At tea with Madonna, several B-list celebs, some literary stars and a little girl called Bina

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The Independent Online

Madonna threw a tea party in Kensington yesterday to launch her first children's book, The English Roses, and everybody came.

There were tiny cucumber sandwiches and cupcakes, dancing and stories, make-your-own-swan craft areas, full of socks and sequins and paper-plate wings.

But alongside the tea were trays of champagne and furtive ciggies by the pond in the famous London roof gardens, for this was an event no grown-up party animal could afford to miss. The opportunity of seeing the Material Girl at close quarters drew crowds like a spell.

Outside the main entrance, a baying crowd watched the world's most famous woman being interviewed by television crews, drowning her replies with doomed propositions ("Would you like my phone number?") and synchronised shouts of lines from her new single, "Hollywood" ("Push the button, don't push the button, trip the station, change the channel").

On the roof, an eclectic combination of B-list faces and literary superstars surveyed the nursery mayhem around them and headed for the al fresco walkways.

Martin Amis was there with his family and Laurence Llewellyn Bowen prowled by in a zebra-print shirt; the newly-married Nigella Lawson talked about her prowess at table tennis while another celebrity chef, Gary Rhodes, looked gaunt and underfed.

Stella McCartney, dressed head-to-toe in her own creations, acted like an indulgent auntie to Madonna's children, Lourdes and Rocco. Michelle Collins, formerly of EastEnders, basked in the late summer sunshine, while Tina Hobley from Holby City inspected the pink flamingos.

Looking like a dyspeptic banker amid all the poster paints and cardboard butterflies, was Andrew Wylie who brokered the publishing deal with Puffin, the children's imprint of Penguin Books.

To temporarily recreate herself as The Children's Author rather suits Madonna. Demure and fragrantly maternal in a white satin frock covered in green foliage, she moved through the party like a politician, preceded everywhere by her PA and fixer, Liz Rosenberg.

Guests were advised that she had no plans to be swept up in conversations about their fascinating childhoods, or to be introduced to their palpitating children.

But we were allowed to listen as she sat on a swing between her children, clamped on a pair of stenographer's spectacles, and read a brief extract from her book.

The story concerns a little girl called Binah. She is beautiful but lonely because she is the object of envy and suspicion of four English girls - the titular Roses - who live nearby.

It would not take a master psychologist to infer that the singer was writing about difficulties suffered by her daughter Lourdes in making friends in England - unless the whole thing is a fable about Madonna being accepted by English pop fans and tabloid newspapers.

"I wanna thank all the kids for coming," said Mrs Ritchie. "I prefer little kids to big people because they haven't picked up any bad habits yet."

A lot rides on the response of these "kids" to her book. Over a million copies of The English Roses have already been earmarked for bookshops, and it is being published in 32 languages. The book is the first of six projected titles. The second, Mr Peabody's Apples, will be published in the US this autumn, according to John Makinson, the chairman of Puffin, who also explained that all the proceeds would be given to charity.

Outside in the garden I met Mr Wylie. Yes, he confirmed, Madonna's US publisher was Nicholas Callaway, whose company, Callaway, published her notorious Sex book a decade ago. Yes, it was he who had suggested that she write for children after hearing her reading a children's book during a recording.

Yes, they were off to Paris the next morning, the travelling roadshow of Madonna, her family, agent and publisher, to meet Gallimard, the leading French publishing house.

And the charity stuff? All the money would go to charity? Was it true?

Wylie's eyes widened. "I never talk about money," he said evenly. "I really wouldn't know about that."

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