than a thousand fans are gathered outside the small, 776-year-old cathedral, famous for its beautiful stained-glass windows. Inside, the cathedral is lit with candles and garlanded with ivy and flowers. I sit with Gwyneth and Rupert and only see Rocco—swaddled in his whiteand- gold, $45,000 Versace christening outfit, a gift from Donatella—from a distance. I learn afterward that a journalist has been hiding in the massive pipe organ for three days. By the time someone discovers him, he has passed out cold.
Guy Oseary has been awarded the distinction of being Rocco’s godfather. I try not to mind and, instead, focus on Sting’s moving rendition of “Ave Maria.” After around thirty minutes, the service is over. We are driven back to the house, with the press following close behind. Dinner is served, toasts are given. I experience a sudden urge to smoke, but know I can’t, as Madonna has banned smoking. Gwyneth and I leave at the same time. On the way up to my room, we stop at her suite, which is massive and beautiful. It occurs to me that I—who sometimes signed my letters to Madonna “Your humble servant” just to annoy her—have been relegated to what must be one of the smallest rooms in the castle, perhaps even the servants’ quarters. A joke? Or just my sister’s way of keeping me in my place.
THE NEXT EVENING, the evening of the wedding, I put on my rented tux, but in a moment of rebellion akin to Madonna’s cutting holes in her ballet clothes all those years ago, I pair it with my own Vivienne Westwood waistcoat. Just before 6:30 p.m., we all gather in the Great Hall, now lit by candles, and take our seats at the foot of the staircase, the balustrades of which are garlanded in ivy and white orchids. It is beautiful. I am sitting in an aisle seat, five rows from the front. The strains of the hymn “Highland Cathedral,” played by a lone bagpiper, fill the foyer. He is replaced by a pianist, Katia Labèque, who plays as Lola, in a long, ivory, high-necked dress, descends the staircase to the landing above us, scattering red rose petals in front of her. Lola is sweet, winsome, and adorable. I feel sad that all week she has either been with her nanny or her nurse, or sequestered in the locked room with Madonna and the other girls, as I would have liked the opportunity to get to know her better.
Then Madonna, beautiful in a fitted ivory silk dress, enters on our father’s arm. In his tuxedo, our father looks handsome, distinguished, and every bit the aristocrat. For a second, I wonder what his father, Gaetano—who arrived in America with just his $300 dowry, all those years ago—would think of his son now. Not to mention his granddaughter. On the landing in front of the stained-glass bay window, Madonna joins Guy, who is wearing a green Shetland-tweed jacket, green tie, green and diamond antique cuff links, which, I later learn, are a gift from Madonna, white cotton shirt, and a kilt that someone explains to me is in the plaid of the Mackintosh clan. Rocco, snuggling in his nanny’s arms, is dressed in a kilt made from identical fabric.
Guy and Madonna exchange diamond wedding rings. Then, in front of a female pastor, they speak the vows they’ve written themselves. I wish I could hear them, but the ceremony is so far from where we are all sitting that although we can hear Katia play “Nessun Dorma,” and Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue,” none of us can make out a single word of the vows. Déjà vu—Sean and Madonna’s wedding all over again. Although perhaps Sean isn’t looking like such a bad choice of brother-in-law anymore. After fifteen minutes the ceremony ends. The wedding party descends the staircase and we all congratulate them. We sip champagne, then Madonna and Guy go up to their rooms to change. After a short while, Madonna emerges in a Gaultier dress, and Guy in a blue suit. AT EIGHT, WE all come back to the Great Hall, where a bagpiper pipes us into dinner. Tonight there is no long table, but rather seven round tables. Madonna and Gwyneth and Guy are at the front table, along with Sting and Trudie and Donatella. My parents are at a side table with Joe and Paula and Melanie.
Perhaps as a direct result of my toast, I have been allocated a seat at the back of the room, sitting with my back to the bride’s table. I’m not surprised because, after all, I’ve been a bad boy. Alek Keshishian is sitting at my right and spends most of the dinner—salmon and mussels, Scottish beef, roast potatoes, cabbage, and the Scottish national dish, haggis—bitching that he isn’t sitting with Madonna, which irritates me to no end. The best man, nightclub owner Piers Adam, stands up to give his toast. Behind him, a screen features images of Guy as a baby, Guy as a schoolboy, and even Guy in a dress. One picture shows Guy as a child, lying across a black dog, with his hand near the dog’s penis. Piers Adams points at it. “You see, Guy was a poofter early on,” he chortles, really pleased with himself. I restrain myself from getting up and throwing a plate at him. I glance at my sister, hoping to see a look of outrage on her face, but there is none. And I am sad that Madonna, whose early success was built on her legions of gay fans, can listen to these antigay comments without protesting. I feel even sadder that she is now married to a man who seems so insecure in his masculinity that he thrives on homophobia, and his friends know it. I leave the dinner, go upstairs, and fall asleep. I wake up at around two in the morning and go downstairs to get something to eat. I hear music coming from the castle’s cellars and take a look. A big party is going on, and everyone is dancing. Among them, Madonna’s maid from America. While a very nice gesture that she paid her maid’s way, it is almost beyond my comprehension that Madonna categorically refused to pay for our sister Paula to fly to Scotland as well. In the morning, we all pile into the bus taking us to the airport and we fly back to London. I breathe a sigh of relief. I’ve served my time at Skibo and it’s over.
Madonna, at least, enjoyed her wedding. She later said, “It was a truly magical experience. It was very personal and very intimate.” And she makes a conciliatory gesture toward me, suggesting that I stay at her Holland Park home on Christmas Eve, then on Christmas Day join her and Guy at Sting and Trudie’s fifty-two-acre Wiltshire estate, where the newlyweds are spending their honeymoon. Once I get there, the honeymooners naturally keep to themselves, and I hang out with Trudie and Sting. After the disappointment of the wedding, it’s nice to be with friends, however new. At dusk, Sting and I walk around the property together. He and Trudie keep sheep and they run everywhere. There is also a little lake with an island in the middle, with a large tree growing on it. Sting tells me a story about a girl who died out there. According to him, at certain times of the year you can still see her ghost, dressed in a white gown, sitting on a chair, gazing out over the lake. The property is unmodernized, beautiful, and for that evening I feel as if I have gone back in time.
But even the serene surroundings and the kindness Sting and Trudie both show me don’t eradicate the unhappy memories of my week in Scotland. And when I arrive back home in America again, open my mail, and find an invitation to join Skibo’s exclusive private members’ club, I don’t, for one second, consider accepting it.
Everything you do affects the future. Kabbalah wisdom I BEGIN 2001 feeling positive and happy. But in March, I make the chilling discovery that Madonna is going on the road again on her forty-eight-city Drowned World tour, but isn’t hiring me to direct it. Perhaps as retaliation for my wedding toast and the disdain I have demonstrated for her new husband, she has hired another director, Jamie King, instead. I get the news from Caresse. I email Madonna about it and her reply is that she feels that— because of my drug taking—I have become unreliable. I immediately write back telling her in no uncertain terms that my drug use is recreational and that I have never allowed it to interfere with my work. Although she doesn’t retract her accusation and clearly still believes all the rumors about me, a few weeks later she writes inviting me to sit in on one of the rehearsals. In the same letter, she tells me that she, Guy, and the children are now eating a macrobiotic diet—no meat, chicken, bread, sugar, dairy, or alcohol—prepared by a French macrobiotic cook. She also invites me to come to a Kabbalah class.
Although I am slightly intrigued by Kabbalah, I decline. But I do accept Madonna’s invitation to attend the Drowned World rehearsal. In an irony that feels decidedly bitter to me, rehearsals are being held at Sony Studios in Culver City, where—just eight years before—we rehearsed The Girlie Show. When I arrive at the stage door, the first thing I see is Jamie King’s brandnew black Mercedes. Only recently, he was driving a late American model. I can only surmise that Madonna is paying him a fortune to direct Drowned World, certainly much more than she paid me, and this rankles with me. I go inside and watch the “Ray of Light” segment, in which Madonna sings three songs. She is wearing a kimono with fifty-foot-long arms. Despite her commitment to Kabbalah, the overall vibe is angry, violent, and not fun to watch.
I don’t want to sound unsupportive, so I say a few constructive things. Then, referring to a scene in which she is supposed to be momentarily submissive, I suggest to Jamie that she look down first, as it will then make more of a dramatic impact if after that she looks up. He snaps, “We want to do it our way.” I don’t react. Later, I mention my suggestion to Madonna. She gives no response. But later on, when I go to the dress rehearsal, I see that she has followed my suggestion.
NOW THAT MADONNA and Guy are married, she puts the Los Feliz home on the market, sells Coconut Grove, and makes an offer on a new house on Roxbury Drive in Beverly Hills, which belongs to Diane Keaton. At the moment I am still designing the new L.A. restaurant Central—still unpaid—and I am broke. So I ask Madonna if I can design the house for her. Caresse has recently told me that Madonna was shocked when she received David Collins’s bill. Until then, she had no idea what kind of fees designers routinely charge. Now, however, she understands how low my fee really is. She’s ready for me to work for her again. As she knows my situation, she haggles over my rate. I have no choice but to settle for a low rate, and she agrees to hire me.
