Last year, Madonna, Guy Ritchie and her three children celebrated her 49th birthday at their home in Wiltshire. An equestrian troop in medieval-style armour fought with lances on the lawn as the happy family looked on.
Ten months later, the jousting has acquired a serious nature – after months of speculation, reports suggest the couple, married for 7 1/2 years, are on the brink of divorce. Madonna is said to have turned to eminent divorce lawyer Fiona Shackleton, who represented Prince Andrew against Sarah Ferguson, his brother Charles against Diana, and most recently Sir Paul McCartney against Heather Mills.
But relations between Madonna and Ritchie remain cordial. With one acrimonious divorce – with actor Sean Penn – behind her, the Queen of Pop is said to be adamant they avoid a hostile separation.
Priority will be given not to division of wealth or their properties – which include a townhouse in Marylebone, London – but the futures of the children, Lourdes, 11, Rocco, 7, and their adopted Malawian son, David Banda, who will be 3 in September.
Music publicist Barbara Charone, who has handled the singer’s media inquiries since the beginning of her career, on Friday declined to deny the detailed tabloid newspaper reports. She said Madonna was not talking about her personal life.
To worsen the mood, Madonna’s estranged brother, Christopher Ciccone, 47, is pushing ahead with a “tell-all” biography, Life with My Sister Madonna, penned with writer Wendy Leigh, who is behind wintry tomes on Prince Edward, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Liza Minnelli.
British publisher Simon & Schuster is avoiding calls on the subject of the July 15 publication, amid reports that the celebrity’s lawyers are trying to block it.
Charone said that there would be no formal response from Madonna to the book, but of course the siblings were no longer friends: “If they were friends, would he write the book?”
Madonna Louise Ciccone met Guy Stuart Ritchie, best known for directing the film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, through their mutual friend Sting and his wife, Trudie Styler. In August 2000, in Los Angeles, she bore their son Rocco.
Just before Christmas that year they married in a lavish ceremony at Skibo Castle in Scotland, the groom wearing Highland dress tartan.
The Material Girl became a more muted “English rose”, Country Life-style wife, wearing tweeds and turning up to her husband’s favourite West London “boozer” for a casual pint.
Mr and Mrs Madge adopted the mystical Jewish religion Kaballah, donating millions to the London centre and attending faith sessions there.
In a maelstrom of publicity, she flew to Malawi in 2006 to help build an orphanage – later filing adoption papers for David Banda Mwale.
Celebrity divorce lawyer Marilyn Stowe said any divorce proceedings could leave Ritchie claiming a substantial amount of the couple’s reported £300 million ($785m) wealth, if he argues that he has been financially disadvantaged over the course of during the marriage. “Undoubtedly, her career has prospered while his has not,” she said. “The question is: did Guy Ritchie sacrifice his career and earning capacity to prioritise hers? Did he have a choice? Has it been difficult for him, living with such a famous and wealthy woman?”
Stowe said it was highly likely that Madonna went into the marriage with a prenuptial agreement.
But in spite of the crisis at Madonna’s West London home and any damage to her reputation from her brother’s book, many are predicting she will emerge largely unscathed.
The fresh-faced student and cheerleader who arrived in New York with just $35 in the early-80s has proved she is made of steely stuff in the past, turning countless disasters to her advantage.
Few would doubt Madonna’s ability to again emerge triumphant.