It's 10:30pm when Q finally gets the nod to enter Mariah Carey's bedroom. Suite 4600 of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York is a $3000-a-night den of scented candles, hardwood furniture and floor-to-ceiling views of Manhattan. It's been a long evening Carey has just sung her 1993 single Hero at an awards ceremony across town. But even with this daunting itinerary she is full of mischievous vigor.
"Has one flown all the way from London to see me?" she enquires in a comedy accent of passable, Joan Collins-esque loucheness, before leaping onto the bed in her black form-hugging dress and heels. "Please don't make me get up. I'll answer everything if you let me lie down."
"Comedy Carey" is a new proposition. She was discovered by ex-Sony boss Tommy Mottola whom she married in 1993 and divorced five years later and her five-octave voice has helped her sell 160 million albums and singles, and secured a reputation as the diva's diva en route.
Despite her return to the homegirl roots with 2005's career-reviving The Emancipation of Mimi, there are suspicions the diva still lurks within. Today, members of her entourage engage in a discussion over what side of her face can be photographed and whether she will "walk" if Tommy Mottola or her age (37) are mentioned.
In the event, she doesn't seem bothered by any of these as she rolls over on the bed and grabs a pillow for comfort. But if annoyed by a question, she will address the letter writer by name, as though she fully expects Q to fly back to Britain and hunt the impertinent reader down for an explanation.
"So," she enquired with a twinkle. "What have the little lambs been writing in about, then?"
We know about the big ballads. We know about "street" Mariah. But do you have a secret stash of rock albums that you love?
Mike Jennings, Battle
I can only think of No Doubt's Don't Speak as the closest thing to a rock record that I enjoyed belting out in the car or somewhere. I might pretend to play along with my [Fender] Hello Kitty guitar if the mood takes me. Did I try to get Led Zeppelin reunion tickets? Well, I would have loved to. That would be something. But, no. When I'm in album mode I'm listening to hip hop beats. I don't have room for Stairway To Heaven.
You used to work in a hair salon. Could you still give me a short back and sides?
George Duffy, Ashby de la Zouch
Nice work, George, but I only worked there for one day. I did go to beauty school in 11th grade but I dropped out. That gives you some idea of the standard of hair care you'd be getting. But a short back and sides is a military-style razor cut, right? I could give it a try, but I don't think I'd be bringing much to the table. Or your social life.
You wrote poetry as a kid. Was it any good? Give us a quick burst.
Matt Shriver, Basingstoke
I'm definitely not giving you a quick burst, Matt, but I will say that I suffered for my art as a poet. I had a little writing pad that I wrote my verses in and my teacher in third grade accused me of copying the poems from somewhere else. He was a horrible man. What was his name? I'm not outing him because he'll come after me and sue me and he ain't getting a dime of my money. Teachers are supposed to be an inspiration. This guy lowered my self-esteem from zero to below.
You live in a big apartment in New York. How much is your electricity bill?
Alicia, via email
I have no idea. That is terrible. I'm not there that much. I think it would be pretty normal. It's not like I'm running a fountain or funfair rides there. I try not to waste electricity and water. [Film director] Penny Marshall told me about these new light bulbs that last for 10 years and use a fraction of the energy. I ordered some. Ask me next year, Alicia, and I'll have that bill cut in half. [Q mentions the urban myth that the everlasting light bulb has been invested, but the secret is locked in a vault because it would ruin the light-bulb industry] I heard that once, too. I'm ready to use whatever influence I may have to get that light-bulb recipe out onto the open market. Aren't they a pain in the butt to change?
On The Emancipation of Mimi you were using all kinds of funky street slang, such as, "Them chickens is ash, I'm lotion". Can you give me some new street talk so I can be a step ahead?
Laetitia Knowles, via email
That line is about girls in a nightclub rivalry situation. Two girls want the guy and in an arrogant moment one is saying she has the better skin. It's not something I've said in real life. But I don't know if I have any current street talk for you, Laetitia. Don't you have your own cockney slang? [Adopts bad cockney accent] Awright, mate! Blimey!
Do you stay in touch with Ant and Dec?
Kirsten James, Truro
They are funny guys. I really like that youthful sense of humour. The wedding? [In December 2001 Carey was maid of honor at the spoof nuptials of Dec and Cat Deeley on Saturday morning kids' TV show SM:TV, alongside Frank Skinner, Denise Van Outen and Hear'Say. The "marriage" lasted less than a minute] I was there for the whole marriage. You should have worked at it, guys!
Is it true that you had an operation on your nose to allow you to sing so high?
Emma Skinner, via email
No. It is completely untrue, Emma. I think you need to take care what internet pages you read. I must say I have never heard that one before. One of the reasons for my range is I have nodules on my vocal chords, and my mother says I've had them since I was a kid. That's why I have the high register as well as the breathy register and the belting register. I can do this [emits a sort of "Breeeeee" sound] and I can be husky. The only thing that really affects my voice is sleep. Sometimes if I'm exhausted I can hit the really high notes. Am I a moody cow without enough sleep? Is that an English thing? Calling someone a cow? Why are you down on your cows? They're pretty useful and easy-going animals from what I can see.
