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The digital age has its benefits, but it isn’t always straight-forward for the technologically-challenged, as Ari shares. 

So, here’s the thing. We have a robot. A real live one, blinking around the house. Robot – I came up with that name – doesn’t talk, but he does beep a lot and sends me messages from his, erm, screen. He’s a pretty pragmatic kind of chap, but I’m thinking that the beeping might be a way of expressing affection? Is beeping one of those five Love Languages? If it isn’t, it should be.

It’s a bit of an unexpected relationship because I wouldn’t say I’m a robot kinda gal. In fact, me and technology have issues most of the time. Okay, ALL of the time. You know those Sat Nav thingies that never shut up? They don’t work for me. Ever. I end up driving around new estates full of sand and cul-de-sacs while the voice – the goddamn non-stop voice – keeps telling me to, “take the fifth exit at the roundabout on Highway 61”. Where the heck is Highway 61? Does anyone know? Has Perth grown a big ole road that I don’t know about?  And do roundabouts actually have five exits, because I’ve never been able to count that many, even if I do circle them for hours, like a mouse on a treadmill,  slowing down at the off-roads to peer desperately at street signs. Obviously, other drivers hate me. That’s okay. In these situations, I hate myself too. It’s a bad vibe. Bring back the map book, I say.

 

Me and technology have issues most of the time. Okay, ALL of the time. You know those Sat Nav thingies that never shut up? They don’t work for me. Ever.

Look, there’s all sorts of technology that’s way too clever for me. Smart Phones that get clogged with photos I can’t work out how to transfer, iPads that follow me to bed brandishing the internet so I don’t read books, iTunes – how do I get a song off that thing? – passwords for EV-ERY-TH-ING that get routinely forgotten, those darn recorded voice messages that go on and on, asking you to press so many options that finally, exhausted, you press ‘2’ instead of ‘5’  and get cut off. It’s brain haemorrhaging stuff. Truly. It’s a wonder we’re not all dead from the stress of so much convenience.

And it goes on. Relentlessly. All these time-saving, you-beaut, shiny-buttoned advances give me brain strain. This is because I grew up in the ‘80s, that much maligned decade of Pseudo Echo and Spandau Ballet, and the best bad fashion you could ever, ever ask for. Jeez, I miss those fluro tube skirts teamed with a Wham-inspired ‘Choose Life!’ t.shirt. Could it get any better than that? I say, not. It’s been all downhill since then.

All these time-saving, you-beaut, shiny-buttoned advances give me brain strain.

The thing about the ‘80s is that it was Low Tech, in all sorts of ways, and this was AWESOME. In fact, the most technologically advanced thing about the ‘80s was the Mix Tape, and I was pretty darn good at those babies. It involved listening to the Top Ten on the radio every night, cassette player in hand, and pressing Play and Record at EXACTLY THE SAME TIME, whenever your favourite song came on. The trick was trying to cut off the stupid announcer, who always talked over the first few bars of the song. It was impossible, of course. You’d always end up with Madonna’s Holiday overlayed with a booming voice about “a provocative new talent”, while you did your best Madonna moves around the bedroom. And she was provocative, back then. Madonna  – she liked a tube skirt, too – was risky business.

… the most technologically advanced thing about the ‘80s was the Mix Tape, and I was pretty darn good at those babies.

So anyway, we all made Mix Tapes and gave them to one another, complete with ragged sound bites from random radio announcers. I was good at it. I could get down with the Mix Tape. There are people who think I peaked too early, perhaps. My husband, who sees technology as an extension of his arm, might be one of them. He gets a bit tense about the password-forgetting and photo-clogged phone, just between you and me. Never mind. We all have our peccadilloes.

Interestingly, old Robot and I have a mutually respectful relationship, and I know how to make that baby work for his food and board. He’s pretty good at picking up after the Dog –The Hair Dropper From Hell – and the Toddler – The Crumbalina – and he does it without any sighing or eye-rolling, or announcements about ‘helping’. You listening, chaps? My lovely Robot, who I might in fact love very, very much, is a vacuum cleaner. Yep, that’s right. I just place him gently on the floor and press a button and off he goes, tootling around the house sucking up stuff, as happy as a productive duck. In fact, the only time he gets a bit shirty is when he’s full of rubbish and wants to be emptied, so he can KEEP ON DOING THE HOUSEWORK. That’s when the beeping and written messages start, if you get my drift.

