Pop diva Mariah Carey has the world at her feet. Last week she beat Madonna, Cher and Whitney Houston to the title of Best International Female Artist at the NRJ Music Awards in Cannes. The week before, she received an even more prestigious honour an Award of Achievement for her "rare and distinguished accomplishments" at the American Music Awards.
It is not just the music industry which heaps her with acclaim; the music buyers love her, too. Mariah sold more records in the Nineties than any other female artist and has had more US Number Ones than any artist except The Beatles and Elvis. With her dazzling good looks and magical seven-octave voice, she just about has it all. As the star approaches her 30th birthday in March, there is only one thing that eludes her children.
"I'd like a family," admits Mariah, as she curls up on the sofa at her spacious multimillion-dollar apartment in New York. "Although I'm not sure about a big family. I'd like two, but I'd like to somehow get it over with in one go! I'm not very good with pain."
Mariah clearly has too much on her plate to devote herself to motherhood just yet, what with her first world tour for eight years kicking off in Antwerp on Valentine's Day and a film project in the pipeline. But her dream of settling down and having a family is one step closer to reality than she would have thought possible a couple of years ago. For the superstar songstress has fallen deeply in love with Mexican singer Luis Miguel.
The couple were attracted to each other from the moment they met in the fashionable ski resort of Aspen, Colorado, the Christmas before last. Now Mariah talks excitedly about how their whirlwind romance has taken them to the most romantic and far-flung spots in the world. "Since we met in Aspen we've been in more than 21 different countries together," she says.
Luis, like Mariah, is dedicated to his music and both are up for Grammy awards later this month Mariah for When You Believe, which she recorded with Whitney Houston. But, because of Luis, Mariah has also started to take some time out. "I've learned how to enjoy myself and have a nice normal relationship and a balanced working life," she says. Mariah even put her relentless work schedule to one side last year and, for the first time in over ten years in the music business, she took a well-deserved holiday.
"It's hard to believe, but I've never done that really," she admits. "I've been to Mexico and Puerto Rico and I just love the tropics. I went to Capri last year, which is unbelievably beautiful, and already I'm planning to go back."
When Mariah met the handsome young singer she was just getting over her relationship with baseball player Derek Jeter, who was the first man in her life since her 1998 divorce from Sony Music boss Tommy Mottola.
Much has been written about Mariah's relationship with Mottola. Famously, he heard her demo tape in the car on the way home after a party where the 18-year-old had thrust the tape into his hands, and was so impressed he went straight back to the party to find her. Within days she had a record deal and he set out to make her a star.
By the age of 23 Mariah was one of the most successful singers in the world, married to a man twice her age in a ceremony inspired by the videos of Princess Diana's wedding. But she felt trapped in the couple's £25 million mansion outside New York and their relationship was said to be claustrophobic.
To everyone else it was the ultimate fairytale come true but, as Mariah recalls the still-painful memories of her marriage, she says with a tinge of sadness: "There are bad things in fairytales, too.
Explaining her reasons for leaving the man who discovered her, she says: "If I hadn't left I would have lost myself. Even if I was afraid, the fear of what I could become if I didn't leave was worse. It was something I had to do."
Following their divorce, Mariah ditched her girl-next-door image for that of a raunchy party girl in sexy dresses and started hanging around with rap stars like Puff Daddy and Da Brat.
"Because so much of my childhood involved making sacrifices and then suddenly the singing career I'd always dreamed about happened to me and took up all my time I never stopped to think that I could have fun," she says.
Mariah had a tough childhood, one of the three children who lived with their Irish-born mother after she split with their African-American-Venezuelan father. "I grew up very quickly and took on a lot of responsibility from the age of six," explains Mariah. "Then I was making albums straight out of high school. It all happened so fast and everything that has happened I am eternally grateful for but now I feel like I am experiencing life for the first time."
The future looks bright for Mariah, and it is clear from her relaxed manner and the sparkle in her eyes that she's relishing life more than ever before. Last year she enjoyed what she describes as "undoubtedly one of the highlights of my life", performing alongside opera singer Luciano Pavarotti to raise money for the children of Kosovo.
"My mother was standing backstage with tears streaming from her eyes as we sang the song Hero with the crowds singing back to us. My mother was an opera singer and it was definitely from her side of the family that I inherited my voice."
Afterwards, Mariah and her mother flew to Ireland to retrace their family roots. "Lately, I've taken an interest in learning more about my background," she says. "That's why I decided to make contact with my father for the first time in a long time."
Her sudden interest in rediscovering her family ties stems, she says, from the other new love in her life acting. Taking acting classes has proved to be a form of therapy for Mariah and has taught her an enormous amount about herself, including how to relax.
"At first I was very nervous about it, but it has been incredibly therapeutic for me," she believes. "You have to work with your own experiences and that throws up a lot of your own personal issues, which can be quite cathartic at times."
"The first thing my acting teacher told me to do was to relax my shoulders. She said, 'You're all hunched up, you look like you're ready to box someone.' For a long time I had walked around in a very guarded way and was completely unaware of it."
"If nothing ever comes out of acting, I will continue the classes because they have helped me so much. I've learned to allow myself to be vulnerable and not to hold back my feelings."
Mariah has a cameo role in the film The Bachelor, starring Chris O'Donnell, which is due out here later this month. "If you blink you'll miss me," she jokes, "but it was fun working with Chris. It was my first baby-step into the world of films. Being in front of the camera for a video is very different. The plan is to do other small roles prior to the main project I'm working on, All That Glitters, which is still at the pre-production stage."
Set in the Eighties post-disco era, All That Glitters tells the story of a DJ and an aspiring singer, played by Mariah. It brings to mind The Bodyguard, the Kevin Costner film that was a huge success for Whitney Houston. "But," says Mariah, "my approach is very different from Whitney's, because I'm involved in the writing and everything, including the soundtrack. It's very exciting. We start filming later this year."
It was while Mariah was coming up with songs for the soundtrack that she wrote Heartbreaker. She put the track on Rainbow, the album she released last year, and instantly Mariah had her 14th US Number One. Just another four hit singles and she will have beaten Elvis Presley's record. Truly, she has the world at her feet.