You've just launched a new perfume. If you were going to create a Tommy Mottola scent, what ingredients would you use?
Dara Yazdani, Hove
Dara, you come from a place called Hove? Does Jay-Z know about this? [Carey's Def Jam label boss Jay-Z is nicknamed J-Hova or Hove] We should make him the mayor of your town. Anyway, what kind of question is that? Dara, you're not being kind. I think it's fair to say that I am not going to be creating a fragrance for him at this point in my life. He has his own life, his own stuff. Hey, we love everybody and wish them all well.
The tabloids have called you a bit of a diva, though I'm sure they've suggested things. But what's the most diva-ish thing you've ever done?
Jason Bradbury, Mansfield
[With a cut-glass English accent] Jason, darling, what on earth makes you think that I am a diva? I am baffled, shocked and appalled. I've never done one diva-ish thing in my entire life, though I happen to be lying on a bed in high heels looking over Manhattan, taking questions from the gentleman from Q magazine. The actual definition of a diva is a woman who sings well. The secondary definition is a woman who is difficult to deal with. I hope I am the first. I don't think I am the second. But these days everyone is a diva. "Oh, she's the diva of chocolate chip cookies. He's a real diva of garbage collection." If I'm a diva it's because I get the joke. I don't believe I am truly nasty and act in a bad way.
When was the last time you spoke to your Glitter co-star Max Beesley?
Paul Waggoner, Manchester
Random question! What are you driving at, young man? It was at an event with Naomi Campbell. Max came over to the after-party and it was all very nice. Why? Did you hear something different?
Is it true that you employ a technical person to work your TV, DVD and BlackBerry?
John Morato, Spain
No, John, and I'll have you know I was using SkyTel pager, which is like a BlackBerry, before anyone else. Before a big show I have to do "vocal rest" where I'm not allowed to speak for maybe two days. It's soooo boring having to write notes, so I was texting before most people. That brilliant scientist guy [Stephen Hawking] I need his voice machine for when I'm on vocal rest. I'd like a machine where I can just think and it comes out in a robot voice. Can you hook me up with that? But no, I don't employ someone to work my gadgets for me. Having said that, if you're a guy and you're in my house, then believe me, you're going to be on your knees fixing something or working out the plugs. That's your job.
What's the weirdest rumour you've heard about yourself?
J George, Ealing
One of the ones from Q! The one you just read about my nose, that's freaky. When I had $5 to live on I was still hitting the high notes. Think, people! How did I do that before this fantasy nose op? The truth is I'm quite boring. I'm just as likely to be sitting in front of the TV with a bag of chips, watching my favourite show that I TiVo'd [America's version of Sky Plus], as the next person.
If you were a complete unknown, do you think you could win X-Factor?
Jason Bradbury, Mansfield
You can win that show? How? To me it's all about escaping from aliens or something... [After several minutes confusion, she realises she's confused it with X-Files]. Oh, X-Factor. Well, I'd hope to give it a good shot. I mean, I am pretty flattered sometimes when young singers say they want to sing like me. That's nice. I think I'd do OK. Simon Cowell is a judge over there? Well, it'd be a battle, but I'd hope I could just edge it by being sweet to the other judges.
Have you ever been mobbed in a limo and thought, "I wish I could just get out of here, get on the subway and be regular"?
Clive Langley, Peterborough
You know, I honestly do think about this sometimes. Would I rather none of this had happened and I was just plain old Mariah? The answer has to be no. And that's because... I am not very good with directions. I could get one train, no problem. But if I had to change trains, then, God, you wouldn't see me for weeks. I actually think that being in the public eye does start to erode your sense of direction. Mostly I get taken to the studio or the venue or wherever. I respond well to doors being opened. But if you left me to find my own way home on the subway, I'd curl up in a ball and call for help. The subway presents me with too many options.
You've said, "I don't even know what dating is." Isn't that a little sad?
Steve Reffine, Milan
Yes, Steve, it sucks. I guess it's sad. But I'm not the only one. My friend Melissa outside [Carey's friend is in the next room] says the same. "What is a date supposed to be like in the 21st century?" It's a bit old-fashioned, a bit formal. I mean, I don't need to know if the guy can afford to buy dinner, do I? With me it just moves from hanging out to boyfriend without too much formality. I like the sound of speed-dating, though. I like the idea of 14 mini-relationships each lasting three minutes and then you go home alone.
What's the worst piece of advice anybody's ever given you?
Iain Hayes, Burton upon Trent
"Hey, listen, I've got a good idea how you should do this." That's it. There are many examples they all begin with that line. In my job there are a lot of people who think they know best. Some do and some don't. I've really learned to listen to my own instinct, then if it goes wrong I am responsible. It took me a while to figure it out, but I'm a grown woman. I'm in charge.