She pays $6.5 million for the house, which was designed by architect Wallace Neff. Before the sale closes, we go to look at the house together. It’s north of Sunset, an odd Spanish Mediterranean house with no wall around it and no gate. The yard is full of big agave plants and cacti, with huge six-inch spikes growing out of them, and lavender is everywhere. Diane still hasn’t moved out of the house, but isn’t there today. Her children’s toys are by the pool, all lined up in perfect order according to size. Madonna and I exchange glances. “Why are they lined up like that? And how can the kids play in the yard without stabbing themselves on the cacti?” she says. The first thing I do is get rid of the cacti. The backyard is dug up, and underneath the lavender we discover a great many rats and immediately have them exterminated.
Before I start work on the interior, Madonna takes me aside and says, “You know, Christopher, I’ve got kids now and a husband, and you are going to have to design the house for the kids and to deal with my husband as well.” I tell her it won’t be a big deal, but I am wrong. In theory, decorating Roxbury should be easy. The only construction required is changing the bathroom upstairs so it suits Madonna, building a closet for Guy, and enlarging the pool. The rest of the job really only involves moving furniture from Castillo del Lago into the new house. However, Guy’s closet turns out to be a massive enterprise, particularly as it involves my dealing with Guy directly. We meet at the house and he tells me what he wants. “Nothing mincey, mate. Nothing twee,” he says. I stop myself from knocking his front teeth in.
He tells me that the closet must be six feet long and five feet wide, with hanging space just so, drawers of only one kind, and—most important of all—a glass case for his cuff links and watches. The case, he says, must be lined in red velvet, with lights, so he can see his cuff links and watches displayed there. It has to be made out of dark wood; the grain must match and run from left to right. Through it all, he addresses me as “Chris,” even though he knows I prefer Christopher. He is lordly, not in the least bit friendly—as if I am just another employee and not his brother-in-law. Madonna, too, treats me as if I am nothing other than a serf paid to decorate her home. In the past, I researched fabric and furniture for her, narrowed the choice down to three samples of fabric, or three types of chairs, and brought her the samples and the photographs so she could pick which she wanted. Now, though, she says three samples are not enough. She instructs me to bring her at least ten samples, photographs of at least ten types of chairs, and so on. And when I do, she says, she will then confer with Guy regarding the right choice.
Up till now, I have designed eight of her homes and she has always trusted me implicitly. Not anymore. I show her five samples of paint color and suggest the appropriate one for the house, but she ignores me and asks to see more. If she does agree on a color, the following morning she will come back to the house and tell me, “Guy doesn’t like that color, so we have to pick another one.” I sense that her obstinacy stems from a deep desire to please Guy, and that he is secretly working to edge me out of every aspect of her life. When it comes to selecting the wood for his closet, he is hands-on. I show him twelve samples and he tells me that they all look “twee.” He uses the word over and over, and I get the message: I am gay and he doesn’t want the house to reflect my sexuality, which is hardly likely. Perhaps to safeguard the entire interior of the house from becoming contaminated by my homosexuality, he has his assistant decorate his office, at the back of the yard. A large picture of the queen is hung on the gray wall above his desk, along with an enormous white leather sofa and filing cabinets.
Meanwhile, Madonna and I argue over fabrics and textures. We argue over the slightest little detail—a doorknob, a light switch. We’ve never argued over such details before, and I feel as if I am falling into a strange, dark hole. I am angry and bitter. Finally, this seemingly never-ending job is at last completed, and I go over to the house to meet Madonna and together assess the finished interior. When I arrive, she is alone, but Guy is to come home and pick her up. We then stand in the driveway, talking about the house for a few hours. She is facing me and I am facing the front gate. The gate opens. Guy drives up in Madonna’s black Mercedes. She doesn’t turn around. Guy drives in my direction and when he is about a foot away, he veers the car away, just missing my foot. I neither flinch nor move from my position in the driveway. He stops the car, rolls down the window, and says, “Are you trying to prove a point?”
I say, “No, but I think you must be.” He rolls up the window and drives into the garage. Madonna turns to me. “What just happened?” I say, “I don’t want to talk about it,” and leave. IN APRIL 2001, the London Sunday Times names Madonna and Guy Ritchie as number six on their list of Britain’s richest people, citing their joint fortune as $260 million. When the Drowned World tour tickets go on sale at London’s Earls Court, sixteen thousand are sold out in fifteen minutes, and eighty thousand tickets for five extra dates are sold out in only six hours. In the United States, one hundred thousand tickets for the show will be sold out in just a few hours.
The Drowned World tour will become Billboard’s number one Top Ten Concert Grosses, for five concerts at Madison Square Garden with sold-out crowds of 79,401 and gross sales of $9,297,105. When Madonna Live! Drowned World Tour is broadcast live on HBO from the Palace of Auburn Hills, it is seen by 5.7 million viewers and is the network’s third-highestrated prime-time concert special since 1997. Microsoft announces that it has licensed “Ray of Light” for $15 million as the official theme song in their advertising campaign for Microsoft Windows XP. The Immaculate Collection is certified as having sold 10 million copies and will become the all-time bestselling greatest-hits album ever made by a female artist. The Drowned World tour grosses $74 million. Madonna is named Britain’s highest-earning woman with an annual income of £30 million—$43.8 million.
MY WORK ON the Roxbury house is now completed. I wait for my last payment, which is around $10,000. I can really use the money, so when it doesn’t arrive, I call Caresse and ask where it is. She stalls. Within moments, she calls back again. “Okay, Madonna will pay you the final payment just as long as you agree to go to Kabbalah. The next meeting is at my house on Wednesday.” I tell her I’ll think about it and hang up. That same afternoon, Caresse messengers over The Power of Kabbalah— Technology for the Soul by Yehuda Berg, which is an official publication of the Kabbalah Centre International. On the cover, there is a quote from Madonna: “No hocus-pocus here. Nothing to do with religious dogma. The ideas in this book are earth-shattering and yet so simple.”
I read the book and learn about Kabbalah, a power that has been around for the past two thousand years, which has influenced the world’s leading scientific, philosophical, and spiritual minds throughout history. A mix of Judaism, Buddhism, Catholicism, and a bit of old-fashioned common sense thrown in for good measure, Kabbalah immediately interests me. As I study the book, I begin to think about spiritual issues I’ve long stopped pondering, and I am curious. I also realize that I’ve bought into the L.A. scene far too much and for far too long. Besides, I know that my connection with my sister has weakened and feel that attending Kabbalah may strengthen it once more. The following Wednesday, I attend a meeting at Caresse’s house on Sunset Plaza. A two-story colonial brick house, nicely landscaped, on an expensive street. She’s only Madonna’s assistant. I can hardly pay my rent. I push all bitterness aside and join the meeting. Inside are Madonna, her real estate broker, her masseuse, her costume designer, her choreographer, two assistants, her acupuncturist, and her two dancers. Clearly, she’s involved everybody in her life with Kabbalah. The edict that you have to belong in order to work for her hasn’t yet been formalized, but I suspect it will soon be. I also know that since Kabbalah has become so integral to her existence, she sees less of people who aren’t involved in it.
We all sit down in a big circle. This meeting—and all that follow—has a particular topic, which Eitan, our teacher, teaches, then we all discuss it. The meeting lasts a couple of hours. Caresse serves crackers and other snacks. Most of the time, I attend meetings at Demi’s, Caresse’s, or Madonna’s, and on some Friday nights I go to the L.A. Kabbalah Center for Shabbat. There, I am not surprised to find that Madonna and Guy are treated like the uncrowned king and queen of Kabbalah. One of the basic premises of Kabbalah is that no individual is entitled to anything more than he or she has earned, yet every time I attend Shabbat at the center, Madonna and Guy sit on either side of the Bergs, who founded the modern Kabbalah movement. “I’ve been coming here for fifteen years, and I’ve never gotten to sit next to the Bergs,” I hear one woman complaining.
Kabbalah teaches the antithesis of envy, yet I can feel the envy rippling through the center, particularly when Guy, dressed in white robes, is regularly given the honor of carrying the Torah up to the altar. Madonna has given millions of dollars to Kabbalah, and the movement is looming increasingly larger in her life and that of Guy. I attend a twenty-four-hour Kabbalah session with them and Madonna’s assistant Caresse in Anaheim. This is the first big Kabbalah event I’ve ever attended. Held in a hotel conference hall, the session starts at 7:30 p.m. All the men are instructed to wear white. Madonna and Guy are seated at the top table on the dais, but sit on opposite sides of the table to conform with the rest of the male and female attendees, who, according to tradition, sit on opposite sides of the hall. As the night proceeds, there are readings from the Torah. I follow as best as I can, but have no idea what is really going on. Even in that environment, for much of the night all eyes are on Madonna, and she is still the star of the show.
The press may report that Guy isn’t as involved in Kabbalah as Madonna, but that isn’t true. In fact, Guy’s world and his conversations nowadays revolve around Kabbalah. According to Melanie, who still sees Madonna and Guy regularly, they often come over for dinner, but will only talk about Kabbalah. If the conversation strays to any other topic, they lose interest. As for Madonna, I believe that Kabbalah has given form to her nebulous world, and I think it has given her a purpose. Because she is treated differently from all the other acolytes, she feels that her existence has been validated. After all, she has an entire spiritual movement backing up her decisions. She now believes she has God on her side. Armed with that belief, she often seems to use Kabbalah as a weapon.
