Ricky Martin: Latin passion

He's hot. He's single. And his tight leather trousers have become as legendary as his million-selling lbums. now Ricky Martin is back - and looking to start a family. Deborah Ross offers to help.

We meet in New York, at Sony's headquarters, where everyone is very excited. "We are so excited," the PR girls keep saying. Because trouser snake is coming to town? You are all so shallow and unprofessional. Honestly, you young girls - sex, sex, sex, that's all you think about. You should be ashamed of yourselves. What about the music, the life, his thoughts on Muslim theology, perhaps, and the Booker longlist? It is the music, they insist. It's his new album, Life, his first English language one in five years and if it does anything like the last, well. Have you heard the single, "I Don't Care"? Shall we play it to you? I sense they can't be stopped, that I am utterly doomed, so acquiesce. Damn, damn, damn. It is thumpingly Latino and catchy and good. It'll lodge for months. I hope it doesn't use all the hot water like the last one.

I am taken to some kind of suite in the Sony skyscraper, atop a vast, white marble staircase, where Ricky's been installed for the evening. He is 33, Puerto Rican, and once topped The Sun's list of 100 hunks. Certainly, he is good looking, although in a rather safe, boy-band way. (He was once, in fact, a member of the boy band Menudo, Latin America's answer to Take That.) Alas, though, he is wearing baggy jeans, so I can not properly assess what we are talking about snake-wise. I do not stare as I previously gave myself a good talking to and said: "Ross, do not embarrass me by staring." So I do not stare. Except when it starts to vibrate. Then I do. "Jesus Christ, it's triple-stitched and it vibrates!" I exclaim. He says, whoa, calm down, "it's the phone in my pocket. See?" I must look disappointed. He says the triple-stitching thing is true, though. This is a relief. Sometimes, when you read things in the papers, they can turn out to be rubbish.

He is extraordinarily friendly. Would I like a cigarette? OK. Why not? Hang on, isn't this one of those New York-style Absolutely No Smoking buildings with a shoot-to-kill policy? "Yeah ... well." What are they going to do to Ricky Martin? Say: "Get out! Get out and take your lousy, zillion-selling albums with you?" (Just to put 15.2 million into perspective, Robbie Williams' last album sold six million.) We smoke. The security guard clocks us. "Ricky started it, Ricky started it," I say. "I didn't want to do it but he made me." He decides not to shoot and instead delivers an ashtray. This, I guess, is what being one of the biggest recording artists in the world does for you. Ricky and I do the small-talk thing. Where am I saying in New York? At the Hudson Hotel, I say, one of those absurd Schrager-Starck jobs so pretentiously illuminated - ie. not lit at all - that you have to feel along the corridor walls to get down for breakfast. It's a miracle I've not broken a leg. "And the smallest rooms, right?" Right, I say. When you sit on the toilet you can rest your forehead on the opposing wall. "I live across f the street," he says, "in Columbus Circle, in the tall tower. Know it? Next time you're in town you gotta stay with me." Really, Ricky? "Sure." Well, I suppose it's the least you can do after all the annoying lodgers you've put in my head. And I absolutely promise to use tons of hot water and outstay my welcome, too.

We talk about the new album, obviously, because I'm a mature professional and if you are a mature professional that's what you do. Happy with it, Ricky? "Very happy. I worked on it for three-and-a-half, four years. I went to India, Egypt, Brazil ... I wanted to create a real global sound." Are you sick to death of "Livin' La Vida Loca" and all those black cats and voodoo dolls? "Yeah," he says, "sick and a half!" On the other hand, he adds, it's still a great track. "Very powerful and fun, right?" Right. Of course, I want to swiftly move on to Muslim theology and the Booker, but meanwhile: when did you first have sex, Ricky? This leads to a surprisingly unexpected conversation. Make of it what you will.

"I was 15," he says. "It was in Argentina. A beautiful girl. Very hardcore."

"Hardcore?"

"There were, like, people in the room, all having sex, and then me and her in the corner."

"How romantic."

"That's why I'm a watcher."

"That's why ... beg your pardon?

"I'm a watcher."

"Um ... you like watching people having sex?"

"I don't know if it's about watching people having sex but it's like, go ahead, I wanna see you, know what I mean?"

"Do you watch porn?"

"Or course. Yes. Do you?"

"Sometimes," I lie, because I don't want to come across as a prissy, dried-up old stick although, in truth, that's probably what I am.

"It's a tool that helps you get in touch with yourself," he continues.

"There's no denying that, Ricky," I say. "What's the sexiest movie you've ever seen?"

"Like porn movie? Or a general movie?"

"Either... both."

"Sexiest movie? You seen The Piano, with Harvey Keitel and Holly Hunt? So sexy."

