The original Material Girl has cultivated a feisty, fearsome reputation, forging a career that has transcended two generations of popular music, and counting.
Yet somehow, behind her image and the Madonna machine, she has managed to be a devoted - and more recently single - mum to four children. And she credits that, above all, as her greatest achievement.
"Being a mother is the best thing I've done in my life, without hesitation," begins the 53-year-old.
As the superstar prepares to rock Abu Dhabi with two hugely anticipated concerts as part of an exhaustive world tour of more than 80 dates, she explained that it is probably the death of her own mother when she was just five that has shaped her maternal approach.
"Not having a mother of my own as I was growing up meant I didn't feel rooted anywhere and it gave me a chance to move to New York and go after what I wanted. Sure, my dream was to be successful, but my greatest achievement will always be my four kids. I want to be the mother to my children that I never had and I am still trying to do that every day."
Despite her fame, somehow Madonna has managed to give her children - daughter Lourdes, 15, and son Rocco, 11, and the two children she adopted from Malawi, David, six, and Mercy, five - a settled upbringing in New York.
"The kids are great for keeping me grounded, too. You never feel like you are anything special around them, that's for sure. I don't even have to ask and Lourdes gives me her opinions. She is very opinionated, which is good for me and quite bossy as well. Who knows where she gets that from, hey.
"My own life causes me problems at times because if I say to my daughter 'that outfit is a little too revealing', she says 'that's rich coming from you', and she has a point. So I need to separate the artist me with the parent me, that's important for my kids, and things are very normal in our house." As Madonna prepares to launch her ninth world tour, entitled MDNA after her most recent number one album, she looks back at how her life has changed. "I remember not being famous, of course I do, and enjoy being in environments when I can still be anonymous," she says. "It happened on a ski holiday earlier this year. I had a mask covering my face and no one knew who I was. It was great."
Madonna says she never craved fame, only to be a working artist, and credits her father's guidance for much of her success.
"He gave me a great work ethic and it is because of him that I put everything into what I do," she says. "The combination of good work and prayers will bring success and you need to have faith in what you are doing. If you don't believe in your work, quit right now." Her colourful private life has included high-profile relationships with the Hollywood legend Warren Beatty and the baseball star Alex Rodriguez, as well as her former husbands Sean Penn and Guy Ritchie. Madonna deftly sidesteps questions about the company she keeps, including the 24-year-old French dancer Brahim Zaibat.
"In the end, happiness lies in your own hands," adds Madonna. "You are dealt a hand of cards from when you are born, but you can change your own destiny. Love is always about sacrifice. If you don't want to give up things that mean a lot to you, don't fall in love with someone who might ask you to do that."
Madonna performs at Abu Dhabi's du Arena on Yas Island on June 3 and 4