HOWEVER, DURING MY involvement with the L.A. branch of Kabbalah, I discover that Madonna isn’t the only star to do so. One of the lessons Demi and I attend centers around the topic of asking for help and teaches that one shouldn’t be afraid to ask for it. I take that to mean that if you are lost on the highway, ask for directions, or if you are in pain, seek help. The following morning, Demi, who is staying at the Peninsula, calls me and says, “Wasn’t that a great lesson last night!” “Really interesting,” I say. “I’m just about to make Charlie’s Angels II here and I’ve decided to rent another house because I’m bringing my daughters out as well.” “Cool.” “Well, Christopher, I need help in decorating the new house. Will you help me?” “Of course I will.” The next morning, we meet and talk about the house, but Demi doesn’t mention a word about my fee. But I’ve committed to doing the job, so I feel I have to follow through. Inside, though, I’m annoyed.
Perhaps it was just an oversight by Demi, and I certainly could have raised the issue myself, but instead I end up feeling as if Demi has taken the Kabbalah lesson on asking for help a little too literally. It’s as if a producer asked her to help him by starring in his movie for free. Using Kabbalah in this way is not in my view what the movement teaches. So I go to IKEA, pick all the furniture for the house, the children’s furniture, everything from top to bottom—all unassembled—and have the bill sent to Demi. I feel sorry for her assistant, who is left to deal with assembling a truckload of furniture. But in the end, I don’t think Demi gets the message or the joke. She is just as friendly as ever and probably assumes that IKEA is my designer of choice.
Demi isn’t the only actress with whom I’ve become friends. I meet Farrah Fawcett at superagent Ed Limato’s Friday-night Oscar party, which he throws each year for all that year’s Academy Award nominees and their friends. We instantly connect and spend most of the evening talking exclusively to each other. I walk her to her car when we leave. Some months later, Farrah invites me to her cluttered apartment in a high-rise on Wilshire Boulevard. She paints and sculpts and tells me she wants me to look at her work. I flash back to Lauren, but Farrah’s paintings—abstract— are for the most part quite good. We do shots of tequila together, I play her Mary J. Blige, and she tells me her dream is to have her own art show. Eventually, that dream comes true. She has an art show at the L.A. County Museum of Art. I attend and am pleased that she has achieved her longstanding ambition.
I AM INVITED to the 2002 Academy Awards, but have been allocated just one ticket to the Vanity Fair after party. Farrah’s assistant calls and says Farrah would like to go with me. I call Vanity Fair and they say I can bring her. On the night, I drive my car—now a used black Cadillac Escalade with 50,000 miles on it—over to her apartment. When I walk in, she’s in the bathroom. I wait half an hour for her. Then I yell through the door that we have to go because they won’t allow anyone into the party after midnight. Farrah opens the bathroom door. She is wearing a simple black silk kneelength dress with spaghetti straps. She looks great. I notice that she has powder all over her dress from leaning against the sink while doing her makeup. I brush it off for her. Then she checks her makeup in the mirror and gets powder all over herself again. I brush it off. Then she does it again. I brush it off. Then she does it again. I brush it off, then drag her away from the mirror and we leave at last. WE PULL UP outside Morton’s, where there is a long press line. I ask Farrah if she wants to walk the line alone. She says no and asks me to walk with her. The first reporter to stop us is from the E! network, who asks Farrah how she’s doing.
“Hey, you got my name wrong last time you did an item on me. You didn’t spell it right,” she says. She goes on like that for the next fifteen minutes, while the E! reporter just stands there, stunned. I gently pull Farrah away, and we continue down the line together. Finally, we make it into the party. The first person we run into is Ryan O’Neal. She is visibly unnerved, but tells me she is going to talk to him. I go off and dance with Helen Hunt. When I come back, Farrah is sitting with Ryan. She tells me that they are going to Harvey Weinstein’s party, but that if I want to go, I can follow. I tell her that I am not on the list and don’t want to be turned away, so she should go without me. She thinks for a few moments, then decides to go with me after all. We end up at a party at my friend Andy Will’s house, which is full of gay men who all fall in love with her on the spot, and she is thrilled. IN AUGUST 2002, Madonna invites me to her birthday party at Roxbury. The invitation to the fifty select guests is from “Mrs. Ritchie.” It strikes me that when she was married to Sean, she never called herself Mrs. Penn. She now bears practically the most famous name in the universe and has never before relinquished it, yet now she has—just to make Guy feel better about himself. A kind and loving gesture, perhaps, but I also feel that she is acting a part.
The invitation states that the dress code is kimonos only. Anyone not wearing one will not be admitted to the party. I have a really nice red cotton kimono with white writing all over it, which I bought in Tokyo during The Girlie Show, so I wear that. At the house, all the pathways are lined with lit votive candles and the garden looks really pretty. Gwyneth and I start chatting. All of a sudden she screams, “Christopher, you’re on fire.” I look down. Flames are curling up my kimono. I rip it off, pour water over it. Gwyneth and I step on it and stamp the fire out. I am wearing black trousers and a black shirt underneath. I stay at the party dressed like that.
Madonna walks by. I show her my burned kimono, which now has a hole in it as big as a beach ball. She shrugs. “Put that back on. No one is allowed to stay at the party if they aren’t wearing a kimono.” Don’t ask me if I am okay, don’t ask me if I am burned, just stick to your fucking rules. I ignore her and go back to dancing with Gwyneth. DESPITE MY INSUBORDINATION at the party, Madonna invites me to attend the dress rehearsal of Drowned World. With mixed feelings, I go along to Sony Studios at Culver City. When I arrive, the stage is dark. The lights go up, and there, center stage, is my tree. My concept. Only it looks like something out of Caligula, dark, ominous, and unfriendly. Just like the show. Watching, I am sad. It hurts me to see Madonna performing at half her potential. She seems to be in a very dark place, and that is reflected in the show. I don’t tell her, though, because I know how much her tours mean to her, and I want to be supportive.
Driving home alone after the dress rehearsal, I feel like crying. I know that I could have done so much better with the show, and I know how much better Madonna can be when she is properly directed. And I wish fervently that our relationship hadn’t downward-spiraled so much. MY SISTER AND I rarely share feelings when we are alone together, but we do so from time to time through letters. In early 2002, our correspondence affords me a glimpse into the issues in her marriage and how they deeply affect her. My sister tells me that she relies heavily on Kabbalah, and sees her counselor frequently. Her love for Guy shines through her sentiments. Despite all the acrimony between us, I realize that she is committed to him. I wish the marriage well. I send her a positive letter, in which I take Guy’s part and try to help her understand his vulnerability. I tell her that he is living in this incredible world with her, has an ego of his own and an idea of what he is, and that she may have shattered the illusion, but he is clearly now trying to find his way. I suppose, to some extent, I am writing about myself as well.
She responds immediately, telling me that London can be lonely at times, but that she is hopeful she will find her way. I hope she will. No matter how much I dislike Guy, he’s her husband and I want her to be happy with him. Still, I worry about Madonna. Guy is ten years her junior, and she’s given him latitude to pursue his own interests. But they are very different people, with different approaches to things, and I wonder whether they will be able to bridge the divide. I suspect that Kabbalah will help them through any rough times. And I only hope that the openness of her communications with me signals a new phase in our relationship and that we will one day be close again.
IN MAY 2002, she invites me to London to see her opening in the play Up for Grabs. I fly over to London with my good friend David Cooley, stay at Home House, and on May 23 attend the first night with Rupert and Gwyneth. The play is confusing, with Madonna playing a commercial art dealer who makes out with a woman. At one point, she holds up a black dildo, and the entire scenario eludes me completely. Guy is in the audience, but we don’t talk. The next day, Madonna invites me to lunch at her house in Marylebone. She has obviously weathered the crisis in her marriage, and I am relieved. The restored Georgian terrace home, not far from Hyde Park, has a dramatic staircase, five reception rooms, a large library, eight bedrooms, fifteen-foot ceilings, and a huge twenty-eight-square-foot drawing room. But I am far from happy with the way David Collins has decorated the house. Her office, though, is similar to my work in the New York apartment. We go out for a walk. Suddenly she says, “Guy told me about this pub; let’s take a look.” “But you don’t drink beer, Madonna.” “I do now.” We go to the pub, and she orders a pint of bitters. I watch her face as she drinks it. She is pretending to like the beer, but by the look on her face, I can tell she doesn’t. “My husband is a beer drinker, and I want to experience what he experiences,” she says in explanation. I realize that it isn’t just Kabbalah that has saved Madonna and Guy’s marriage. Madonna is striving hard to please him and probably always will.
BACK IN L.A., I continue working on my designs for Central Restaurant on Sunset Plaza. My fee trickles in slowly, but I have a stake in the restaurant and am forced to wait for it to open before getting paid. Madonna invests $45,000 in the restaurant, which is nice of her and indicative of hope for our relationship. IN JUNE Forbes puts Madonna fourth on its list of the highest-paid entertainers of 2002, citing her income as $43 million. Soon after, she begins filming a small part as a fencing instructor in Die Another Day, the next James Bond movie, for which she records the theme song, “Die Another Day.” I see the movie and smile at the irony that as a teenager I studied fencing and one of my dreams was to emulate Errol Flynn in that arena. Trust Madonna, as always, to get there ahead of me!
