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Madonna was my mentor

by Sheryl Garratt 2 months ago in celebrities
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But you might prefer Beyoncé, Andy Warhol, Keanu or even the Queen. The choice is yours!

My mentor Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan

Madonna was my life coach.

In the 80s, whenever I felt stuck and unsure what to do next, I asked a simple question: what would Madonna do? As a shy young journalist and later as a fledgling magazine editor, it guided me through awkward situations, and allowed me to borrow some of her courage when I had none of my own.

There are many Madonnas, of course, but the one I turned to most for advice was the character she played in Susan Seidelman’s 1985 film Desperately Seeking Susan. I was self-conscious in my early 20s, still battling with a slight stammer that sometimes made it difficult to articulate my thoughts. I was far more worried about what others thought of me than my own truths and self-expression. Susan showed me how to change that.

It’s a long time since I’ve seen the film, but the character I built in my imagination was utterly shameless. A punky bohemian who didn’t care what anyone thought, she lived in the moment, creative and daring. That question—what would Madonna do?—was my way of accessing a bolder, braver me, until it became natural.

I met Madonna once.

We did a long interview at her house in Miami in 1994, for the cover of The Face magazine, where I was editor. In real life she was, of course, nothing like the character I’d invented. She was smarter, quieter, more thoughtful, very well-read and living in a relaxed but elegant home surrounded by beautiful art.

At one point I tried to explain the role she had played in my life and say thank you, but it all came out a little weird and stalker-ish. So I quickly changed the subject back to music.

The thing is, I’m not sure you ever need to really meet your celebrity mentor. They might even be more effective if you don’t, because then you can make them whatever you need them to be.

The confidence trick

I'm now a life coach myself, working with creatives of all kinds. When I work with musicians, I often ask who they think of if I say the word confidence.

There was a time when four names came up, again and again: Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran, Adele and Stormzy. But what was interesting was that everyone gave them different qualities. They all saw what they most needed, at the time.

One person’s inner Beyoncé would be more like the singer’s Sasha Fierce persona, bold and assertive. Another Beyoncé would be a working mum who quietly supported worthy causes. A third person admired her total body confidence, the way she moved unselfconsciously onstage and in her videos. (And having also interviewed Beyoncé once, I know that isn’t always true for her.)

So how to you choose your mentor?

Start with some research. Some kind folks like Elizabeth Gilbert, Neil Gaiman, Twyla Tharp or Stephen King have written books about their craft, and how they do what they do; others have given TED talks or Masterclasses; many more have allowed others to make excellent documentaries, observing how they work.

If you feel attracted to someone’s achievements or the way they seem to navigate their world, read their biographies and interviews, find out all you can and absorb what you need.

Some questions to ask

  • What are the qualities you admire in your mentor?
  • What effect have they had on your mentor’s career, on the behaviour of others?
  • How could you cultivate these in yourself?
  • Who might you know who already has these qualities? What can you learn from them?
  • What habits or routines does your mentor have that you might adopt?
  • What do they do that you couldn’t possibly try? And is it really true that you can’t?
  • What would you do differently if you were as successful/brave/ talented/smart/gorgeous as they are? And could you try doing this anyway?
  • Be more Patti

    Madonna and I parted ways in the 1990s. She made some fine pop music that decade, but she'd given me all I needed. These days, I'm finding Patti Smith a great role model and guide.

    Patti Smith performing in Finland in 2007. Photo by Beni Kohler

    She's been generous with her help, writing three books of memoir full of inspiring ideas on the creative life. To be more Patti, all you have to do is read them, and choose what behaviours to experiment with, then which to keep.

    Just Kids is her account of coming of age in the New York of the late 1970s, surrounded by artists, writers and a thriving music scene. It taught me that all creators need to be surrounded by other creatives, and the importance of finding your tribe, your creative soulmates.

    Right now, I love her almost contradictory attitudes towards routine, as outlined in her later memoir, M Train. The way she sits to write at the same table in the same café every morning, taking the decision-making out of creating. But then she offsets this by setting off on strange, spontaneous journeys round the world, having somewhat surreal and random adventures.

    She’s also a shining example of how to elevate your own art by by collaborating with other creatives and remaining open to new ideas and experiences. And she’s showing me how you can grow older without losing your creativity.

    I still have much to learn from Patti. I suspect she and I will be together for a while.


    About the author

    Sheryl Garratt

    Sheryl Garratt is a former editor of The Face and Observer magazines, and has written professionally for more than 30 years. She is also a coach working with creatives of all kinds. Find her at

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