Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

What Michael Portillo Can Learn from Madonna and Koo

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

What Michael Portillo Can Learn from Madonna and Koo

Article excerpt

The last time I saw Koo Stark, she was talking about the size of her post-pregnancy breasts to a captivated businessman. It was at one of our weekly New Statesnan lunches, and the rest of the table stared on, mesmerised, as Koo prattled about lactating bosoms and post-partum libido. At her side, the sober-suited chap was trying his damnedest not to drool on his broccoli and cod. His heroic efforts at self-control evaporated, however, when he thanked me afterwards. "Breast lunch I've ever had," he enthused - and then beat a red-faced retreat.

Koo is an effortless scene-stealer. The same is true, if on a rather larger scale, of Madonna. Yet although they both reduce all the competition into insignificant cameo roles, women have a soft spot for the two fortysomething molls. These show-stoppers are proof that women need never accept the role in which society has tried to cast them, but can reinvent themselves in whatever way they want.

Once upon a time, women could not shed a reputation. If you'd been seen - let alone snapped by Hello! - on a playboy prince's arm, or provocatively posing nude in a book called Sex, you were typecast for ever as a loose woman, a good-time girl whom no one could take seriously - not even yourself. Those were the days when women swung from Madonna to whore in the course of a one-night stand or the click of a porn photographer's camera.

Compromising situations were just that incidents - that unravelled a lifetime of peerless propriety or dedicated professionalism. It didn't matter that you'd played Mother Teresa for 20 years: if you were caught discussing Ugandan relations with a man who was not your husband, there'd be hell to pay - or at least snubs to bear and abuse to hear. Those women who rebelled at being polarised between the goody-goody and the scarlet woman were seen as eccentric lady travellers, ormoustachioed lesbian writers, who had to flee to the hills of Manchuria or to a garret on the Rive Gauche. …

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