ASIDE FROM WORKING on the long, drawn-out, and currently unprofitable Central job, I am also now writing for Interview, Instinct, Icon, and Genre magazines and—with Swept Away about to be released—get an interview with Madonna for the magazines. I’d like to think that she is letting me interview her because she wants to help me, but promoting Swept Away is no doubt her primary motivation. I go to Madonna’s Roxbury house for the interview. There, for the first time since her birth, I manage to spend a few quiet moments with my niece Lola. I put her on the tricycle I gave her when she was born and push her around the garden. She laughs and is obviously having a good time. She is learning French and Spanish, and we exchange some words in both languages. The moment is a happy one.
In many ways, Lola reminds me of Madonna: big eyes, watching everything going on around her, taking it all in. She is now exactly the same age as Madonna was when she, and all of us Ciccone children, lost our mother. I watch her and wish our mother could be alive to see her grandchild. I feel momentarily sad for Lola as well. But other than not ever knowing her maternal grandmother, the world is hers. After I interview Madonna, she and I and Lola have lunch. Madonna, who, I think, is probably being stricter just to impress me, makes Lola sit at the counter and eat her lunch there. She gives her pasta with tomato sauce. “I don’t want to eat it,” Lola declares, throwing down her cutlery. Madonna tells her she has to. “But I don’t want to.” Madonna starts pleading. Lola doesn’t back down. Madonna tries negotiating with her. “Look, Lola, if you eat your lunch, I’ll let you wear your special new outfit tonight.” Lola’s eyes light up. Then she shakes her head. In the end, Madonna agrees to let Lola wear her special outfit as long as Lola eats half her food.
Lola beams. She has manipulated Madonna and won. Even though this scene plays out in kitchens everywhere—a mother trying to convince her daughter to eat—I was fascinated by the dynamics between Madonna and Lola. Lola’s powers of persuasion over her mother were interesting to me. She had managed to handle Madonna in a way that I—and perhaps to one else in Madonna’s life—can do. ON OCTOBER 8, 2002, Swept Away, a remake of Lina Wertmuller’s 1975 movie, directed by Guy and starring Madonna, opens in Los Angeles. I love her in the dream sequence, but as with most of her past cinematic output, I am embarrassed by the rest of the film. The movie was slaughtered by critics and won five Golden Raspberry Awards. After the Shanghai Surprise debacle, I think Madonna should have known better than to work with her husband. But just as Sean made Shanghai Surprise as a gift of love for her, I am sure she followed his example and made Swept Away as a gift of love for Guy.
Remember that everything in your life is there for one reason and one reason only: to offer you the opportunity to transform. Yehuda Berg, The Power of Kabbalah AT THE END of 2002, the London Mail on Sunday names Madonna Britain’s second-highest-earning woman and cites her income that year at $56 million. “Die Another Day” becomes her thirty-fifth Top 10 hit, and she becomes second in career Top 10 singles behind Elvis, who had thirty-eight. She has now also surpassed Aretha Franklin to become the female solo artist with the most Top 40 singles in music history. On January 13, 2003, she wins the Michael Jackson International Artist of the Year Award at the Shrine Auditorium. Later in the year, Madonna signs a $10 million contract with Gap to star in TV commercials and print ads for its fall campaign. I am nearing the end of working on Central, but so far have made little money from the project. I am forced to further pare down my already Spartan existence by selling some of the small number of antiques that still remain from my New York years.
MADONNA GETS IN touch and tells me she is selling Roxbury and has bought a new house on Sunset Boulevard. At her suggestion, I go to see the house, a bizarre reproduction of a French château, with a large swimming pool, a tennis court, and an indoor theater. I hate it on sight, but when she asks me to design and decorate it in three months flat, I agree. If I hadn’t needed the cash so badly, I would have turned her down because the time frame she has allotted me for the job is so short. After I agree to do the house, the emails fly back and forth between us regarding the design. Madonna senses my feelings about it, and an argument blows up between us, which rages in our emails. On May 19, 2003, I write back to her, “M…Once again you have read anger into my letter to you where there is none…. I am fully aware of the fact that you’ve helped me out in the past and it has both contributed to my creative development and financial and now spiritual, since you introduced me to Kabbalah…I did ask you to come and see my new work ages ago…but as to my…photos, they are not just random shots of ass…they are an extension of my creative need as an artist and frankly they are quite good as photos and I intend on showing them in a gallery here in L.A….
“I see no need to belittle my art simply because you don’t understand it or have not seen it…you of all people…it is true, I have not attended various family functions and video showings because I had other more important things to take care of…. I am making time for Kabbalah because what little I have learned has made a difference in my life already…and will continue with it for that reason…not because I want to please you…. As to the stories that you hear…again, you of all people should know better than to believe that sort of shit…. I have never been thrown out of a club even…and for the most part am quite congenial when in public…. “However there are times when out, that my reactions to certain people friends and strangers has been rather pointed…but consider this…after 15 years of being prodded and prodded with question after question about you and what you are doing and your movies and records by people who have no interest in me whatsoever…for years and years everywhere I go…I am bound to react in a less than friendly way from time to time…. However, for the most part I take this in stride as best I can…you see it can give a person the feeling that they don’t exist except as a vague outline of you…and I suppose my avoidance of events and things with you may well be an extension of that frustration….
“This of course is not your fault and I’ve learned to live with it as best I can…and will continue to…but please understand…it is not an easy task to have people look at me but only see you…do you understand this…Anyway…I am not a drunk or a drug addict and have for a long time been doing my damndest to crawl out from under the rather large shadow you cast…the problem is that you have given me a great many opportunities to be creative and work with you…. Now that period seems to have ended I am trying to find my way…stumbling sometime, yes…making the wrong decision sometime, yes…but doing my best always…. Take care of yourself…all my love…Christopher.” OUR RELATIONSHIP BEGINS to normalize once more. Then I send her another email asking her to film an acceptance speech for the Gay Film Festival, and on June 19, 2003, she replies, opening with the blunt sentiment “I do not want to film an acceptance speech for the Gay Film Festival but thanks for asking. I get requests all the time for things like this and I always turn them down.”
I flash back to our life in downtown Manhattan, to Martin Burgoyne and to Christopher Flynn, who both died of AIDS and to whom Madonna owes so much, and I think of her gay fan base. I also think of the good times we both shared with her gay dancers, dancing with them at Catch One, Club Louis, along with the drag queens, all of whom adored her. And I can’t believe how alienated my sister has become from the gay world and the fans who made her what she is now. She no longer seems to have any sense that she owes the gay world much of her career and that the debt will never be paid, because clearly she thinks it has now been. Or perhaps she has simply erased that element in her past from her memory altogether.
WHEN I ASK for help in mounting a Las Vegas production of The Girlie Show, in which she would only have to participate by allowing me to open the show with a hologram of herself, she writes to me dismissively: “I really have no interest in participating in the show other than giving them my name and my concept and my songs…. If and when I come to perform in Vegas again it will be because they pay me zillions of dollars up front.” Subject closed. I feel as if she has told me to go play in traffic. Then she switches to the subject of the house and proposes paying me $45,000 for designing and decorating it over three months. My fee, she tells me, will be paid as follows: $10,000 just to get started, $5,000 at the end of the first month, $15,000 at the end of the second. Another $15,000 at the end of the third month, and another $5,000 if the job takes longer than projected. This fee is identical to the one she paid me for designing and decorating the second version of her New York apartment many years before. Next to what other designers get, the fee is insultingly low, but there is more: “This is contingent on you making yourself totally available to me and devoting the majority of your time to this project.” She is fully aware that I am working on Central, but is demanding my services 24-7.
I have no choice but to acquiesce to all her terms. I am broke and no one is beating down my door to employ me. I am my own worst salesman and have never used an attorney to negotiate the fees or contracts for my designing jobs. Then I talk to a friend of mine, another designer, who is shocked at my paltry fee. He tells me I am getting paid a quarter of what another decorator/designer would charge for the same job. He explains that on every job, all designers/decorators bill clients 30 percent above the retail price of furniture and all other aspects of an interior. He suggests that I do the same thing, then at least I will at last be properly recompensed for my work. I decide not only to do just that, but also to hire him to work with me on the job, as the restaurant continues to take much of my time.
I start work on the house. Fortunately, it has exactly the masculine feel that Guy requires, so I don’t have to do much radical work on it. All I have to do for him is change the fittings on his dark green marble bathroom from brass to chrome. Luckily, he decrees that his closet should be a replica of his at Roxbury. One less trauma. When Madonna tells me he won’t be attending any of our meetings, I am relieved that I won’t have to deal with him. I tell myself that this job is destined to go really smoothly. However, the first time I am involved in work on Central and I can’t attend a meeting with Madonna and send my designer friend instead, she goes ballistic. She calls me screaming, “I fucking told you that if you took this job, you have to be around twenty-four/seven.” I start to disagree. “I don’t care,” she says. “Just get over here.” I do.