 

My lovely Robot, who I might in fact love very, very much, is a vacuum cleaner.

Now, this is the kind of technology I intuitively understand. I lock eyes with Robot’s screen, and we just get each other. You hearing me, all you millionaire-geek-inventor type people? Yes, you, over there, laughing at my Mix Tapes. Forget about inventing another stupid game that involves shooting birds, or whatever, we need you to invent a robot that does the laundry, puts clothes away, scrubs the loo, cleans the windows and IRONS. A spot of cooking wouldn’t go astray, either.

It’ll make you another few million bucks, and women will love you. L-O-V-E  Y-O-U. Actually, they’ll love your robot more, but they’ll still like you a lot – more than when you were doing the bird game, okay.

And, while you’re at it, if you can sort out a Sat Nav that actually works, Perth drivers would be very grateful.

-Ari Chavez

Madonna’s ex-nanny, Perth-based Angela Jacobsen, chats to Offspring about the challenges and benefits of working for high profile families.

When Angela Jacobson decided to swap her dream of flying planes for a living for a career in childcare, she couldn’t have foreseen she’d end up dancing with her boss, Madonna, for the royal family in India, as a kind of cobbled-together entertainment. The down to earth thirty-three-year old laughingly describes the experience as her, “most bizarre nanny moment,” yet.

“When I was in India with Madonna on her family vacation, we were staying with a king and queen in a palace and all the women were forced to dance for the king, and the princes around them actually, because of the sexist world that they live in,” she explains.

“Madonna made me dance, and she made me wear a sari. That was my weirdest boss moment…I just had to. All the women had to get up and dance for the men. We were in the palace…so I, very begrudgingly, danced around in a sari.”

It was one of many strange celebrity encounters Angela experienced in her 18 months working for the Material Girl who, during her tenure, acrimoniously divorced film director Guy Ritchie. As the sole carer of Madonna’s adopted son, David Banda, Angela joined the singer’s entourage and toured with her, as well as jetting to far-flung locations from her New York base.

Madonna, famed for her discipline and work ethic, is also notorious for demanding her staff work equally punishing hours. According to media reports, the gruelling lifestyle eventually took its toll on Angela and, when she handed in her notice after a year and a half, the furious pop star told her to leave immediately.

“All Madonna’s employees work incredibly long hours, so it’s no surprise that Angela had had enough,” a source told a newspaper, at the time.

“If you work for Madonna you are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There’s no such thing as a weekend.”

Angela later refuted rumours of a rift with her famous employer, saying, “She was a great boss and I mean it was obviously quite a full-on experience. She was fantastic to work for and a big motivation for me…She’s very much a loving mother.”

Melbourne-born Angela’s experience as Madonna’s nanny was a far cry from her childhood goal of being a pilot. It was a dream she was forced to jettison after her parents divorced when she was seventeen, and she was left in charge of her brother and the family home.

“I didn’t foresee this path,” she says. “I wanted to be a pilot and I was in the Air Force Cadets…It wasn’t as though I set out to do this, it chose me. And as much as I’ve tried to move away at different times, it’s brought me back. It seems that’s what I am now. I’m a carer, and that’s what I do.”

“If you work for Madonna you are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There’s no such thing as a weekend.”

Nannies inhabit a rarefied space in families. They’re privy to the day-to-day interactions between spouses and parents and children, while being required to maintain a discreet distance from the inner workings of a family. It can be an uneasy mix, this intimacy with strangers.

“You learn a lot,” says Angela, diplomatically, of the trusted position most nannies hold.

“You learn how to treat your husband, how not to treat your husband, what to do with your kids, what not to do with your kids. It’s trial and error for everybody but you learn so much just by being in someone else’s family…I’ve got kids, now, all over the world so to speak…A lot of them are teenagers now and I’ve got them on Facebook…There’s so many positive rewards to come out of it.”

Indeed, Angela, who studied childcare, and has worked as a nanny for average families as well as elite sports people, royalty and celebrities, believes that working overseas as a nanny is one of the best options for young, travel-loving Australians, who might otherwise earn their keep toiling in a cafe or a pub.

