"The penniless Englishman who seduced Madonna"
Exclusive by Alice Fowler - Part 2
Madonna was pregnant and the timing could hardly have been worse. It wasn't that she didn't want another baby, it was no secret that she was keen to provide her only daughter, Lourdes, with a brother or sister. But November 1997 simply wasn't the right moment. Her relationship with the unborn baby's father, Andy Bird, was just three months old. And already their passionate affair, Madonna's last great romance before her marriage to Guy Ritchie, was under enormous strain.
Andy, a charming English drifter whom she'd met through a mutual friend, was finding the publicity surrounding their unlikely liaison impossible to live with. Virtually penniless, and a stranger to the public eye, he'd been sucked into a world that was utterly alien to him. As we saw on Saturday in the first part of this series, his very indifference to fame had enabled him to stir deeper feelings in Madonna than any of the celebrity lovers of her past.
Later, she would describe her memories of their times together as 'the happiest of my life'. For once, it seems, she felt sure that her boyfriend valued her for herself, rather than her public image. But was he the right man to father her baby? Could their relationship survive the worldwide attention that her pregnancy would attract? The events of the next few days were to be pivotal in Andy's life and Madonna's.
'I wish that we were together and happy she wrote to him later, when the relationship finally began to unravel. 'I wish we'd had a child.' On the night that Madonna learned she was pregnant, Andy was driving through London on his own. He wanted time to think about his future and had made up his mind not to return with Madonna to America when she left to promote her new album. Ray Of Light. Instead, he intended to stay in Britain and hide from the glare of the media. If that meant the end of their relationship, it was a risk he was reluctantly prepared to accept.
But before he could reveal his decision Madonna stunned him with her own momentous news. 'I don't think she was sure how she felt,' he remembers. 'She was experiencing the same turmoil I was. Everything about the relationship was in flux'. They had little chance to talk on what was the last night of her stay in London 'We were packing, getting everything done, there were people calling up. We weren't alone, there were nannies and assistants, and her friends coming over to say goodbye. For Andy, already questioning every aspect of his life, there was no one he could turn to for support, I couldn't tell a soul, because I didn't know whom I could trust. I didn't even tell my parents.' Instead, next morning, he and Madonna flew to Miami.
For Andy all thoughts of staying behind in London had evaporated. They spent a few quiet days together at Madonna's three?storey Twenties house in Coconut Grove, next to Sylvester Stallone's estate. For a while, the pregnancy increased their closeness. But, for Madonna in particular, pressures were mounting. 'She was working very hard,' says Andy. 'She'd just finished Ray Of Light and was preparing for the videos. She had a Vanity Fair shoot coming up with Mario Testino the top photographer, and Dolce & Gabbana, had made all these clothes specifically for the shoot. 'There's no getting out of things like that. And they take forever.' They talked about what to do about their unborn child. 'I wanted to support her in her choice, whatever it was,' says Andy.
According to the line pedalled by one of Madonna's most recent biographers that choice was made for her. In this version of events she had a miscarriage in her seventh week. The same biographer even repeats claims by Madonna's friends that Andy Bird knew nothing of her condition until after the event. The facts are rather different and sadder. For a few days, the singer wrestled with the decision. In the end, she had an abortion. 'I felt terrible. Absolutely terrible,' says Andy, with painful emphasis. Even now he is unable to talk about a loss so personal he refers to it only as 'the event'.
For them both, it sounds a lonely, desolate time. 'We didn't even have that much time to talk together' he says quietly. 'She had to go to New York for a tribute to her murdered friend Gianni Versace, but she wanted me to go back to her house in LA to get things ready for when she joined me in a few days. 'I felt estranged from everything, and I assume she did, too. It was terribly sad. We were deeply upset. 'Perhaps it would have helped to sit down together, without even talking, and to share a closeness. But long, shared silences don't work the same way on the telephone. They're just long silences and I do remember quite a few. I tried to be supportive, though whether I succeeded is another matter.'
On his own, he felt an overwhelming sense of loss. I wanted to be able to compensate in some way for what had happened. But at the time I was flat broke, I didn't even have a credit card. 'I couldn't arrange for a bunch of flowers to be delivered to her, let alone arrive with one myself. I felt guilty about that as well.' Why didn't he ask Madonna to fly him to New York so they could be together? 'I didn't want to impose on her,' he says awkwardly, 'I wanted to be able to do these things without asking her permission.'
Perhaps, after such a traumatic event, neither was behaving rationally, but was there not, for Andy at least an element of relief at avoiding the responsibility of becoming a father? 'After three or four years, yes,' he says honestly. 'At the time, not even remotely.' In the past, Madonna had undergone other abortions, including one in 1990 when she began pregnant during a short-lived relationship with the bisexual film extra Tony Ward. The foetus was unhealthy and doctors advised her to terminate the pregnancy.