OVER THE ENTIRE three months it takes to complete the house, Madonna is difficult at every turn. My sister, who used to implicitly trust my design judgment, now doesn’t trust me at all, and I am both mystified and frustrated. I can’t fathom why she doesn’t realize that my talent has not diminished but may well have matured. She demands that I supply her with design boards, complete with paint and fabric samples, and, however many I give her, she insists on seeing more. And when I have to go to the fabric store and to the furniture store, she tells me she is coming with me. This is a first, and I am not amused. Generally, when those types of stores are dealing with a decorator/designer, bringing the client to the store is frowned upon. Only this time, of course, the client is Madonna.
We arrive at the fabric store, and everyone from the manager to the assistants all swoon, “It’s Madonna! It’s Madonna!” I cringe and try to do my job. But I know it’s going to be a long afternoon. I show her fabric, but I know she isn’t listening to me. My anger is mounting. I show her something else. She tells me she doesn’t like it, but won’t give me a reason. I try to remain patient, to explain to her why a particular color fits a particular room. And that we aren’t just decorating one corner but the entire house, and that everything has to mesh. But she insists on seeing the house in fragments, not as a unit. She argues with me at every turn. This light switch shouldn’t be here. This electrical outlet shouldn’t be there. Suddenly she is a decorator and a designer and knows better about everything. We are continually at odds with each other. I think back to the days when she had so much faith in my taste that she gave an interview to Architectural Digest declaring, “We call Christopher the pope because everything has to get his seal of approval. Who could I have more in common with than someone I grew up with? We like the same things, from music to what we eat.”
Now, though, my sister has morphed from being my best and most appreciative audience to an amnesiac, carping stranger fixated on undermining me whenever possible. On August 26, 2003, she dashes off an imperious memo with a curt list of items about which she wants updates. Have I ordered fabric for a living room bench? Have I purchased a wood frame for screening the powder room? Should a curtain rod in her bedroom be cut down for another room? Have I purchased a small area rug to be placed in the hallway? There is more—including her demand that I send her photographs of the various curtain rails I intend to use in her yoga room and in what she describes as “GR’s office.” I respond as politely as I can. I realize that her obsessive need to control every aspect of my work on the house has partly been prompted by her belief that as I am still working on Central, I am not devoting my entire time to her. Her refusal to listen to or even attempt to understand my design ideas for the house frustrates me even more. The best element in the house is a two-story sunroom constructed entirely of floor-to-ceiling glass windows. I conceive of turning it into a botanical music room, furnishing it with white-painted metal furniture, hanging plants from the rafters, so that being in the room would feel like being in the middle of a garden, with sunlight flooding in—the perfect setting in which to make music.
I try explaining the concept to Madonna. “I don’t get it,” she says. “Try picturing it.” “I still don’t get it. Can’t you draw it for me?” “But I’ve described it to you in detail.” “I wanna see it before you do it.” I give a big sigh. She glares at me. “You want to keep this job?” I nod miserably. “Then don’t give me attitude,” she says.
SHE ALSO INSISTS on hanging a weird, larger-than-life, eight-by-twelvefoot photograph of her—in the style of Helmut Newton, but taken by Steven Klein—in the hallway. I think it sad that poor Rocco and Lola have to wake up each morning and come face-to-face with this huge picture of their mother dressed in a blatant S&M outfit, lying on a bed with dead animals all around her. The creepiest thing I’ve ever seen. This is a Madonna I don’t know anymore. SOON AFTER, MADONNA leaves for New York. It’s now the middle of summer, and L.A. is in the throes of a heat wave. One afternoon, I call Caresse and ask if some friends and I can use Madonna’s pool. Madonna sends word that we can. So four of us hang out by the pool, drink beer, and sunbathe. We don’t set foot in the house and, at sunset, go home. Later that night, Madonna calls me, fuming. She says that a security guard has reported that we spent the afternoon taking drugs and having an orgy. Nothing is further from the truth. But the die is cast.
By now, Madonna has convinced herself that I am a major drug addict and smoke crack daily, whereas I have never once contemplated even trying it. She suggests that I have weekly individual sessions at the Kabbalah Center with our teacher, Rabbi Eitan Yardeni. I agree, as I am increasingly interested in Kabbalah. I see him once a week for a few months and each time give a $50 donation to the center. I grow to view the sessions as therapy, enjoy them, and trust Eitan with my innermost thoughts. By now, the Kabbalah meetings are held in either Madonna’s, Demi’s, Lucy Liu’s, or Caresse’s house.
When the meeting is at Madonna’s house, she serves vegetarian appetizers. Demi Moore serves the best food of all—shrimp and other delicacies. Each meeting begins with Eitan lecturing from the perspective of Kabbalah on the topic of the day, such as “Finding Your Soul Mate,” “Making Money,” “Speaking Ill of Other People.” Afterward, we all discuss the topic. As the meetings rotate between houses, I notice that the person at whose house the meeting is held that week gets to monopolize the conversation, to hog the limelight from everyone else.
AROUND THAT TIME, Demi calls me: “Something really strange happened last night. Your sister invited Ashton and me over to her house for Sunday dinner. We got all dressed up, but when we arrived at the house, your sister and Guy were in workout clothes. “We all sat down for dinner, had the main course, then your sister stood up. “‘Guy and I are going to see a movie. But you and Ashton are welcome to stay for dessert,’ she said. “Ashton and I exchanged glances, then we went home.” Another example of the way in which my sister seems to have lost touch with other people.
IN SEPTEMBER 2003, Madonna publishes her first children’s book, the forty-eight-page English Roses. It is released in one hundred countries and thirty languages, but I am not impressed. Her experience with children, other than her own, is minimal, as is her understanding of people except on a business or practical level. Moreover, the plots of this and all her subsequent children’s books are written more for adults and are not particularly childfriendly. MEANWHILE, OUR CONFLICT over the house escalates when she sends me a vitriolic fax on September 23, 2003, in which she accuses me of not having approached the job with “gusto, enthusiasm, urgency and gratitude” and claims that “you hate the fact that you have to work for me. There is no sense of urgency or gratitude and frankly I’m fed up with all of it.” She ends by saying, “This is not a healthy relationship and when you have gotten rid of your issues with me over the fact that I am what or who I am then perhaps we can work together again.” The message is clear: for my sister, our working relationship is over. I write straight back to her.
“m…I have no idea what you’re talking about. I have given you all the information that is possible to give…I am at the house every day…and doing everything that you ask…I spoke to angela this morning…. your reaction is bizarre to say the least…. obviously you’re frustrated with other things and looking for an outlet…. fine…fire me…. I will consider this my last day of work for you. I am fully aware of the concept of “Bread of Shame” and believe me, I worked and have always worked for every penny you have paid me, and generally it was pennies…. rob and I have worked our asses off to get this job done in the time frame you requested…but that doesn’t seem to matter…You really need to assess how you react to things and consider taking the calm, intelligent and peaceful approach to the house and life…. Your overeaction to things is only going [to] make every thing seem unbearable…. you really need to take another look at Kabbalah and [its] teachings m and start practicing it yourself instead of using it as a weapon on others…. take care…peace…oh and…let me know if you want rob to continue in my place…. of course you realize you will have to pay him to continue…. i still love you, crazy as you are…. c”
The following morning, at just after 6 a.m., she fires off another fax to me in which she ends our working relationship. Along the way, she admits, “Perhaps I expect too much because of history, water under the bridge and the fact that you are my brother. Who knows but it’s not good chemistry.” She ends, “I am calm and I love you too.” I am still angry, but I am also sad. I spend all morning mulling my reply, then write, “funny how it all comes down to money…hmm…and just for the record…I am the last person in your world who has always had your back…and despite the fact that u live in a fantasy world…I will always have your back…. I love u too much and too deeply to ever let that go…. peace…c.” I SUSPECT THAT although Guy has never been to the house while I was working there, he was somewhere in the background, pulling my sister’s strings. Or perhaps he told her she should exercise more control over what I’m doing. Either way, she has made my life a misery during the entire Sunset job.
FINALLY, THE HOUSE is completed according to schedule. However, I don’t receive the final payment of $15,000, so I call Caresse. “Madonna wants me to tell you that she doesn’t feel you did enough to warrant the final payment. So she isn’t going to pay it,” she says. For a moment, I digest the latest blow my sister has dished out. “You tell Madonna if she wants to see any of the rest of the furniture I bought for her and she’s waiting for, she had better pay me my final payment.” Caresse gulps and hangs up. Within a few hours, my final check is messengered over to me, and I arrange for Madonna to get the rest of her furniture.
BY NOW, MADONNA and I are hardly on speaking terms. But we are not completely estranged. Then, at the end of October 2003, in a quirk of fate, she inexplicably decides to return one of the light fixtures I’ve purchased for her for Sunset. Caresse takes it back to the shop, whereupon she learns that I have charged a percentage above the cost of the item—the standard markup every designer takes. On October 24, Madonna calls me and says that she can’t believe I’ve done this to her, calling me a thief and a liar, and the most untrustworthy person she’s ever met, accusing me of betraying her after she has put all her love and loyalty into my work. One of the accusations that hurts the most is when she yells, “I’ve made you what you are. You wouldn’t be anything without me.” I do my best to defend myself. She hits back with a fax in which she hurls further accusations at me, ending, “Please never contact me again.” It is as if my sister has taken a knife, stuck it into my stomach, and twisted it twenty-five times. Or ripped my heart out and carved it into a thousand pieces.