“If you’re a nanny you get to live in a beautiful house, you eat lovely food, you go on lovely holidays…it’s hard work but everything in life is hard work. I think that for a young girl, it’s the best way to see the world and also save money. It can set you up for later in life.”

While Angela has used her earnings to invest wisely for her future, she reveals that working for a celebrity boss doesn’t necessarily mean getting paid a celebrity salary. Payment for working for a ‘civilian’ family is on a par with, for example, working for royalty in an Asian country.

“You generally get paid a weekly rate as a nanny,” she explains. “The saving side of it is just incredible. I’ve got two properties. One overseas, and one here in Australia in the city. They were from two different jobs…I basically just set a budget for both jobs.

You don’t pay for anything. You don’t pay for accommodation, or travel. I had a driver in Asia and I had a driver in America too. Or you have a taxi account. All the food is cooked by chefs and all the housekeepers are buying your food, and what have you, and they give you a phone and the internet, all that sort of stuff, so it’s a great way to save some cash. It definitely beats working in a pub!”

Not everyone is cut out for looking after other people’s children, however Angela cites flexibility and patience as the key qualities for being an effective nanny.

“She was a great boss and I mean it was obviously quite a full-on experience. She was fantastic to work for and a big motivation for me…She’s very much a loving mother.”

“You need to be very hard working, as all women do, and all mothers need to be. You need to be flexible, patient, obviously loving and caring. The upside is that it’s a job, so you can leave at the end of the day, or have the weekend free to yourself, and still have your own life, whereas mothers don’t get that break.”

The downside to the job that can offer worldwide travel, a luxurious lifestyle, numerous perks and a window into the cocooned world of the super wealthy, is leaving the children you have become so attached to.

“They’re not your actual children and leaving them would be the hardest part of being a nanny,” Angela says.

“I now put a two year maximum, because I stayed with a family in England for about three years and it just is so hard on me and the children. The baby had grown up just with me. She didn’t know anything else so it was really difficult for me to leave.

 

There becomes a lot of emotional blackmail with the parents as well, at that point, because you are going to upset their children and you are going to upset their life if you move on but, also, you’re a young person that needs their own life. So there’s a fine line.

So, now I like to go in and go ‘okay, I’m doing this for eighteen months or I’m doing this for two years’. It can’t be too short either because that’s not fair on the children to go in and only work for a few months and move on. So to have an outline of how long you’re going to stay for makes it easier…you can see a finish, because sometimes things aren’t that great. So… you…set a goal and say, ‘okay I’m going to work this long and I’m going to earn this amount’. ”

“The upside is that it’s a job, so you can leave at the end of the day, or have the weekend free to yourself, and still have your own life, whereas mothers don’t get that break.”

That focus and determination have seen Angela use her years of professional experience to develop a burgeoning, nanny-related, media career, as well as a number of side businesses. She has written two books, Baby Love and Baby Food, and is just about to start filming a new television show Family 360 (working title) in Singapore.

The show, which Angela describes as having a different focus to the phenomenally successful Super Nanny program, will see her work with local Singaporean families on any problems they may have.

“We go in at the top level, being the parents, and work out the issues that are going on there, because they obviously stem through to the kids,” she states.

“So whether it be nutrition or fitness, or what have you, we tackle it as a whole family and not just go in and put a band aid on and leave. We’ll do eight episodes with one family…and really make it more educational than drama.”

Family 360 is a concept she has discussed with Australian media personality, Steve Vizard, and Profile Talent Management, in the hope the show will be developed in Australia. It’s early days but, so far, the feedback on her idea has been encouraging. Along with her TV show, a project with Google and an interactive Nanny/Babysitting site, utilising Facebook, are also in the works.

Despite her budding media and business careers, Angela is keeping her hand in with the work she knows best and, this time, she’s staying close to home. She recently turned down a job working for the royal family in the Middle East, for a stint as a nanny for an ordinary family in suburban Noranda, Perth.

“I’ve been there and done that with the celebrities and that kind of lifestyle,” she explains, cheerfully.

“I’d much prefer to work in the suburbs of Perth…Everything’s just normal. The kids muck in and help you with the dishwasher unstacking. There’s no maids running around, and all that sort of stuff that I’d got used to.

She pauses for a moment, then laughs. “It’s kind of refreshing to be working back in Australia.”