THE MARIAH NETWORK

"I'm Furious! With Everybody! You're All Fired!"

Don't worry, she's joking. We think. The legendary Mariah Carey likes to make diva demands (even her sunglasses arrive on a silver tray). But behind the bling is a camp, witty and self-deprecating woman, as Sylvia Patterson discovered when she spent the night in Castle Carey.

"There were times when I had one dollar to last all day," says Mariah Carey gravely, perched at the kitchen table of her multimillion-dollar Bel Air homestead. "So it was, 'Do you go on the subway or do I have a bagel?' But I didn't care, because in my mind I knew, 'I'm gonna succeed one day, so this is my moment where I have holes in my shoes.' But now, my main issue is... how am I gonna get Jack over to Los Angeles?"

The geographical plight of Jack, her Jack Russell terrier, currently panting in his basket in the corner, is just one of a thousand mythological dramas in the extraordinary life of one of the biggest-selling female recording artists in the world. That Jack flies first class to LA ... £1,500 is something the world believes because the media says so, and Mariah only wishes were true.

"They actually won't let me put him on a first-class seat because he's too big," she grins. "And they also said, 'We'd only allow it for a famous dog.' Please! He has three websites dedicated to him! So Jack is driven in the car (a Mercedes) by my driver, Tom, 3,000 miles from New York. They think first class was a friggin' story? Let's tell 'em Jack flies private! In his own private jet..."

Hot heels and hot tubs

And so Mariah Carey, officially, has chauffeur-driven dog. And if Ms. Carey lives a life even more preposterous than the one the newspapers can invent, she does so amid peals of laughter. It's 4am in Bel Air, high up in the Hollywood hills, and we're inside Mariah's second home, a white stone... electronic gate and a winding, pink-bloomed driveway. Mariah is a little tipsy, a vision of post-work relaxation in scruffy jeans and faded make-up, bra-less in a plain, white vest. Barefoot, she takes us on a downstairs tour of a home you wouldn't call a house, or even a hotel — more "The Embassy of Mariah". We stroll through the colonial-style living room, where 20-foot palms waft over a grand piano, past the oak-panelled drawing-room with silver-framed photos of Mariah's life and shelves of weighty books (Edgar Allan Poe, Rudyard Kipling, Connoisseur of Wine). Down by the in-built TV screen sit five massage chairs behind sliding glass doors that lead out to the garden, complete with ornamental pool, hot tub, summerhouse and recording studio. But this is only the home Mariah Carey rents — she owns nothing here, bar the silver-framed photos. "It feels like a home," she decides, "and Prince rents it, too, so there's good musical karma here." She steps into the garden "Ewww!" comes the shriek as Mariah accidentally steps off the pathway. "I sunk down! With no shoes on! (Tiptoes back onto pathway) And this is my hot tub... (Sticks big toe in water) Ooh, that's good. This is my one pre-requisite for renting the house; it's all about the hot tub, dahling! But really, it's just so cool for working because I go into the little studio, and I don't have to have make-up on or impress anybody. Last night I was singing in Thumper pants from my Bambi pajamas and a Hello Kitty shirt. Like an eight year old."

We decide to pose for a photo, taken by her mate Rachel. She's the only other person here besides Rose, the housekeeper, and has joined us on our impromptu tour. Posing by the piano, she insists we "do the leg thing!" Before that, though, Mariah fixes my hair.

"Did you get your hair done today?" she asks. "Did you blow dry it yourself? (No and yes) Here, give me a brush, I love doing hair. You don't have a brush? OK, well if this bothers you, tell me... Your hair was smooth earlier, what happened?" And so Mariah Carey brushes a pesky reporter's hair using her bare hands. And doesn't even reach for a disinfectant wipe afterwards.

Diva fever

In 2001, after the gleefully reported "breakdown" following her Glitter movie-and-album flop, Mariah was seemingly finished. "I think I had to be dragged through the mud," she says, "in order for people to even give me a chance today." Now, she's in renaissance. Her latest album, the infectious, better-than-anyone-imagined The Emancipation of Mimi got to No.1 in America and has sold over four million copies worldwide. The public perception remains, however, that Mariah Carey is the supreme Demanding Diva... her security guard to carry her around the set of her latest video, Shake It Off, because her heels were toweringly high. In reality, she's less tyrannical despot, more drag queen on a podium; a flamboyant New Yorker who lives an unapologetic cartoon lifestyle. For instance, earlier in the day, just before leaving for GLAMOUR's photo shoot, we're in the back of her Mercedes when she realises she's forgotten her sunglasses and asks the ever-smiling Rose to fetch them. Rose then appears, holding not one but 15 pairs of designer sunglasses, neatly arranged on a silver tray. "They'll be asking me about this for the rest of my life! Well, the tray just sits in the closet and I didn't say which ones I wanted, so Rose was trying to help! Next up: shoes on a tray..."