"Personally, couldn't stand her hair-do. Looked like she had pretzels grafted on to her ears. No wonder she couldn't hear."

"Like Princess Leah, right?"

"Right. Maybe they had a fight in the bakery department of a supermarket somewhere. What kind of porn films do you like?"

"Oh, there are some great ones. But it depends on your fetish. What you like and what you don't like."

"What do you like?"

"I like interracial."

"Ricky, seriously, I'm just so perfect for you. I'm Jewish. I know you want kids and I'm still fertile, although possibly only for the next 10 minutes, so if you're going to have me, have me now."

"Let's go, let's go!"

"Plus, as an add-on bonus, for no extra charge, I can also make bloody good goblets from Quality Street wrappers. It's your lucky day."

"Forget about winning the lottery, right?"

"Too right."

I'm not, though, entirely convinced that he is going to take me up on my kind offer. Perhaps mentioning the Quality Street wrappers was pushing it too far.

I'M NOT sure, and am never sure, how I feel about men who like porn - and perhaps this says more about me, and my dried-up prissiness, than them - but I do admire Ricky's frankness. Still, it can't be that Old Triple-stitch is simply not getting it, can it? Call yourself a Latin Love God! He says he longs for kids and "if we'd had this conversation two years ago I'd have told you I was practising, a lot, to become a daddy. But six months ago I broke up with my girlfriend and that's just the way it is. It'll happen when it happens, you know?" He does a lot of charity work with children. Indeed, as the TV chat-show host Rosie O'Donnell once said of him: "He is amazing with children. We had a little Make-A-Wish girl in a wheelchair here when he was on the show. She was quite challenged and he spent a lot of time with her." I'm not entirely sure what a "Make-A-Wish girl" is but do wonder if one of her wishes might have been: could you all go away and stop patronising me now? Even my wheelchair's had enough. Only kidding. I'm sure Ricky is a great guy with a big heart whereas I am simply mean and cynical as well as dried-up and prissy. I am quite challenged on all these counts.

Enrique José Martin Morales was born in Puerto Rico on Christmas Eve, 1971. He always wanted to be a star. Doesn't know why, just did. At six he was starring in TV commercials, at 12 he'd joined Menudo, where he stayed until he was 18. What else? Well, his mother is an accountant, his father a prison psychologist. They divorced when he was two and proceeded to fight over him in the courts. "I guess I had to choose between mum and dad." I'm afraid I can not disguise my disapproval. How can parents do that to a kid? I ask. Especially with your father being a psychologist. He says: "My dad's actions and my mother's actions were based on love and they were seeing that if they acted that way in the long run it was good for me and it's OK." You what? "They were doing their best. I didn't know it was hurting me until later on in life when I analysed how disturbing it was. The question - why do you think you are who you are today? - goes back to when my parents were divorced and I learnt that what I liked in my life was music and I started doing theatre and at the age of 12 I was in a band and from then on my life changed drastically and I learnt the real meaning of discipline and the real meaning of hard work and independence ... " You what?

He is exceptionally hard to pin down emotionally, goes all woolly, then shifts into fluent Yoga-ese. "It's a cliché, I know: another artist who does yoga. But I went to India and I was with my guru for a long time and I learnt about the beauty of silence and from then on everything has been based on silence." Good-O. Therapy? "I believe in therapy. I think it really helps when you can talk and be bluntly honest about the things that you feel and that you see and don't like and all that stuff." Tell me one important thing you have learnt about yourself through therapy. "You have to feel no matter what. For many years I walked though life in automatic gear because it was all about work, work, work. You know what I'm saying? So they told me, if you're angry, express that anger. If you feel uncertain, stop for a second and find out why uncertainty is part of your day."

I kind of give up on "the life", think about going back to pornography and pretzels while working up to the Booker, but instead settle for general chit-chat, which is jolly enough. He is into art and if he could buy one work that's currently out there it would be Picasso's Weeping Woman. He loved working with Madonna - with whom he once dueted on "Be Careful" - and, as it happens, he does know how she's retained tone in her upper arms. "She's, like, hardcore." With her porn? "With her yoga. Her yoga is very active, very physical." Yes, he's been wise with his money. He owns properties all over the place because "real estate is my hobby". If it came to it, would you ever need to earn money again? "No." You're not in any danger of Living' La Vida Broke-a, then? "No. I am not."

He seems a nice enough guy, sweet in a porn-loving kind of way, and I'm sure he is genuinely looking forward to my next trip to New York, when I will be coming to stay. Just promise me one thing, though, Ricky. No dressing gowns without belts. There is only so much someone of my age can take.

"Deal," he says. Good. That's settled then.

The single 'I Don't Care' will be released on 26 September. The album 'Life' follows on 10 October

Comments