Ricky Martin is a new type of gay star – a single dad who is stable, spiritual and, oh, yes, sexy
Arriving at a photographer’s studio in midtown Miami, the taxi driver instructs me specifically not to walk around the district alone. It looks rather fun, all told. A coffee shop with a coolly graphic, red and green façade looks directly to the west, two muted entrances to art galleries to the east and a thrift shop called Out Of The Closet selling vintage clothes for Aids charities three blocks south. A disused railway line splits everything in two.
There is an air of pre-gentrification Soho, New York, about the place. The uniform concrete exteriors, graffiti and occasional SUVs driving by, mostly punctuated by the neighbourhood-friendly blare of spacious hip-hop, are all baking in the 80-degree heat. And Ricky Martin is leaning against a chain fence, wearing a vest. Look, there are considerably worse places to spend a Tuesday afternoon in late November.
In 2010, over a decade after Livin’ La Vida Loca and She Bangs turned his Spanish-speaking audience into a global phenomenon, more than two decades since he quit his pubescent apprenticeship playing to 200,000-capacity crowds in Latin boyband Menudo, 15 years post his sidestep into drama as a medical heartthrob on daytime soap General Hospital and more than five years since he retired from the public spotlight – wiped out from 20 years of uniform delirium trailing in his wake – Ricky Martin is once again a big story.
In the week before meeting, he has been on a whistle-stop US promotional tour for his page-turning autobiography Me, commanding couch space on The Oprah Winfrey Show, The View, The Today Show, Ellen and Larry King Live (rough British equivalents: Piers Morgan’s Life Stories, Loose Women, This Morning, Graham Norton and Newsnight). His book tour has taken him to New York, New Jersey, Los Angeles, Chicago, his native Puerto Rico and now back to his current hometown, Miami. On the day we meet, this promotional blitz appears to have amply rewarded Ricky and his confessional volume.
In the most competitive season of the year, the book debuts at number five on the New York Times bestseller list. This is not an aggregate score, it accounts for the English language volume only. If you include the Spanish language sales (in his mother tongue, the book title translates delightfully as Yo) it would be number two, higher than Keith Richards’ tell-all drugs yarn as a Rolling Stone and just below George W Bush’s life as US President.
In pretty much all senses of the word, Ricky Martin is hot right now. In New Jersey, a Mexican housewife arrived to get her copy of the book signed and told him a little story. After disowning her son when he came out as gay, she had read Ricky’s autobiography, understood for the first time the difficult emotional terrain of a man’s reconciliation with his sexuality, hopped on a plane to see him and reunited her family. This is the street-level result of a star like Ricky Martin coming out.
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