TELEVISION / Ross toes the line

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MADONNA's interviews are not so much interesting for what she says as for what her interviewers say. Most television presenters have adapted to fame in the way that Eskimos' eyes have adapted to snowfields; in general they don't find the glare troubling. But Madonna, as Jonathan Ross conceded, has magnified her own celebrity to dazzling levels; where the average film actress is a light bulb, she is the Eddystone lighthouse. 'She is,' as Ross said pointedly, 'the Napoleon of hype, the Attila the Hun of self-promotion'.

This can have a strange effect on those she encounters, particularly when they are men. When he met her in Cannes last year Terry Wogan, never the most aggressive of interviewers anyway, was reduced to rocking backward and forward with a fixed grin, a Weeble with a microphone, while Andrew Neil, the editor of the Sunday Times, was transformed into Mr Pooter.

Ross started well by sending up his own aspirations; Madonna, we were told, as he rode to the interview in a taxi, was even now 'erecting the emotional barricades against the silver-tongued onslaught that will follow. Barricades which of course will fall away like the flimsiest items of lingerie as I get really warmed up'. This was a piece of bravado, a way of saying 'I'm not under the spell and I'm not under any illusions either.' As a result, paradoxically, there was a promise that he really might break through some barricades.

He didn't. Madonna, perfectly dressed to lounge seductively on the running board of a vintage Citroen, giggled and pouted and tossed her head and Ross succumbed. Under the hot lights it was his top lip that became sweaty, not hers, an unfortunate gleam that suggested over-excitement even as the words emerging beneath were striving for an off- hand, laddish detachment. It's only fair to say that he tried a lot harder than most of his predecessors, pursuing her on her motives for the Sex book and pushing with the best of all questions ('Why?') when Madonna made some bland position statement.

But what were we left with in the end? Some banter about Jonathan's Thierry Mugler suit, a very long digression about whether it was better to be sucker or suckee when love play turned to toe-jobs, some familiar bromides about erotic fantasy, relationships and safe sex. Madonna is even showing signs of that special brand of paranoia which sometimes affects the hugely successful - 'People are so frightened of my ideas that they try to undermine my talent,' she said at one point, to which the only proper response would be a derisive snort.

But Ross, though he knew he was being teased, was enjoying it too much to break the mood. He may have made a sensible decision. Madonna's careful career plan has been modelled on the dance of the seven veils - it seems quite possible that when the last one drops there will be nothing there.