The best-selling female recording artist of all time, Madonna began her ascent to pop superstardom in the early 1980s, with a look and sound that inspired teenagers and worried their mothers. 

The astute business woman signed a $60million deal with Time Warner in 1992, founded her own super-successful music label, Maverick, and developed her reputation as a serious actress.

The ambitious girl was the eldest daughter born to Silvio "Tony" Ciccone, an Italian-American carworker, and Madonna Louise Fortin, who was of Québécois descent. She had two elder brothers, Anthony and Martin, and three younger siblings, Paula, Christopher and Melanie. 

A good student, Madonna won a scholarship to the University of Michigan in 1978. Impatient for stardom, she quit in her second year, moved to New York, worked shifts in a variety of low-paid jobs and started to battle for gigs.

Her boogie-tunes caught the ear of DJ Mark Kamins. He introduced the dancer-singer to Warner Brothers, who promptly signed her up. First she was a hit in the New York club scene, then 'Holiday' leapt across the radio waves, putting the single into America’s Top 20.

Warner Bros. released 'Like a Virgin' (1984). Its title track became the singer's first No. 1 single, and the album topped the charts. In 1985, Madonna sold more singles and albums than any other artist that year. Catching the financial optimism and growing popularity of music video and MTV, Madonna’s lyrics and image typified the aspirations of the mid 1980s.

Teenage girls became increasingly influenced by her fashions. Suddenly lace tops, skirts over trousers, fishnet stockings, jewellery bearing the Christian cross, and bleached hair became the look of a generation in the 1980s.

While filming the music video for 'Material Girl' in 1985, Madonna began seeing actor Sean Penn. The two were married later that year. The relationship was marred by Penn's abrasive nature and his frequent outbursts against the press. After filing and withdrawing divorce papers in December 1987, the marriage was finally terminated in 1989, shortly before she began a short-lived relationship with Warren Beatty.

Ever sensitive to the evolving mood of her audience, Madonna dropped the Material Girl persona, with the birth of her daughter Lourdes in the late 1990s. A new meditative, self-aware lyricism emerged in 'Ray of Light'.

Madonna followed up the success of 'Ray of Light' with 'Music', but the following 'American Life' album failed to impress either critics or fans. The album performed badly in the charts and it was only the world 'Re:Invention' tour in 2004 that helped elevate her profile once more.


She returned to form with her tenth album 'Confessions on a Dance Floor' released in November 2005, with its lead single 'Hung Up' reaching number one in 41 countries. The album also won a Grammy for Best Electronic/Dance Album.

Madonna embarked on her 'Confessions' tour in 2006, reaching 1.2 million people and grossing over $194million - the largest amount for her at that point.

She released her next album, the largely autobiographical 'Hard Candy', in April 2008. It was influenced by R & B and urban pop, and featured Justin Timberlake and Pharrell Williams. It reached number one in 37 countries. The lead single 'Four Minutes' reached number three on the Billboard Hot 100, making it her 37th top ten hit - breaking a record set by Elvis Presley.

The 'Sticky and Sweet' tour followed, making $280million - the most made by a solo artist - and it was extended into 2010 due to its success. In October 2010, Madonna opened a number of fitness centres called Hard Candy Fitness across the globe, and was the subject of a 'Glee' episode.

Her 12th studio album, 'MDNA', was released in 2012. The album's tour went on to become the tenth highest-grossing tour of all time and the highest grossing of the year. 

In 2015 she released her latest album 'Rebel Heart', which produced the singles 'Living For Love', 'Ghosttown', 'Bitch I'm Madonna', and 'Hold Tight'. Her performance at the 2015 BRIT Awards went viral after she fell off the stage when one of her dancers attempted to pull off the cape she was wearing. The Rebel Heart Tour kicked off later in the year and consisted in 82 dates.

Her film career has been patchy, to say the least, with only Desperately Seeking Susan and Evita enjoying any acclaim. The less said about Swept Away, the better!

Madonna has also delved into the world of directing making her debut in 2008 with Filth and Wisdom. The comedy centred on three flatmates living in London and was also written by her.
She attended the UK premiere of 'WE', which she directed and wrote, on 11 January 2011. It tells the story of American divorcee Wallis Simpson and her romance with Edward VIII, interspersed with a story of a Russian security guard and a married woman in the modern day.

Madonna married Swept Away director Guy Ritchie in 2000 and gave birth to a son, Rocco. In 2006, the couple were embroiled in controversy after they filed adoption papers for a baby boy named David Banda during a trip to an orphanage in Malawi.

After a passport and visa were issued for the child, Banda was flown out of Malawi. The adoption raised public concerns about whether special treatment was given to Madonna considering the fact that Malawian law normally requires one year of residence for potential adoptive parents.

In October 2008 Madonna and Ritchie filed for divorce after nearly eight years of marriage. 

Following their divorce, Madonna applied to adopt Chifundo 'Mercy' James from Malawi, which was initially accepted in December 2008 and then rejected as Madonna was not a resident of the country. After an appeal, she formally adopted Mercy on 12 June 2009. Madonna's charitable foundation Raising Malawi has built ten schools in the country.