I’ve spent the last twenty years helping make her a star, supporting her, protecting her, without much financial reward. And now this. I stare at the computer screen for what seems like hours, reading the poisonous words over and over, enraged. In frustration, I smash my fist on my desk. I break a bone in my hand and, for weeks after, have to wear a cast, but the physical pain is negligible next to the psychological pain my sister has just inflicted on me. Every bit of anger I’ve ever felt at her, every disappointment she’s ever caused me, every iota of pride I’ve swallowed on her behalf, every bitter rejection, comes to the surface. I sit down and reply to her email. “you have never in the entire time I have worked for you since 1985 paid me even close to what i was worth…. I gave up my fucking life to help make you the evil queen you are today…. 15 years listening to your bitching, egotistical rantings, mediocre talent, and a lack of taste that would stun the ages…every ounce of talent you have, you have sucked dry from me and the people around you…i certainly never worked for you for the money…. now you accuse me of lying and cheating you…. you’ve got some fucking nerve…. as usual…you have lost all sense of reality…. i guess I always thought that one day you’d see my worth and behave accordingly…but you never did…. a little fucking respect was all I ever wanted from you and you couldn’t even manage that.” I end the email with “Don’t forget to remove me from your will.” Then I press SEND.
As I do, the weight of the world falls off my shoulders. All of a sudden, I am free of Madonna. I don’t have to protect her anymore. I don’t have to worry about how my public behavior will reflect on her. I can be myself at last. Christopher, not Madonna’s brother. Then I am overcome by a deep sadness. The woman I loved above all others, the woman who I thought was incredibly creative and loving has surrounded herself with sycophants who do nothing but agree with her and who I feel have poisoned her against me. The Madonna I once knew is lost to me forever. And I am sorry for her, and us. SHE DOESN’T REPLY to my email. When I email Demi to ask where the next Wednesday Kabbalah class is being held, she replies that she isn’t sure. After that, silence. I email her again. Silence. The message comes over loud and clear: I have shared my thoughts and hopes with my fellow members of the Kabbalah class, but because of my rift with my sister, I am no longer welcome.
Despite having been excluded from Kabbalah classes, I continue to practice Kabbalah’s tenets and precepts all on my own. Kabbalah has taught and continues to teach me a great deal about the manner in which I exist in this world and the consequences of my actions, and is invaluable to me. Kabbalah has now become as integral a part of my existence as my Catholicism. My view of the world has changed and become more positive, and my reactions to other people have become more cerebral and serene. Through Kabbalah, my once negative and somewhat dark reactions to other people have become far more positive. However, I do acknowledge that—given my human shortcomings, my human frailties—my study of Kabbalah is ongoing, but necessary if I am to curb those elements within my nature that have often proved to be my undoing. My commitment to Kabbalah is, and will always remain, so profound that I now have one of the seventy-one names of God—the one which, in Kabbalah, represents the precept that “everything you do affects the future”—tattooed on my left forearm, never to be removed. I also volunteer to get involved with the Spirituality for Kids program, which is run by Eitan’s wife, Sarah.
I develop a ten-week program in which children ages eight to twelve are presented with disposable Kodak cameras. Each one of them is given a word. Then they spend a week illustrating that word through photographs. I enjoy working with the children. The project eventually evolves into a book. I have no part in it, but am glad to have been involved at the early stages of the program. TWO WEEKS AFTER I emailed Madonna, VH1 calls me and asks if I would like to appear in a show on design. I am delighted and say that I would. A week passes. I receive a second call from the same producer asking if I’ve spoken to Madonna recently. I tell him I haven’t. “She doesn’t want this show to happen, so could you call her?” he says. “No,” I say, “if she doesn’t want the show to happen, it probably shouldn’t.” And it doesn’t.
THE WORD IS out and my stock in Hollywood plummets accordingly. Wherever I go, I am haunted by my sister—by her voice and her image. She is on the radio, in the ring of a telephone, on the TV, and I can’t escape her. I talk to a friend, and he asks about Madonna. I go to a bar, one of her songs comes on, the entire room turns to look at me, and my stomach turns over. Central Restaurant opens. The Los Angeles Times calls it “one of the most beautiful rooms in the country.” But after just three months, it closes. I have spent three years working on Central, as I have a share in the restaurant and believed that I would be recompensed when it was a success. Now, of course, I won’t be. All the investors in the restaurant, including Madonna, lose their money.
I still have my two lodgers, but my car is repossessed because I can no longer afford the payments. To add injury to insult, while I’m out with friends one night, I tear a ligament in my knee. I have surgery on it and am forced to spend the next four months recovering. This enforced period of rest does not help my financial situation at all, nor does the surgeon’s $10,000 bill, which—as my partners in Central failed to pay my insurance premium—I am compelled to settle myself. My consolation is my art. And on June 26, 2004, at the opening of Gay Pride Week, the Booty Collection (twenty-five color Polaroids, blown up to eleven by fourteen, of my friends’ backsides) is shown in San Francisco at the Phantom SF Gallery, to great fanfare. Alan Cumming, Armistead Maupin, and Graham Norton all attend and are extremely complimentary about my work.
I continue with my paintings and photography, and on August 15, 2004, the Mumford Gallery in Provincetown, Massachusetts, also shows the Booty Collection. It’s well received, but my sister makes it clear she doesn’t approve of it and doesn’t consider it art. The subtext is that she assumes that the photographs are the product of a couple of drug binges. Totally untrue. MEANWHILE, MADONNA LAUNCHES her Re-invention Tour. I don’t go to see it, but afterward view the DVD: I’m Going to Tell You a Secret. The show opens with “Vogue,” distant and cold, which sets the note for the rest of the show. Throughout, she attempts to force-feed the audience. The show is confrontational, unsubtle, angry. I am amused, though, that in the documentary she features scenes from our father’s vineyard and says that she grew up there. Not so; she merely visited a few times. The scenes featuring Lola and Rocco both touch and sadden me. I am sad, as I have seen so little of them. I am touched at how much Lola reminds me of Madonna. And I miss not knowing her or Rocco.
I AM VIRTUALLY destitute, save for the largesse of a few friends, especially my long-term friends Daniel Hoff and Eugenio Lopez, as well as Dan Sehres, who is kind enough to let me stay with him for the duration. His kindness and hospitality will continue for the next two years. One night, however, back in L.A., as fate would have it, I am invited to a dinner party where I meet Andrea Greenberg, the head of marketing for Fortune International Properties. She offers me a job designing the lobby of their Miami headquarters. The job is projected to last six months, and intensely relieved at getting out of L.A., I relocate to Miami temporarily and begin work. After I’ve been in Miami for only a few days, a friend invites me to dinner at China Grill, where I see Ingrid. My impression is that Guy may have attempted to edge her out of Madonna’s life, but he hasn’t completely succeeded. The moment we meet again, she tells me that she knows Madonna and I aren’t talking.
“You should definitely email her right away,” Ingrid says, giving me one of her intense looks. “I don’t have anything to say to her. I won’t speak to her until she treats me with the respect I’ve earned and deserve.” Ingrid looks shocked. The thought of not speaking to Madonna is clearly anathema to her. “Anyway, I’m out of her life now. And I’m doing fine,” I say. There is more, and if, by the time I get home, I’ve forgotten much of it, an email from Madonna is in my inbox, reiterating every word I’ve just uttered to Ingrid and refreshing my memory. I haven’t spent time with Ingrid for so long that I’ve forgotten that one of her geniuses is seducing me into having a conversation about Madonna, getting me to spill my guts, letting my guard down. Whereupon she reports back to Madonna. I promise myself never to let my guard down again with Ingrid. It takes me a while before I decide to open Madonna’s email. She never puts a subject, so I have no warning whether an email will be friendly or not. This email is neutral. She insists that she does treat me with respect, but she doesn’t say she was wrong or apologize for the hateful things she said in her email. I answer her in polite terms.
Toward the end of my job with Fortune, I am offered the chance to be the interior design director for the Calypso at Caribbean on Thirty-seventh and Collins, a luxury condominium development, a new and an existing building by architect Kobi Karp. Along the way, a friend sends me an article about Madonna, featuring her move to the twelve-hundred-acre Ashcombe House in the English countryside—and depicting her in her latest incarnation: English country lady. A lifetime’s distance away from Madonna the modern dancer, Madonna the punk pop star, and all the other guises my kaleidoscopic sister has assumed in the past. I look at the pictures of Madonna in her manor house, think of my new life in Miami, and am sad at how far apart we now are, how far from each other we have traveled.
I AM DOING well in Miami and L.A., carving out a life as an artist, interior decorator, and designer on my own merits, not on the back of my sister’s name. On my birthday, in November 2005, I make sure to invite Ingrid to my party, just so she will see for herself that I’m thriving and report accordingly to Madonna. At a friend’s house, I meet the co-coordinator of the White Party, given each year to benefit AIDS research. He asks me if I know someone who might like to host a benefit dinner at the Versace mansion. I suggest supermodel and America’s Next Top Model judge Janice Dickinson, whom I had met at Central. He loves the idea. I open negotiations. Initially, Janice demands five first-class tickets and luxury suites for herself and countless members of her entourage. At which point, my experience in handling divas kicks in. Janice ends up toning down her requirements and flies down to Miami to host the dinner. I am grateful to her for her participation.
