She would become a spectacular diva whose excesses stunned even Hollywood and whose lavish annual Christmas celebrations have set the gold standard for kitschy froth.
There wasn’t much festive cheer, however, when Mariah Carey was a child.
As she remembers Christmas, her family were too busy trying to repress their fury to enjoy the pleasures of the season.
Little Mariah would sit there, waiting in dread for the inevitable moment they ‘would all explode in a torrent of verbal abuse’.
Verbal abuse that would all too often explode into physical abuse.
The star, who has sold 16 million copies of her hit single All I Want For Christmas, created an imaginary world ‘filled with Santa Claus, reindeer, snowmen, and all the bells and trimmings that a little girl’s dreams could hold’.
If anyone has wondered (and who hasn’t) what turns a talented singer into an impossibly demanding diva who insists — as Carey reportedly has — on bathing in mineral water or signing autographs from a throne surrounded by roses and butterflies, the superstar finally has a few answers.
After years of remaining fairly tight-lipped about her private life — most of the hints that it has been difficult were confined to her inspirational, love-triumphing-over-adversity lyrics — finally Carey has revealed all in a shocking new memoir.
After years of remaining fairly tight-lipped about her private life — most of the hints that it has been difficult were confined to her inspirational, love-triumphing-over-adversity lyrics — finally Carey has revealed all in a shocking new memoir
The revelations in The Meaning Of Mariah Carey — often delivered in the same breathlessly emotional style as her song lyrics — add up to a bleak litany of domestic abuse, infidelity, drugs, racism and general cruelty.
‘Singing was a form of escapism for me, and writing was a form of processing,’ she reveals. ‘There was a joy in it, but it mainly was survival (and it still is).’
Carey, now 50, is notorious these days for such over-the-top behaviour as eating off a £50,000 antique table flown in specially from New York, insisting her dressing rooms are filled with puppies, kittens and Cristal champagne, and having an attendant employed to dispose of her used chewing gum.
Every Christmas, she flies in family and loved ones for a lavish celebration in a £17 million mansion in Aspen, Colorado, complete with reindeer, snow machines and 20,000 fairy lights.
And yet in the grand tradition of the classic Hollywood rags-to-riches story, it certainly wasn’t always like this.
The mixed-race child of a black father and white mother who looked like neither of them and felt cripplingly isolated, Carey grew up in a poor household that was seething with racial tension.
Her elder siblings deeply resented Mariah for her lighter skin and ‘blondish’ hair, which spared her much (although not all) of the racism they endured growing up in suburban Long Island, New York.
The mixed-race child of a black father and white mother who looked like neither of them and felt cripplingly isolated, Carey (pictured as a child) grew up in a poor household that was seething with racial tension
‘By the time I was a toddler, I had developed the instincts to sense when violence was coming,’ she says.
‘As though I was smelling rain, I could tell when adult screaming had reached a certain pitch and velocity that meant I should take cover.’
She recalls a fight between her father — Alfred Roy — and ‘broken’ brother, Morgan, that was so ferocious it took 12 police officers to pull them apart.
‘When my brother was around, it was not uncommon for holes to be punched in walls or for other objects to go flying.’
Her parents, from Brooklyn, split up when Carey was three and she moved with her neglectful mother, Pat, to Long Island.
They never had much money and today’s queen of materialism had to make do with hand-me-downs.
One of the many homes in which she and her mother lived was known locally — and accurately — as ‘the shack’.
On another occasion, when Carey was six, her brother hurled their mother into a wall with such force it sounded ‘like an actual gunshot’.
Mariah phoned a friend — the only number she knew — and the police eventually arrived.
‘One of the cops, looking down at me but speaking to another cop beside him, said: “If this kid makes it, it’ll be a miracle,” ’ she recalls.
She had a close escape when one of her mother’s boyfriends threatened to kill both of them after he was given the push.
‘He was holding a long double-barrelled shotgun in one of his hands,’ she says. ‘“I’m not going to let you guys go,” he said. “I’m going to chop you up and put you in the refrigerator.”’ Somehow, they managed to flee the house.