Throughout her 30's, the singer had given public hints of her hopes of another child. By the time she became pregnant by Andy she was 39. It is not hard to imagine why, this time, Madonna was so devastated by the choice she had made. When she returned to LA from Miami, she and Andy tried in vain to recapture the happiness of their first three months. 'It was coming up to Christmas, and I was very pleased to see her and Lola (her nickname for Lourdes),' he remembers. 'But things were never the same after that. The innocence in the relationship had already started to disappear. We couldn't go back, no matter how hard we tried.' Andy, normally laidback and gentle was becoming increasingly volatile. 'I was going to ridiculous lengths to keep out of the headlines, trying never to appear in public with her. 'But she had to do all this work: the organisation of the album and the promotional tour. My moods were very up and down, and it was difficult for us to get time together.'
In February, he decided to move out of Madonna's and rent an apartment of his own, in a part of LA known as Venice Beach. 'She was about to embark on a tour around America and Europe, and I didn't fancy the prospect of staying in the house on my own,' he says. He also wanted more autonomy, to arrange his life as he wanted, rather than constantly fitting around hers. It sounds like the beginning of the end of the relationship, but that is to underestimate the strength of their bond. Through the months that followed, as Andy tried (without much success) to establish a career as a Hollywood screenwriter, he and Madonna continued to share a deep commitment.
For Andy's birthday on February 3 the first they had spent together. Madonna threw a surprise party. 'We went to my favourite restaurant just off Hollywood Boulevard, and when we walked in I saw this huge table, full of people I knew. 'She had called up all the people I knew in Los Angeles and asked them to be there. 'Just as I sat down, two friends of mine from London - Ben and Martina walked through the door. They were the manager and assistant manager at the Met Bar, one of my favourite hang-outs in London, and she'd met them when we were in Britain. She'd paid for their flights and put them up at the Mondrian hotel, one of the best in the city. 'It was a really lovely thing to do. She knew how homesick I was. 'Martina and I were pretty close and Madonna watched us hugging and kissing each other. On our way home from dinner she turned to me and said: "Why do you like me, Andrew, when Martina is so stunningly beautiful?' It's quite sweet to think that somebody like Madonna could feel a little bit insecure and admit it.
But as Andy says it just goes to show that she's a thoroughly normal person.' For Valentine's Day that same month, she bought him a silver Swiss Army knife from Tiffany with 'Birdy be my Valentine' inscribed on it. 'Which I subsequently lost,' adds Andy, looking sheepish. With money he had saved he bought her a Tiffany necklace, with a tiny diamond. 'I used to joke with my friends, 'What do you buy the woman who has everything?' but she was actually really easy to buy presents for. She was always really gracious when she received gifts.'
Andy, meanwhile, was living a life of extraordinary contrasts. On impulse he had bought a battered 1971 Chevrolet Impala coupe. Because it broke down so often, he got to know the owners of a garage in Santa Monica. Soon, he got a job helping out there, to supplement his income from 'bits and pieces' of film work. With Madonna, meanwhile, be was attending some of the glitziest premieres and events in Hollywood - even though, to avoid the cameras, he usually joined her only at the parties afterwards.
Parties like that are work to Madonna, 'he says. 'Deals are done there, and she is brilliant at networking. Occasionally, we would catch each other's eye and have a quick chat but most of the time I just let her get on with it.' When she presented the Best Song statuette to Celine Dion at the Academy Awards, Andy missed the event itself but went to the famous post-Oscars party given by Vanity Fair magazine. 'She'd gone on ahead but had given me the passes to get in. It was great turning up at this fantastic restaurant, behind a line of presidential limousines, in my ridiculous old car.' At the party guests were given cookies decorated with the cover of the magazine in icing. It was meant to be the ultimate going-home present, a sign they had been at the most coveted social event of the year. Andy typically, was unimpressed 'I got very hungry, an I ate mine,' he says, looking mischievous.
On nights on the town like this he would rub shoulders with stars such as Jack Nicholson and Arnold Schwarzenegger. 'I was always trying not to stare,' he says. 'I remember seeing Tony Curtis, whom I'd watched in Some Like It Hot and Spartacus. It was a shock to see a really old man with a well built platinum blonde on his arm.' He met Madonna's friend, Stella McCartney, the celebrity designer, a couple of times 'a lovely girl' and quite often saw her close friends Sting and Trudi Styler. His happiest times, however were spent at home with Madonna and her daughter Lourdes. 'In some ways, Madonna's a very ordinary woman who enjoys doing ordinary things,' he says.