WHILE I AM working on the Caribbean, I design and manufacture a line of T-shirts that I name Basura Boy. Basura, Spanish, loosely translates to “trash.” The T-shirts each feature a symbol from either Kabbalah or Buddhism. The slogan of the company is “Spirituality Is Our Business.” In June 2006, I film two episodes of the Bravo show Top Chef, advising on restaurant designs. With the producer’s consent, I give full rein to my acid tongue and observe of one chef’s culinary creation, “If this is a vegetable medley, I’m a monkey.”
When the show is aired a year later, the reviews of my appearance are extreme and veer between love and hate, but even the negative ones don’t sour me on the experience of making the show. I loved it. I am also now managing a young singer named Julien. He’s a little David Bowie, a little Freddie Mercury, but fresh and original. Most of all, though, he reminds me of the young Madonna. He has her passion and drive. I sense his potential and feel I can help his career. He agrees to let me manage him, and we make a nine-track demo to send out to record companies. He also has his first gig at the Roxy in L.A., then another one at Crimson in Hollywood. He receives great reviews and I am optimistic about his future. In May 2006, Madonna’s assistant calls and invites me to the May 21 L.A. opening of her Confessions show—a sixty-city tour that will go on to make $260 million. I haven’t seen or spoken to her in two years. I’m sitting in the front row.
The show is lighthearted, and for the first time since The Girlie Show, Madonna looks as if she is enjoying herself. Watching, I am overcome with a sense of nostalgia. I remember the past, when things were great between us. I miss the sister I knew so well, the closeness, the respect, the being part of something that was so great. Suddenly, I yearn to turn back the clock, to be on the road with her again, part of the show, part of her life. After the show, I go backstage to the greenroom to see Madonna. As I walk in, a man with a full beard taps me on the shoulder. I assume he’s a rabbi. In a polite but distant voice, I say, “Hi.” “It’s Guy, dummy.”
I didn’t recognize him at all. I stand in the entrance of the greenroom and wait to see Madonna. In a white T-shirt and jeans, light makeup, her hair pulled back, she is perched on the edge of a chair. She knows the show has gone well and looks relaxed. A line of people wait to shake her hand. Our eyes meet. She smiles at me. I bypass the line. We hug. I tell her the show was great. She thanks me for coming. “You look good. You look happy,” she says. I tell her she does, too, and I mean it. We have reconnected at last, and I am glad.
IN JUNE, I go to my father’s seventy-fifth birthday in Traverse City. Joan throws a big party for him in a large barn on the property that holds five hundred. Madonna doesn’t come. I’m pleased because otherwise the party would have been about her, not him. During the day, my father comes up to me and asks what’s going on with me and Madonna. I tell him we’ve had a disagreement and she’s hurt me badly, but we’re working on getting over it at last. “I wish you would sort it out; it’s making me unhappy,” he says. I don’t want to make my father unhappy. I love and respect him far too much. And I am glad to tell him that I feel that Madonna and I have almost sorted out all our differences and that I believe that there is hope for us again, at last. WHEN CONFESSIONS OPENS in Miami on July 22, I ask for tickets so I can see the show again.
The atmosphere inside the arena is electric, if steamy, as Madonna, contrary to all the rules, has prevailed on the management to kill the air-conditioning. I sit next to Gloria and Emilio on my left, and Dan Sehres on my right. As Madonna is lowered onstage in the disco ball, I flash back for a moment to the disco ball at the Rubaiyat and feel nostalgic for that night, that time, and our shared past together. At that moment, Madonna looks directly at me and gives me a little nod and I smile at her. I notice that Ingrid hasn’t got a good seat and keeps craning her neck for a view of Madonna. Ingrid is wearing the slightly hangdog look she has when she feels she’s been dissed. She keeps attempting to catch Madonna’s eye, but Madonna ignores her.
I am wrapped up in the show and really enjoying it when—all of a sudden— Madonna announces, “This song is for my brother, who is in the audience,” and sings “Paradise,” which she has cowritten. Although the lyrics don’t contain a particular message, I am utterly stunned she has dedicated the song to me. As far as I know, she has only twice dedicated songs to someone: once to my father, and once to Martin Burgoyne. She has paid me a compliment and I’m happy. AFTER THE SHOW, I am invited to the party in the Raleigh’s upstairs room. Madonna is in black, Ricky Martin stands on one side of her, and Mickey Rourke on the other. Ingrid hovers behind her. I say hello to Madonna.
We have a repeat of our Los Angeles conversation. After a while, I take a look at the dancers in the room. All of them are straight. None of them is dancing. I go up to Madonna and say, “You don’t have any gay dancers!” She thinks for a second, slightly puzzled. “You’re right, we don’t. Isn’t that weird?” The question is rhetorical. The party is dull. I think back to all the after-show parties Madonna and I have had in the past, when everyone was dancing and having fun and the atmosphere was joyful. This party is joyless and dull. After an hour, I leave.
IN OCTOBER 2006, Madonna and Guy fly to Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, one of the world’s poorest countries, with a population of 12 million, including an estimated 1 million orphans, many of them children whose parents have died of AIDS. As Madonna has put it, “I didn’t choose Malawi. It chose me.” From Malawi’s capital, they travel to the Home of Hope orphanage, thirty miles away, where they will meet twelve children—one of whom they are considering for adoption. They take one look at thirteen-month-old David Banda and the choice is made. It is not difficult. He is adorable, intelligent, and healthy. And I am surprised at the tidal wave of world media outrage that hits her and Guy after they make their decision. I respect that Madonna is trying to help a young child from an impoverished third-world country. But the cynic in me reads about the publicists and camera crews who traveled with her and Guy on their first visit to the orphanage and—remembering Truth or Dare—can’t help thinking, Madonna is competing with Angelina Jolie. So she isn’t going to stop with one child, she is going to help an entire country, and she wants the world to know about it.
I’d like to think her motives are entirely altruistic, but am slightly disturbed that she couldn’t adopt David quietly, without all the concomitant press attention, and a documentary crew to record it. Yet whatever her motivations, she has also helped form the charity Raising Malawi and has pledged more than $3 million to help Malawi’s orphans. She also does all she can to make the world aware that while Malawi may be a beautiful country, it has also been severely blighted by AIDS, famine, and war.
All in all, I respect her giving heart and know that whatever she contributes, the attention her involvement in Malawi brings can only help those less fortunate than herself. BY THE TIME my birthday comes around in 2006, I am settled and feeling happier, traveling between L.A. and Miami, and assume that all my bitterness over Madonna has dissipated. I have a dinner at Karu & Y, then go to a party at the Sagamore, thrown for me by Ingrid. She is running Saturday nights there, so she is primarily giving the party to get press. She tells me that I can invite twenty people, and that she will provide three tables and serve free vodka.
When I arrive, fifteen strangers are sitting at my tables. I ask Ingrid who they are. She brushes aside my question and tells me that when my friends arrive, she will make room for them. I tell her that this will make my friends uncomfortable. Then I take a look at the vodka she’s provided: just two bottles for twenty people, and a cheap brand at that. Suddenly, something in me snaps. I may be projecting Madonna onto Ingrid, but I just freak out. I storm out of the restaurant and my friends follow. By morning, I have calmed down; I realize that I have over-reacted. Although I have now created a life for myself based on my own talents and not Madonna’s, I am still bitter at her. Kabbalah has not helped exorcise my demons, nor have I really forgiven her.
I turn on my computer and find two emails—one from Madonna and one from Ingrid. Ingrid is indignant, telling me that she did me a favor and how dare I walk out on her. It goes on, accusing me of having an exaggerated sense of entitlement. To some degree, she is right. I did feel entitled— because I was aware that my presence meant that the Sagamore would get press that night—but I was wrong to explode at her and to walk out. I write back immediately and apologize. Then I read Madonna’s email. She gives a blow-by-blow account of my behavior that evening, as described to her by Ingrid, and most of it is true. She doesn’t berate me, though. The tone is relatively soft. The purpose of the email is to let me know that she still believes I am a drug addict and an alcoholic and that I need help. She suggests that I go to an outpatient rehab center and offers to pay for it.
I think about what she has written, then take a long, hard look at myself. I don’t think I am an alcoholic or a drug addict, but I do know that—due, in part, to my relationship with Madonna—I’ve got some serious issues to deal with. I agree to go to Transitions Recovery Program in North Miami Beach, and Madonna pays the cost in advance for a consultation with a psychiatrist there. There, blood is taken from me, and I spend hours with the psychiatrist, outlining my entire relationship with my sister. I explain to him that I don’t know if rehab will benefit me, as I am not prepared to air my issues with Madonna in front of a group. He asks me to come back to the center when the results are in.
Four days later, we have another meeting, in which he tells me that neither the blood tests nor our conversation indicates either alcoholism or drug addiction. He recommends I have long-term one-on-one therapy and names a good therapist in Miami. With my consent, he emails a copy of his recommendations to Madonna. Madonna rattles off an instant email in response, telling the doctor that he doesn’t know what he is talking about. The doctor reads to me: “My brother belongs in rehab and that’s that.” “Your sister has control issues,” he tells me. Ingrid has apparently also called the psychiatrist, expressing surprise that he had not told me to go into rehab. He repeats his recommendations based on the tests and his lengthy consultation with me about my situation.