Her sister, Alison, is eight years older and, during her own childhood, bore the brunt of some Americans’ antipathy towards mixed-race families, (Carey’s Irish-American mother was estranged from her own family because they were so appalled when she married a black man).
Racist neighbours threw raw meat ‘studded with broken glass’ to their dogs and even blew up their car, says Carey.
Her sister, Alison (pictured with Carey in 1993) , is eight years older and, during her own childhood, bore the brunt of some Americans’ antipathy towards mixed-race families, (Carey’s Irish-American mother was estranged from her own family because they were so appalled when she married a black man)
Suicidal and strung out on drugs, Alison married at 15 after getting pregnant. ‘When I was 12 years old, my sister drugged me with Valium, offered me a pinky nail full of cocaine, inflicted me with third-degree burns and tried to sell me out to a pimp,’ Carey writes.
Alison, she believes, recruited girls for her pimp friend, John, and — fuelling Carey’s suspicions that she meant to add her own sister to the list — secretly supplied Mariah with her own phone line so she could ring her without their mother’s knowledge.
One day, Alison left Mariah alone with John, who tried to force himself on her as they sat in his car. She was saved by a suspicious elderly man who peered intently into the car.
‘I committed that man’s face to memory,’ Carey says, still grateful after all these years. On another occasion, when she let on to their father that Alison was staying with them, the latter flung boiling hot tea over her, giving her third-degree burns.
‘Alison has burned me in many ways and more times than I can count,’ Carey writes. ‘Over and over, I have tried to be her fire department, financing treatments and paying for stays in premium rehabs. But even with substantial resources, there is no way to rescue someone who doesn’t realise they’re burning.’
Alison’s world is made of fire, but her world is made of ‘the light’, says Carey who frequently mentions her Christian beliefs.
While Mariah — who was obsessed with Marilyn Monroe as a girl — avoided the worst of the bigotry that her older siblings faced, she wasn’t entirely spared.
Carey and Mottola (pictured in 1997) met in 1988 at a music industry party in Manhattan, and Mottola famously searched for two weeks to find Carey, then 18, after she handed him a demo tape of her singing
When she was four, she used a brown crayon to colour her father for a family portrait at school.
Her teachers ‘cackled hysterically’, insisting she’d used the wrong shade because they had met only her white mother.
When Carey was 13 or 14, word got out that her father was black. A group of white girls at her school locked her in a room at a friend’s house in the Hamptons and called her the N-word ‘over and over’.
Carey recalls: ‘This was not your garden-variety schoolyard mean-girl scuffle. It was a devious and violent premeditated assault by girls I called my friends.’
(After she became famous, Carey took her mother — clad in a new fur coat — back to see the house where her chief abuser still lived with her family, just to make a point.)
Carey says she was sometimes spat on in the school bus and provoked into fights for being mixed race. In high school, she made sure she went out with the toughest boy for her own protection.
She moved home 13 times in those chaotic early years, but had realised she wanted to sing when she was three.
Her mother, who was a trained opera singer, was practising an aria from Rigoletto one day when she kept stumbling on a part.
‘I sang it back to her, in perfect Italian,’ claims Carey. ‘I might have been three years old. She looked at me, stunned, and at that moment I knew she saw me. I was more than a little girl to her.’
No, she would soon be a family cash machine, or as she puts it, ‘an ATM with a wig on’.
Carey admits that she largely owes her career to Tommy Mottola, the boss of Columbia Records and Sony Music, although it came at a heavy price.
They met in 1988 at a music industry party in Manhattan, and Mottola famously searched for two weeks to find Carey, then 18, after she handed him a demo tape of her singing.
His record label spent a cool $1 million marketing her first album, which eventually topped the U.S. charts for 11 weeks and has sold 15 million copies.
Mottola — 21 years her senior — was the first of many rich men to sweep her off her feet, with luxury rather than love.
She recalls how Mottola’s engagement ring had a diamond that was ‘modest-sized’ but — just as important — made by Cartier.
They married in 1993 at a lavish New York wedding where guests included Barbra Streisand, Bruce Springsteen, and Ozzy Osbourne, and with Robert De Niro acting as Mottola’s best man.
