The Beautiful Chart Superstar

America's hottest singer opens her heart — and the doors of her New York townhouse — to OK!

Ok! Magazine by Yann Gamblin

OK! (UK) February 25, 2000. Text by Martin Townsend. Photography by Yann Gamblin.

Streched out on a high, wide and irritatingly comfortable-looking bed, pop star Mariah Carey coils herself around a snowy-white pillow looking every inch of the pop diva. Minders the size of small office blocks stand guard at each door of her suite but in truth Mariah — gym-honed grace — looks perfectly capable of looking after herself.

Streched out in a black top, blue jeans and black boots, she is light years away from the brown-eyed waif in a frock who crooned Vision Of Love, her debut ballad, back in 1990.

The daughter of a black father — a highly successful engineer of African-American and Venezuelan descent — but largely raised by her mother Patricia, a withe Irish-Catholic from the mid-American town of Springfield, Illinois, Mariah was discovered by record executive Tommy Mottola — still chairman of her record company, Sony — whom she later married. After that marriage ended in 1998, newspapers were quick to detect a change in Mariah as she remoulded herself as a sexy, Prada and Gucci-clad icon performing a freshly glossed-up hybrid of rap, hip hop and swooning balladry. In Mariah's view, however, it was simply her real personality reasserting itself — the high school girl, confused and frustrated by her mixed racial origins, who dyed her hair orange and listened to the dance sounds of Eighties New York alongside Madonna's first album an George Michael's Faith.

Mariah is in the UK to promote her new hit, Thank God I Found You, and to perform a single but very prestigious British concert at London's Wembley Arena next Saturday (February 26), but inevitably the conversation turns to the break-up of her marriage — and her unpredictable journey to the top.

Before your marriage to Tommy Mottola broke up, it seems like you were the classic 'bird in a gilded cage' — going quietly mad in a big old house in New York...
Actually, it was a big new house that we built to look like a big old house and for which I paid half the money — and that's something most people don't seem to realise. They think I was the young girl married to this older man, and he was the head of the company and he put her in this mansion, but really I paid for half of that thing. It was a complete and total joke how much that thing cost. But I learned a lot about, you know, [laughs] lighting fixtures and limestone. But no, I wasn't happy there for 95 per cent of the time.

There were really nice things about that relationship but they were few and far between. I was happy to be successful, but I was frustrated that I wanted to act — because I'd wanted to act since I was a little girl — and I wasn't even allowed to suggest that.

Why was that? I'd have thought acting would have been an obvious move...
Well so did I, but some people didn't think the same way and want me to do it at all. I just wanted to study acting and finally when that happened it was a real breakthrough, because I was really unhappy and I finally said, 'I'm going to do this, I'm going to study at least,' and my acting coach helped me break through my protective wall that was getting me through the entire thing. People now say they knew I was unhappy but no one ever tried to empower me — I should have been able to empower myself, but it was a very difficult situation.

What finally persuaded you to empower yourself and end your marriage to Tommy?
Hitting bottom. It's like someone who's an addict when they finally crash. It was the cumulative effect of feeling stifled and being pushed to the point where I just had to do something. I think I should have dealt with it sooner but I was afraid.

My acting coach definitely helped me. I mean I should have been in therapy from... whenever. Just from my childhood stuff, never mind being a celebrity.

As a young, would-be singer with bags of ambition, how easy was it to stay focused on your career when your family life was so disjointed?
To me, music has always been a form of escapism and — without wishing to sound like a drama queen — the ambition to become a successful artist was my shining ray of hope. As a little girl I don't think my parents divorce was so traumatic for me because I was so young when it happened. My father was never really part of my life, even as a little girl, because I was born at the end of their marriage. They'd been married for 13 years and my brother and sister grew up with them as a couple, but I never did, so I was always saying, 'You two were married? That's so completely bizarre' — because they were such polar opposites.

Lately I've been finding out more things about their lives, what brought them together, and it's been interesting. I've had more and more contact with my father lately too. He's an aeronautical engineer who worked for NASA. He hasn't had anything to do with my music, and I guess he doesn't know any of my songs, but you know what? I don't think that's what our relationship should be about at this point. I just called him and ask him for recipes! My father's a great cook, and that's what always stood out in my mind.

