Madonna at 50

As the world's most successful female artist hits her half-century – and her first £250m – Katy Guest unearths 50 fascinating facts about the material girl who, at 20, left Michigan for New York with $35 in her pocket
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The Independent Culture

1. Madonna was born on 16 August 1958 in Bay City, Michigan.

2. Her middle names are Louise Veronica.

3. Her explosive marriage to Sean Penn in the 1980s saw them labelled the Poison Penns.

4. 'Life with My Sister Madonna' is the ninth best-selling non-fiction book in the UK. In it, Christopher Ciccone calls her "the sweatiest woman on earth".

5. According to the 'New York Post', Madonna secretly ghost-wrote several sections of the book.

6. She was 20 when she left Michigan for New York with $35 in her pocket, hailed a cab and told the driver: "Take me to the centre of everything."

7. The father of her daughter, Lourdes, born in 1996, is Carlos Leon, left, her former personal trainer.

8. Her first album, 'Madonna', was released on 23 July 1983.

9. On 'Madonna' she is credited for vocals, background vocals and cowbell.

10. The album went five times platinum in the US, selling more than five million copies.

11. In 1987 Pope John Paul II urged Italian fans not to attend her Who's That Girl tour.

12. On the 'Late Show with David Letterman', comedian Sandra Bernhard claimed that she had had sex with Madonna and Sean Penn.

13. Among the models who appeared in her book 'Sex', were Isabella Rossellini, Vanilla Ice and Naomi Campbell.

14. Some photos for the book were stolen. Madonna thanks the FBI in the credits for rescuing pictures "that would have made J Edgar Hoover roll over".

15. Madonna attended the launch party of 'Sex' dressed as Little Bo Peep, carrying a stuffed lamb.

16. In 1990 the Pope called for a boycott of her Blonde Ambition tour.

17. Madonna and Guy Ritchie met at a garden party hosted by Sting's wife, Trudie Styler. Madonna said: "I felt the sparks. He did too." They have two sons, Rocco (born in 2000) and David (adopted in 2006).

18. In 2001 they bought the £9m Ashcombe House in Wiltshire, a Georgian manor with a 1,200-acre estate, formerly owned by Cecil Beaton.

19. She revealed her conversion to Kabbalah when she credited its leader, Rabbi Philip Berg, for "creative" guidance on her 'Ray of Light' album. She later said: "It would be less controversial if I joined the Nazi party."

20. Under the rules of the faith she is called Esther.

21. Her children's book, published in 2003, is called 'The English Roses'.

22. She drives a 1.6l supercharged Mini Cooper S.

23. Her first film appearance was in 1985 as a singer in 'Vision Quest'.

24. In the 1991 documentary 'In Bed With Madonna', her 'Dick Tracy' co-star and one-time love, Warren Beatty, said: "She doesn't want to live off-camera."

25. Her 2002 movie, 'Swept Away', went straight to video in the UK.

26. Of Gwyneth Paltrow she once said, "Mostly she just wants to know where I get my handbags. Even though I'm 13 years older, girls are just girls."

27. She is the third of six children. Her mother died of breast cancer when she was five.

28. She had a cameo role in 'Die Another Day'; her theme song to the film was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song and a Golden Raspberry for Worst Song.

29. Her favourite beer is Timothy Taylor's Landlord. In 2005 it was reported that she was having 72-pint firkins of it trucked to her Wiltshire home from the Keighley brewery.

30. She and Ritchie are said to have paid £2m for The Punchbowl pub in Mayfair.

31. Guinness World Records lists her as the most successful female recording artist ever. She recently overtook Elvis Presley in the US Top 10 singles league.

32. She is raising £1.5m for an orphanage in Malawi because "for the last few years I have felt responsible for the children of the world".

33. She was the drummer in the 1980s dance-pop group Breakfast Club.

34. In 1993 Orthodox Jews protested against her first show in Israel.

35. In 1985 'Penthouse' and 'Playboy' published nude photos of her taken in the 1970s. She sued but failed to have the pictures blocked.

36. In 2006 the Church of England criticised her for dangling from a giant mirrored cross at a concert. "Why would someone with so much talent... feel the need to promote herself by offending so many people?" said a statement.

37. In 1990 MTV banned the video for "Justify My Love" for being too sexually explicit.

38. Her 1986 album 'True Blue' was dedicated to Penn: "The coolest guy in the universe." Soon afterwards he was charged with domestic assault. Their divorce was finalised in 1989.

39. The black conical bra worn on her Blonde Ambition tour was designed by Jean Paul Gaultier. It was sold at auction in 2001 for $20,000.

40. In 2006 the Russian Orthodox Church urged its members to boycott her Confessions tour.

41. Nathan Rissman, the director of her film 'I Am Because We Are', about Malawi, had formerly been her gardener.

42. She has a species of water bear, 'Echiniscus madonnae', named after her. It is a microscopic creature that looks a little like a woodlouse.

43. As a child she studied ballet, which she loved, and learned the piano, which she hated.

44. At Adams High School she was a cheerleader, a mentor to younger children, a member of the ski club and the founder of a theatre society.

45. Her first boyfriend is now the pastor of an evangelical church in Traverse City, Michigan.

46. She is worth an estimated £250m.

47. She has sold 200 million records.

48. She appeared in an episode of 'Will and Grace' as a desperate 40-something woman who works in the music business.

49. She sang at Live Aid and Live8.

50. In the 2000 video for "Music", the chauffeur of the gold limo that takes Madonna to the club was Sacha Baron Cohen, then unheard of in the US.