‘The dress was an event unto itself,’ Mariah says, explaining that she was inspired by Princess Diana’s nuptials.
‘There were at least ten fittings — crazy for a girl who, not long before, had only three shirts in rotation.’
However, their eight-year relationship, which ended in divorce in 1997, deteriorated rapidly over creative differences and Mottola’s controlling personality.
Mottola (pictured with Mariah in 1995) — 21 years her senior — was the first of many rich men to sweep her off her feet, with luxury rather than love
‘There was never really a strong sexual or physical attraction’, admits the hyper-ambitious Carey, ‘I gave him my work and my trust.’
Carey now says he pretty much imprisoned her — she dubbed their sprawling 50-acre, £23 million estate in upstate New York ‘Sing Sing’ after the local prison.
Almost every room had security cameras and armed guards patrolled outside, even shadowing Carey when she went shopping.
The singer said she felt continually monitored. Mottola controlled everything from the music they listened to in the car to the music she sang in the studio. ‘I smuggled myself out bit by bit, through the lyrics of my songs,’ says Carey.
She describes his presence as ‘dense and oppressive’, adding: ‘His power was pervasive, and with it came an unspeakable unease.
‘In the beginning . . . I was walking on eggshells. Then it became a bed of nails, and then a minefield. I never knew when or what would make him blow, and the anxiety was relentless.’
Carey felt so nervous that under her bed she kept a purse and a ‘to go’ bag in case she had to make a sudden getaway.
Sometimes, she’d creep downstairs at night to have some time alone, only for the intercom to buzz and Mottola to bark: ‘Whatcha doin’?’
She ended up secretly renting a Manhattan flat next door to her acting coach so she could sleep on her own (while pretending to be working with the coach).
Or at least mostly on her own. She first met Derek Jeter, a champion player in the Yankees baseball team and a fan of hers, in a candlelit restaurant, bonding with him after learning that he, too, had an Irish-American mother and a black father.
They started a brief affair, (always having to give her driver, a Mottola spy, the slip) and Carey writes: ‘Derek was only the second person I had slept with ever (coincidentally, his number was 2 on the Yankees).’
She finally took the plunge and left Mottola when, in front of his friends one night, he held a butter knife to her face and slowly dragged it menacingly down her cheek in fury at her desire to split up.
After the divorce, Carey also left Sony Music, but her vengeful husband ‘used all his power and connections to punish me’, even having her promotional paraphernalia — including cut-out figures of her — removed from record shops.
She first met Derek Jeter (pictured with her in 1998), a champion player in the Yankees baseball team and a fan of hers, in a candlelit restaurant, bonding with him after learning that he, too, had an Irish-American mother and a black father
When, exhausted by her relentless workload, she retreated to a Colorado cabin she’d bought for her mother, the latter called the police and — together with Carey’s brother — had the singer sent to a detox facility.
She complains that her family, who only ever saw her as a cash cow, ‘just happened to claim I was unstable and try to institutionalise me immediately after I had signed the biggest cash deal for a solo artist in history’.
Carey’s memoir omits a lot and presents a rags-to-riches account that is a little too well-crafted — heavy on the hardships she faced but light on the more self-inflicted wounds, such as her string of failed romances and her ridiculous diva-like excesses.
Her more noteworthy boyfriends in recent years don’t even merit a mention, including the rapper Eminem, with whom she fell out badly, and Australian billionaire businessman Jamie Packer, to whom she was engaged.
She also doesn’t discuss her battle with bipolar disorder.
Carey thought she would never have children, but changed her mind after she met comedian Nick Cannon. They married in 2008 and had twins before divorcing in 2016.
The children, son Moroccan and daughter Monroe, who are now nine, have enjoyed a very different childhood from their mother’s.
‘Their lives have never been threatened. Cops have never stormed our house,’ says Carey.
‘They do not live in fear. They have never needed to escape. They don’t try to destroy each other.’
The singer recently said she was ‘eternally 12’ — knowing now how her life was at that age, it’s understandable that she might want to have her childhood all over again.