You grew up with your mum, who was an opera singer — did she encourage you to be a performer?
Oh yeah. From the time that I was a little girl she would take me into the city and I would sing at jazz clubs with different musicians. my mom was a ver unconventional parent! She's first moved to New York from Springfield, Illinois, as a 16-year-old opera student at Julliard. She was actually arrested in New York for indecent exposure during the Sixties because where she is from they wore those little short-shorts. She lived in Brooklyn Heights in a very artsy community and had a lot of friends that were not conventional.

Where did you actually grow up?
By the time I came along my parents had moved to the suburbs of New York which was the worst thing they could do as a mixed couple. You couldn't find a neighbourhood — black, white, whatever — where you fitted in. Especially since my father had a very good job and a Porsche and could actually afford to live in a white neighbourhood. By the time I came along, and I was growing up with just my mum, there was always confusion because I'd look much more ethnic than her.

How did your mother and father meet each other?
My mum told me she met him when she was stalking Yul Brynner! Yul Brynner lived in Brooklyn Heights in the Sixties; he'd just done The King And I, he had a shaved head and my father looked kind of like him. My mum and her friends were 16 or 17 and they were always looking for Yul Brynner — there'd be Yul Brynner sightings — and one day my mum was with her friend Pokey, some mid-Western girl, and she said, 'Naa, that's just Roy Carey — I went out with him.' And that's how my parents first met! I only found all this out last year because I guess as a child I sort of wished they hadn't met.

That's a fairly brutal thing to say...
I just wanted to be one thing or the other because you have to understand it was so hard for me growing up with no fixed identity that could tell me where I was really from. Recently I was on The Oprah Winfrey Show and there was this little wight-year-old girl called Hailey and she was being raised by a white woman and she was of mixed race, though you'd never know it. Neither the black or white kids at school liked her so she wrote this poem called Am I Invisible? and it was all about feeling as if no one could really see her — 'My shoes are brown, my shirt is red. Can you see me?' That's how I felt when I was a little kid.

No one seems to work as hard as you do to publicise their own records...
Yeah, they never release enough singles for me. I wasn't even going to do an album this time round, actually. I was supposed to do this movie called All That Glitters. I've wanted to act forever so as you can probably imagine I'm very excited about it. It's set in 1981 and my character is in a girl group somewhat like the group Vanity. She's not the lead singer but she's like the tomboy girl hanging around in the background. But there was a rewrite, and then there was another hold-up because we were talking to a few different directors about the movie, and they moved the date back to May of this year. I'd already written Heartbreaker, which was supposed to be my character in the movie's first single, so I thought, 'I don't want to waste this song — I'll do an album.'

Tell me about this home where we have photographed you...
It's a New York townhouse where they actually filmed parts of the movie The First Wives Club — you know Diane Keaton's apartment? But I'm currently in the throes of having a new place built in the TriBeCa district.

Where do you find the time to spend your money?
Other people buy me clothes because I literally don't have the time to do it myself. I bought myself a nice butterfly necklace recently. But the fact is that I own very little of note really.

I do own Marilyn Monroe's piano which I bought when they auctioned off all of her things. I felt it was unfair that there was no one there for her — no one to stand up and say this is how she wanted her stuff distributed. So I bought the piano because I knew it was important to her — it belonged to her mom, who was institutionalised, and she went to so much trouble to get it back. Eventually I want to put it in a museum. I also have the one thing that survived from the old house you mentioned, which recently burned to the ground, which was a huge brick and limestone mantle with a butterfly design on it. The woman who owned the house saved it for me and she's going to give it to me.

What will your Wembley concert be like?
I have this nemesis called Bianca. She was in the Heartbreaker video, she and I were fighting, and she's going to be co-hosting the show. I don't know what to expect because it's up to Bianca! She's sort of like Dr Evil to Austin Powers. I'm also going to sing songs that I'm known for, and some from the new album, and I'm going to have fun!