'Like eating liquorice sticks, watching videos in bed or reading the newspapers over breakfast and not saying a word. 'A lot of people see Madonna as being quite an unhappy moody figure, but she spends far more time being happy than she does being sad. When she wants to, she can have a great sense of humour about herself. 'She used to send herself up by calling herself a creamy smooth pop icon goddess and then she would sing opera when she was heating up Pop Tarts for breakfast. 'A lot of the time we would spend playing with Lola or we'd go on family outings to Disneyland. That was probably the most fun we had, being together like a normal couple with a child. 'She got so much joy from her daughter. Just watching Lola trying to run in the park with her little legs flailing about, would set her off laughing. Nannies would take Lola over to the studio when Madonna was recording and she would take at least a couple of hours out to play with her.
I remember the first time she ever spent a night away from Lola. She had to go into the desert to shoot a video and she was so tearful at being apart from her daughter. 'I stayed at the house with Lola and the next days a car was suppose to take her out to the desert to meet her mother but it broke down. 'Madonna was just distraught she was in a state of panic until the car finally arrived and she could see Lola was safe.'
Andy also met members of Madonna's family, including her brother Christopher and her father, Tony Ciccone, who owns a vineyard and winery in northern Michigan. 'He's a lovely man, very down to earth. I remember him talking about special varieties of grape that grow under heavy snowfall. 'One Christmas she bought him some piece of irrigation equipment because that was all he wanted. That's how star-struck he is.'
Madonna spoke little of her mother who died of breast cancer when she was five. 'Everybody knows she lost her mother when she was very young, and I can't even imagine how traumatic that must have been for her,' says Andy. 'I think there is probably an element of that loss in some of the lyrics she writes. You can sense it in her work. 'Her mother was deeply religious and quite passionate about the shrine at Lourdes, which is why Madonna gave that name to her daughter.'
With a flair for art and style, Madonna had many friends in the world of fashion, including the designers Donatella Versace and Stefano Gabbana. 'Because she was quite influential in launching Dolce and Gabbana by wearing their clothes in her videos, they look after her very well,' says Andy. 'At their studio in Milan they have a mannequin with her measurements and a bootmakers last in her shoe size. Vans would regularly turn up at the house with rails of their clothes for her to choose from.'
Even so, not all her clothes were from designers. 'She could wear the tattiest pair of jeans and still look good in them. Often she'd walk round the house in just a Hennes vest and look fantastic. She once said to me if she didn't do what she did, she would love to have been in fashion journalism. She is very creative.' There is affection and admiration in his voice; Madonna's, he says often, is a lovely woman.
Yet, for Andy at least something had changed. For all the happy times they shared together, and his growing fondness for Lola, the differences between them, those that had first surfaced in London only to be pushed aside were becoming harder to ignore. Andy's self confidence was suffering, trying to develop film projects of his own, he felt he was only taken seriously as Madonna's boyfriend. 'I felt cheap in a way, that I'd got where I was through no merit of my own. 'When opportunities were offered. I didn't take them. I was suspicious of everyone.' Madonna, who had encouraged Andy's career was disappointed at his lack progress. 'I think she thought I had to have a career within that world in order for us to continue a successful relationship. 'Her work is so important to her, and she needed someone whose career was equally important to them. She's very driven, and she ended up wishing I was more driven, too.'
At the start of the relationship, Andy's lack of money had never seemed a problem. Now, his pride became an issue. Simple things, such as Madonna's effort to make her unashamedly scruffy lover wear new clothes, made him angry. 'I eventually bought myself some smarter outfits, but not until we'd been seeing one another for quite a while. I'd hate to think of myself m someone who can be bought. We were fighting more: such as 'Where are my socks?' - 'In the bin' - 'But they've got months left in them.'
Our relationship was gradually breaking under the strain of all the things I didn't like about the situation. 'It was changing me: I certainly wasn't the person she had met. I knew I didn't belong in LA. I felt like, a child among a group of adults. And Madonna was changing, too. As time went on, she was less ready to look at the problems between us in a rose-coloured way.' Both recognised the pressures they were under 'I'm so sorry that you were threatened by my career and fame and past,' wrote Madonna sadly to Andy, later in their relationship. 'I wish I could erase all the bad memories between us and go back to LA before we left for New York and London. Before we both got scared.'
The passion that remained between them led to fierce, arguments. 'That in itself can almost make a stronger link between you, because you become locked in battle,' says Andy. 'Everything was heightened.' It was clear the situation could not go on. Finally, Andy decided to leave LA and return to London. Even then, their relationship continued, in angry phone calls and long, heartfelt letters. Neither could let go completely. It was not until late 1998 that the situation began to change.
By then, as we will see tomorrow, Madonna had met the man who would transform her life once more: a little known film-maker named Guy Ritchie.
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