Pool party

Today's GLAMOUR photo shoot in the grounds of a chateau in Bel Air, lasts from 7pm to 2am, and during this time Mariah calls for no redecoration of her dressing room (a make-shift, curtained off space in the courtyard) and makes no demands whatsoever other than for the on-set DJ to stop playing Al Green. "I'll fall asleep..." There's a full catering service (chefs in aprons, silver tureens) used by everyone but Mariah. She asks for her usual work-day "morsels" — protein boosters that don't wreck her lipstick; bowls of almonds, cheese and olives "without the 'pips'". She performs for the cameras — "I go into automatic pose!" — like a cabaret showgirl. Then, behind the ... bottle of chilled white wine. By the shoot's end, her dog, Jack, and two male models are in the ornamental pool and Mariah's dress in hoisted beyond her oiled-up thighs. If there's one thing Mariah loves, it's make believe. "I really do," she beams, wiggling her wine glass. "I am a little dramatic. It's just in me."

Midnight feast

So, what would it be like to live with Mariah Carey? "There'd be benefits," she muses, "but it would take a lot." It's now 3am and we're back home having chicken fajitas prepared by Rose. Mariah admits she lives inside her "own little universe". Most days she gets up at 5pm, goes to bed around 7am and has her main meal around 2am. Logistically, the people in her life have to be like her, "or become like me." Whenever you see her sing on TV, or any time she's performing live, she'll have spent several days prior to that sleeping for 15 hours a day in a room full of voice — preserving humidifiers. "Bleak, but you gotta do what you gotta do," she says.

Mariah talks both honestly and warily about her famously volatile childhood: white mum, black dad, who divorced when Mariah was three, her brother with cerebral palsy and sister with a baby who, at age 15, became a drug-dependent prostitute and contracted HIV... Mariah has never been been interested in drugs. "I saw too much of it as a child," she says. Mariah and her mum moved around New York 13 times, living in "weird houses with no electricity and hundreds of steps". Then she stops herself. "But let me not be saying anything negative. Heavens to Betsy! Oh, everyone just gets so sensitive. She did the best she could," she says.

As for her love life, she was infamously married (from 1993 to 1998) to Tommy Mottola, the then President and CEO of Sony Music Entertainment, who personally and professionally controlled her through her successful early years. Twenty years her senior, Mottola was a constant presence. "Back then, I'd never have been allowed to do the shoot... two guys in the pool? Not an option. Everyone was afraid of him. And that company (Sony) made over a billion from me, the raggedy little girl he met at a party."

She contemplates her reputation as Insufferable Diva No.1 and ponders the sunglasses-on-a-tray scenario, which will be taken at face value in a world where everyone takes Mariah Carey seriously — except Mariah Carey.

"It's like the stilettos on the Stairmaster," she says, referring to the MTV Cribs caper, where she was filmed at home wearing heels while working out. "It was like (theatrically) 'And here I am on my exercise bike!' I guess I just expect people to know it's a friggin' joke. A lot of the diva stuff is in the British press and I laugh at it. I'm a very campy person, but for a long time in my career, none of my true personality ever came out. In my former life, as a married person, I was intimidated; I was taught: don't trust the press, say as little as possible and don't be yourself. Consequently, I was viewed as a one-dimensional person, so I understand it when people have perceptions about who I am."

Eddie and Eminem

If Mariah is dating Eddie Murphy, she's saying nothing. She casually mentions his name. "I was just talking to Eddie Murphy about some charity thing..." She will say officially, "I won't say if I do or don't have a boyfriend. That's my new stance."

At 35, she's thought plenty about kids but is nervous over "the baggage of being my child". In any prospective relationship she's looking for profound stability, on every level — the kind she never knew herself. "The guy would have to be really secure," she says. "And potentially a great father. But I'm not obsessed with having a child, and I'm not in a rush."

She reiterates her long-asserted denial of an affair with sometime buddy Eminem. "Please!" she roars at the mention of a sexual tryst, recently refuelled by his playing alleged phone messages from Mariah on tour. "I never had any .... I can count the people I've had sex with on less than the fingers on one hand. Everyone's got issues and clearly he has many!"

We retire to the TV area, nestle into the massage chairs and watch footage of the making of her video, Shake It Off. While she's talking, beneath her white vest, her breasts are jiggling from side to side. "My hair is so frizzy in the opening shot," she points out. "It's hideosity!" And then we see her being carried by a security guard.

"Oh it wasn't that the shoes were too high," cackles Mariah. "They were too small. They kept hurting and finally I asked the security guy (presses back of hand to forehead), 'Dahling! Can you just carry me for a second? Puh-lease?' Sometimes your feet expand when you take your shoes off and put 'em back on, and I didn't wanna be late for the next shot."

Our stay with Mariah is drawing to a close and GLAMOUR has forgotten to book a cab back to the hotel. Mariah is amused. "Well, I dunno a cab company!" she roars and calls her personal assistant. "Tell me another person you've interviewed who's arranged your transportation!" she hoots. "Now, in this instance, you'd be the diva!" Mariah has an idea: she'll ring her publicist in London and blame her. "Dahling!" roars Mariah into the speaker-phone. "How about this? Sylvia forgot to book a cab. There's no car. She expects Mariah to get her home! I might as well drive the cab myself. I am furious! With everybody! You're all fired!"