ANALYSIS: Madonna - creation of a modern icon. Pop goddess Madonna took Earl's Court by storm last week with her geisha and retro punk outfits. Her repositioning as a cultural icon is complete, says Andy Allen

To the uninitiated it may sound like Vogue meets Spinal Tap, but

woe betide the fashion guru that smirks at this icon. The woman who

brought us T-shirts with slogans (the latest teenage fad), yoga

technique Ashtanga and conical brassieres has once again given us a

sign. On past form it's unlikely to be ignored. As one commentator put

it last year: 'If Madonna likes chess, we like chess.'



Back in 1994 it looked different. Films such as Body of Evidence and

Dangerous Game plus the Bedtime Stories album had been received

unenthusiastically by the critics. The fashionistas - not reknowned for

their sense of sentimentality towards waning style icons - scented

blood. Not only has Madonna reversed the slide, she has given a PR

masterclass in the process.



Last year she held her first UK concert for seven years. She plumped for

Brixton Academy - capacity 4,200 - and set ticket prices at pounds

85.



Was this PR madness?



Well yes, except tickets were not 'sold' - going instead to media

outlets to distribute and ensuring the kind of feverish editorial

promotion that no amount of ad space could match.



The Sun was offered bribes in return for one of their competition

tickets; fans paid more than pounds 1,000 for a ticket in auction. After

all this, the fact the concert received lukewarm reviews seemed

irrelevant.



With the kind of timing at which Madonna excels, any doubts about her

concert were banished when she married film director Guy Ritchie at

Scotland's Skibo Castle four weeks later. Once again, the near-blackout

on news and information on the couple ensured a desperate press corps

was won over.



Security teams armed with thermal imaging devices stalked undercover

paparrazi 'commando' units who had infiltrated Skibo's grounds. An

'SAS-trained' duo who hid in the altar were only caught as they

attempted to flee with videotape of the service.



Rarely has the media been so outfought - the only confirmation that a

wedding had even taken place for the 500 media surrounding Skibo came

from a terse acknowledgement from the vicar.



Outside Organisation MD Alan Edwards knows the pitfalls in organising

celebrity weddings - as the PR brains behind Victoria and David

Beckham's nuptials. He says: 'It was brilliantly done. They gave

everybody nothing and the media still went away feeling good about it.

That's hard to achieve.'



For him, Madonna has an instinctive mastery of image that is shared by

only a few greats. Edwards points to her knack of appealing across

markets: 'She can do The Sunday Times magazine and find a mad angle for

the tabloids at the same time.'



One would not expect, for example, a star who shows teenagers which

shade of lipstick to wear, to appeal to the NME. But news editor Andre

Paine points out that her music is consistently more interesting than

that of other major stars. 'Whereas The Stones will release a rock

record every five years, Madonna will always do something different,' he

says.



Just as Madonna is skilled at adopting trends, she ensures her music

retains a broad-based appeal by choosing credible collaborators such as

William Orbit. Since hitting a low at the time of Bedtime Stories, when

she last granted an interview to NME, she has soared above the fray.



Such a talent, and talented self-publicist, is an image-maker's dream,

though some say that shouldn't detract from the praise due to her PRO,

Barbara Charone. Other music industry PROs are impressed by the fact

that publicist and star have worked together for nearly 15 years -

lending continuity and consistency to their relationship.



Charone - an American who served a spell at Rolling Stone magazine as a

reporter, has been dubbed 'the closest thing in pop to Alastair

Campbell'.



So far does her mystique extend that the Evening Standard reported a

news blackout had been imposed prior to Wednesday's concert to avoid

overloading fans with information.



Charone cheerfully denies this. She says: 'We supplied loads of

information.



Madonna's instincts are spot on - she seems so good at PR because she's

a fantastic artist. At the same time, she will take suggestions.'



Occasionally, clouds appear on the horizon. Last year Madonna was

embroiled in a row over her name being used for a porn website. When

legal action was launched, the website owner offered it for free to a US

hospital bearing the Madonna name - but the pop icon snatched it back

through the courts, brushing aside the hospital's protests and the

potential for reputational damage involved.



Another such cloud comes in the form of a new book by Princess Diana

biographer Andrew Morton, which threatens to delve into her

closely-guarded private life. Madonna is reported to have instructed

friends not to talk to the author and Morton may find his latest target

better defended than previous victims. Don't bet against Madonna winning

that battle too.



As Edwards says, those in PR can only have the highest admiration for

the pop goddess. If she formed a PR agency, it would soon become the

Saatchi & Saatchi of its sector, he says. Warm praise indeed.



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