I get an email from Madonna telling me that she has received the doctor’s assessment, that she disagrees totally with him, but is glad I am seeking help for my problems and will pay for a number of my sessions. Despite her control issues, I realize that she is being generous and kind in attempting to help me. In January 2007, I start seeing my therapist twice a week. On the proviso that she receive progress reports, Madonna agrees to pay for a fixed number of sessions at $150 a time. With my consent, the therapist agrees to send her a weekly report on my progress in therapy, approved by me and without revealing the content of our sessions, as I want to find a way back to forming a real relationship with Madonna again. My therapist writes to Madonna, reiterating the doctor’s feelings regarding rehab.
Madonna apparently emails her back saying that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about, that she has no clue and can’t be a good therapist. She tells my therapist that I am manipulating her. My therapist reacts by telling me that she is glad to be getting such a good idea of my sister. She says that Madonna is not going to go away and I need to learn how to deal with her, and that she will help me. For the first time in my life, I have someone to whom I can talk openly and honestly. She validates my reality for me. I look forward to our sessions and feel that I am making progress. I am confronting my demons, acknowledging my strengths and weaknesses, and mustering the courage to explore them in this book.
IN THE EARLY summer of 2007, as I am still looking for additional work as a designer, I write a letter to Madonna, asking her for a letter of recommendation for my résumé and design book. She writes back and says she can’t, in good conscience, give me a recommendation until I have been in rehab. I write back, telling her that my therapist says I don’t need rehab, and that I have chosen to become a healthy person on my own terms, not Madonna’s. I try to explain to her that rehab is a place to detox. It isn’t a fix, which is why people who visit rehab without simultaneously having long-term therapy tend to end up returning over and over. Madonna’s response makes it clear to me that she doesn’t or won’t understand. I let go of the need to have her understand and move on emotionally.
IN LATE JUNE, I go to Traverse City and spend two weeks with my father. I help him in the vineyard, and for the first time ever we talk to each other as if we are friends. It’s been a long time coming. At the same time, I am worried about him. He is seventy-six now, yet he gets up at six in the morning and works twelve hours straight doing exhausting manual labor. He has created several different varieties of wine and has won many medals for them. Madonna did help him financially to buy the vineyard, but I feel that he needs more help in promoting it. He is about to auction a magnum of his dolcetto wine at a wine fair in Saratoga Springs, New York. I call the publisher of Instinct magazine and suggest that I write a story about the vineyard, and the auction. My concept— which is designed to help my father, the wine, and Madonna’s charity—is that my father donate part of the proceeds of the auction to her Malawian charity. I email her requesting that she give me some quotes. She responds, but she says she’s done plenty for Dad, and that perhaps she could provide a single quote.
Instead of erupting in a rage, as I would have in the past, I write back and ask her to write a couple of paragraphs about her charity, and we could run it unedited. She tells me to go to her website. I take the path of least resistance and email back, “Okay, I will.” The kitchen of my father’s home in Traverse City, Michigan, 7 p.m., September 3, 2007 MELANIE AND I are in the midst of cooking Labor Day dinner for the family when she tells me that Madonna sent her a round-trip ticket to London as a birthday present, so Melanie can come and celebrate Madonna’s birthday with her and her family. Melanie tells me that she flew to England and stayed with Madonna at Ashcombe House. On the eve of her birthday, Madonna screened I Am Because We Are, her documentary on Malawi. President Clinton, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Professor Jeffrey Sachs all took part in the documentary, which includes the harrowing stories of many of the children left in Malawi, orphaned and alone.
According to Melanie, the documentary also features female circumcision, abject poverty, and is extremely bloody. The following day, in celebration of her birthday, Madonna threw a party at Ashcombe. Gypsies and horses were flown in from Europe, knights in full armor strolled around the property, and every kind of luxurious food was served. Melanie says that she found it difficult to understand the dichotomy between Madonna’s work in Malawi and the opulent excess of her party. I explain that no matter how altruistic Madonna may be in her Malawi work, it still generates publicity for her and burnishes her public image. Although I don’t want to diminish the good she is doing in Malawi, at times the entire enterprise feels slightly self-serving.
According to Melanie, Kabbalah is the focal point of Madonna’s and Guy’s lives. While Melanie was at Ashcombe, the atmosphere between Madonna and Guy was very tense and a Kabbalah rabbi would come down from London and mediate between them. This does not surprise me. I believe that Kabbalah is helping keep Guy and Madonna together. No matter how much I dislike him, how much I hold him responsible for the rift between me and my sister, I wish him and their marriage well. Sadly, I’ve never met my nephew David; I hardly know Rocco, and I know Lola only a little. But I sincerely hope that some day, I will be able to forge my own relationship with them. I want them to know that, as their uncle, I will always be there for them—because that, when all is said and done, is the nature of family.
Time ripens all things; no man is born wise.
Miguel de Cervantes
MADONNA HAS NOW been world famous for a quarter of a century and is probably the most celebrated woman on the planet. She has sold an estimated 200 million albums worldwide and has been listed in Guinness World Records as the female singer with the highest annual earnings. Her latest album, Hard Candy, debuted at number one around the globe and has sold more than a million copies during the first month on sale, and her world tour, Sweet and Sticky, launches on August 23, 2008. She is now a global icon, a legend, and her importance to popular culture can never be overstated. But when it all began for her, Billboard’s editor predicted, “Madonna will be out of business in six months.” Madonna, in a moment of triumph, once admitted, “People underestimated me, didn’t they?” Like me, she has the longest memory of anyone I know. She hasn’t forgotten how little faith many people once had in her, and I’m proud never to have been one of them. This year my sister will be fifty years old. I hope and believe that she still has many more years of performing ahead of her, and that I’ll be there, right to the end, applauding her. And I believe that Guy will be there, too. Despite the fact that recent reports have claimed that Madonna and Guy’s marriage is in serious trouble—which, of course, has met with several official denials from her camp—I know Guy and Madonna love each other, and that, apart from anything else, they have been passionately committed to working on their relationship with the guidance of Kabbalah.
LAST SUMMER, MY father and I unpacked boxes from my past that he’d been storing for me for more than fifteen years. I stood there staring at the contents—letters from Danny, bills, invoices, postcards, photographs, memories of another life—and I was momentarily paralyzed. Then my father, the man who made me and Madonna exactly what and who we are, sensing my emotions, said, “Why don’t we have a bonfire and burn everything?” So we did. We took fifteen boxes filled with twenty years of my life and stood there, together, and watched the flames consume my past. I turned and looked at my father and said, “You know, Dad, so many times in my life, I’ve felt like a loser.” And he said, “Christopher, you’re not a loser. And I’m very proud of you.” His words made me happy, but I wished I could hear my mother say them to me as well.
THE PAST TWENTY-FIVE years have been a great adventure and a learning process for me. Through it all, I’ve often kicked against the fact that my name, my reputation, and my entire identity are inextricably linked to Madonna’s. Now, though, with the passing of time, through therapy and the writing of this book, I have come to terms with the truth that I can never escape that reality. Nor can I turn back the clock. If I could, I would not have written my sister those hurtful words. Even though I don’t think it was her intention, she did hurt me, and I hurt her in retaliation. Yet my lifetime with Madonna has yielded many lessons for me. The prosaic lesson that if you do business with a family member, no matter how close you are—always get a contract.
I don’t know whether Madonna has learned anything from our years together, but if she has, I hope it is Kabbalah’s lesson that she is not the center of the universe, and that every action, every decision she makes affects not only her but the people around her. Yet if my sister’s actions have ever affected me negatively, I know now that I also bear some of that burden and accept that I am responsible for the choices I have made. Even though our contact is minimal these days, any bitterness I had once felt for my sister has long since evaporated. I look back on our life together with affection. I consider it a privilege to have been able to share her success with her.
I don’t hold any grudges against her, nor do I bear her any ill will. I love her very much and will always be grateful for everything we shared. My sister has done so much for me, and all I have to do is look at her loving birthday cards—so emotional in expressing sentiments she could never have articulated to me in person—and I know how much she loves me. I cherish all the memories of the good times I’ve had with my sister, the personal ones, the intimate ones, the professional ones. Looking back on our years of working together, of being together, it seems as if—after the dysfunctional nature of our childhood—we created a little world for each other, and I loved it. It was sure, protected, intensely creative, and I felt safe there. It wasn’t a touchy-feely, intimate world, because Madonna isn’t like that, nor am I. But in retrospect, it was my utopia, the place where, more than anywhere else, I could take refuge, where Madonna and I—two children forever yearning for their lost mother—could love and be loved as best we could.
In my heart, my mind, and my soul, Madonna and I remain inseparable in spirit. We are forever linked together by blood and the incredible adventure that is our lives.
MANY PEOPLE HAVE taken part in the telling of this story. I particularly want to express my sincere gratitude to my agent, Fredrica Friedman, for her expertise and enthusiastic support; my brilliant editor, Tricia Boczkowski; my superlative publisher, Jennifer Bergstrom. Thanks, as well, to the other folks at Simon & Schuster for keeping it legal and cutting edge, especially my art director, Michael Nagin. I also want to thank my coauthor, Wendy Leigh, who always had my back and without whom this would not have been possible.