Will the new year bring new hope for world peace? Ask an observer of the boutique celebrity gym scene and you are likely to elicit a mirthless laugh. Amid the heady scent of Chanel body spray and ruinously expensive cellulite preparations, a whiff of gunpowder is in the air. Early 2011 will see former locker-room buddies Madonna and Tracy Anderson, 'personal trainer to the stars', go head-to-head for high-end, hard-body-honing domination. For both are in the process of rolling out their own international gym chains. Anderson, 35, already has three North American studios. Next stepLondon, she tells ES. But Madonna boasts that her own Hard Candy project is 'the most anticipated new fitness club in history'. A disturbingly muscled arms race is on.
How could it have come to this? It seems only yesterday that the two tiny Titans were inseparable. Anderson, a five-foot-nothing blonde sylph, was credited with transforming the barely taller singer's half-century-old body into a machine capable of undertaking a world tour in hotpants and fishnets. Then, suddenly, the partnership chilled and they went their separate ways. In public they claimed that they were still friends. But their stories of other commitments and new interests didn't stack up. Now it's war.
As in other superpower conflicts, strategic assets appear to have played a part. In this case the loot at stake is Hollywood actress Gwyneth Paltrow, 38, and the head of Madonna's Raising Malawi charity, Philippe van den Bossche. Once they were both devoted worshippers of the cult of Madonna. Then they moved into the orbit of Anderson, whose most remarkable transformation by far has been that of her own fortunes.
Barely five years ago she was a divorced single mother whose first chain of gyms had gone bust in her native Indiana. Salvation came in the shape of her patented Hybrid Body Reformer – a '1,500-move' machine built to her design by an engineer boyfriend – which she shipped to California for a new start among the beautiful people. Not everyone in Indiana remembers her fondly.
Her breakthrough came in late 2006 when a client, Paltrow's agent's wife, recommended Anderson to the actress, who had just had a baby and was struggling to lose two and a half stone prior to filming Iron Man. Dieting and two Spanx girdles couldn't shift it. But Anderson's regime did the trick. Paltrow was ecstatic, particularly with what Anderson had done to her butt. So the actress passed the word to her best pal, fellow American-in-London Madonna. Anderson had struck workout gold.
Madonna was soon exercising a near monopoly over the trainer's time and talents. The pair were reportedly working out together six days a week. Anderson described her as 'my most devoted client'. Alas, things began to fall apart in 2009. First there was unfavour-able press comment on the singer's arms, which flashbulbs rendered all muscle and sinew. Then Anderson caught the eye of the executive director of Madonna's own charity. She dropped out of Madonna's entourage for much of the singer's European tour to be with the suave van den Bossche. Worse, he then quit his LA-based post to live with her. 'Philippe and I have been together for eight months, and things are great,' Anderson trilled. 'I live wherever Madonna is, so Philippe is moving from LA to New York.' Her reasoning soon proved redundant.
Madonna was said to be 'disappointed'.Translated, that means planning a nuclear strike. Within weeks, it was reported that Anderson had been 'dropped'. A volley of anonymous sources and PR statements only served to muddy the waters. Someone 'close' to the singer was quoted as saying: 'Madonna had grown tired of the baggage that Tracy always seemed to be carrying with her. Tracy had grown to be more of a distraction than anything else.' Anderson's PR snapped back: 'This is not true. After working together for three years, Tracy and Madonna mutually parted ways because Tracy wanted to look after her son [Sam, now 12].'
This, too, appeared to be shot down by Madonna herself who offered a counter-explanation: 'I did not ditch or fire her. I simply wanted to try a new method of working out when my tour ended. We remain friends and I wish her and Philippe all the best.'
So Anderson was left with her original A-list client, Paltrow. And so devoted to her butt guru did the actress remain that she became a financial investor in the Tracy Anderson Method studio that opened in Manhattan (so far there are two others, in LA and a summer pop-up in the Hamptons). Last year there was even idle chatter that the trainer's snippy parting with Madonna had caused the actress to cool her friendship with the singer. In an interview with British Vogue, Paltrow lauded Anderson to the skies, while also remarking: 'Yeah, it's good that she doesn't train Madonna any more. It was too much. She keeps people waiting – it takes up your whole day.' Even more cryptically she admitted: 'Oh yes, I can be mean. I can cave in to gossip. I can ice people out and I can definitely harbour revenge. In fact, I'm having a situation right now with a friend where I'm feeling pretty angry. But revenge is corrosive and it doesn't make me feel good.' Was Madonna the 'frenemy' to whom Paltrow was referring? At the Diane von Furstenberg party at Claridge's last summer the two superstars were happy to pose together for photographers in what some saw as a staged 'reconciliation'. But speculation about the existence of a Madonna-Anderson rift will not go away.
When late last year Madonna announced the launch of Hard Candy as a future global chain, some saw it as a rebuff to Anderson's own ambitions, built on the Material Girl's original endorsement. According to a senior executive, the chain will be 'a reflection of Madonna's point of view and will reflect her input on every detail including music, space, light and other design cues. Madonna's touch will be every-where.' The first Hard Candy – motto: 'Harder is Better' – opened its doors in Mexico City in late November. Madonna even led an inaugural dance class. A second 35,000sq ft mega-gym is due to launch inMoscow in mid-March. There will be at least eight others in South America, Asia and Europe. A London branch seems inevitable. And this is where guru and former acolyte are likely to meet, mano a mano.
Anderson, who has replaced Madonna with the lithe and, at 33, so-much-younger Shakira as her A-list musical client, was in town last week to promote her new DVD The Tracy Anderson Method: Total Cardio Workout. On the cover is another breathless tribute from Paltrow: 'A miracle... you will see the results you never thought possible.' New girl Shakira also weighs in with: 'I love Tracy Anderson's Method! Her approach to exercise is smart, creative and empowering. I believe that Tracy can transform any woman.' Markedly absent is the endorsement that graced Anderson's previous fitness DVD: 'Tracy Anderson's Method has proved to be the best exercise program for my body.' Madonna changed her mind on that.
From the back of a limo somewhere in London traffic, Anderson spoke to ES about 2011 and that former client. Typically, she did not pull any pink-gloved body punches. She said she was preparing to launch a 'huge project' that had involved filming '11,670 butt lifts'. As ES's head was still spinning at the thought, she disclosed that she had also just designed a workout for Buttzilla herself, 41-year-old Jennifer Lopez. 'But the gyms are my passion,' she added. 'New York and LA both have waiting lists and people all over the world want access to my concept in person. I am sure London will be next. We already have trainers working here so it's the obvious step, and both Gwyneth and I love it here.'
Then she got down to the question of certain rival organisations. 'Expanding all over really fast is to me a bit unethical,' mused Anderson. 'Gwyneth and I are really taking our time on doing it right so that each place has integrity.' What then does she think of Hard Candy herself? A pause: 'It's like… I pride myself on inventing some new things. She is the queen of reinvention. I spent three years teaching her… I have shallow feelings for anyone who is not an expert in the field doing something on the back of their celebrity.' Ouch. Bring it on.