The girl who lived off popcorn and dressed in hand-me-downs has no intention of squandering her fortune, keeping well clear of the extravagant and the speculative. "She is exactly the same way now as she was when she first came into my office without a nickel," recalls Padell. "It doesn't matter if it's a dollar or $10,000, she wants to know about it," Unlike her adventurous public image, Madonna is a prudent investor who has eschewed the stock market for the safety of interest-bearing government bonds.
She was not one of those who got their fingers burnt in the Internet bubble — indeed, she was so slow out of the starting blocks that she had to sue for the rights to her domain name, Madonna.com. — preferring to keep her other assets in property and art. While paintings may be her `sin,' as she says, "Financially it is an excellent investment, as well as something sumptuous to admire every day." However, her shrewd approach has led her to lose numerous paintings because she refused to pay the asking price. It is now the same with property. When she first came to live in London, she was so shocked by the high prices that on several occasions she lost out on homes she liked because her offers were unrealistically low. Frugal as she is in her financial dealings, if there is one song she would withdraw from her catalogue it is `Material Girl'; Madonna has always regretted the decision to record a song that defined her as a consumer rather than an artist. As far as she is concerned, money is a means to an end, usually artistic, rather than an end in itself.
Like other self-reliant and self-made millionaires, Madonna believes that work has its own dignity, a belief underpinned by her recent interest in the Kaballah, a mystical text of Judaism. Thus, although she sends her maternal grandmother Elsie Fortin money every month and has bought her and other elderly relatives televisions and other home comforts, Madonna is reluctant to featherbed family and friends.
She likes to present a hard-boiled, sassy image, but her maternal and compassionate instincts are much in evidence, and not only in the way she dotes on her two children, Lourdes and Rocco. When fashion guru Gianni Versace was murdered, Madonna was the first person to phone his sister Donatella to console her. She has also quietly paid for drug rehabilitation therapy for numerous friends and family members, to help them stand on their own two feet. Indeed, much of her charity work is discreet and unshowy. A wellknown supporter of AIDS charities, she is also a so-called `quiet donor' to a charity for breast cancer, the disease which killed her mother. Every Friday after Thanksgiving the singer enjoys an annual ritual, visiting the children's wards of hospitals in Manhattan and Harlem and distributing hats, pictures and small gifts.