Advice for Madonna and Guy

Before retiring I had the privilege of being the minister of Dornoch Cathedral in the far north of Scotland. Within a few miles of Dornoch and its magnificent mediaeval cathedral is Skibo Castle, which Andrew Carnegie not only built, but in which he spent the happiest years of his life. He called Skibo his "Heaven on Earth."

Three of the cathedral’s magnificent stained-glass windows are in his memory. They serve as a reminder of the contribution Carnegie made in his later years to the world of music.

For 21 years I used to have to explain to people where Dornoch and Skibo Castle were, but that is no longer necessary, for just prior to Christmas, Dornoch became the focus of the world’s media. Photographers and television crews camped outside the cathedral for days. The reason for this invasion by the paparazzi was that the Queen of Pop, the prima donna Madonna had chosen Skibo for her wedding to film producer Guy Ritchie, and the cathedral for the baptism of her son, Rocco. My successor officiated on both occasions. I now jokingly refer to my time in Dornoch as being “pre-Madonna!”

At the time of the wedding, I was approached by a national newspaper to pen some thoughts for the newly married couple. The wedding having gained such international publicity, let me share what I wrote. The editor titled the article, “Ten Steps to Happiness for Madonna and Guy.”

1. I hope all your joint decisions will be as wise as that of choosing Scotland and Dornoch for your wedding.

2. Work hard at being the right partner. That is as important as finding the right partner. A female superstar of a previous generation put it well: “It is easy to make 20 men fall in love with you in a year, but to have one love for 20 years, that is an achievement.”

3. Though romance and physical attraction are important, character is more important. What people are, ultimately matters more than what they look like.

4. Willingness to compromise reflects strength of character, not weakness. A man who learned as a child that he could get his own way if he stamped his foot hard enough, fell in love with a girl, who had been brought up to believe that all roads lead to Rome and that she was Rome. The marriage, not suprisingly, was a disaster.

5. At a previously highly publicized wedding — that of Prince Charles and Lady Diana — the Bible lesson was read by the speaker of the House of Commons. Since those present had printed orders of service, he did not announce that the reading was from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. After the televised service he received many letters asking for a copy of the wonderful speech he had made. What Paul wrote 2,000 years ago is still relevant: “True love is never selfish. It is patient and kind. It is not boastful or rude.” It is that kind of caring love that keeps marriage going and growing.

6. Verbal fighting being an inevitable part of living together, it is important that you fight fairly, that you focus on the present, not the past, that you don’t drag up yesterday’s failures as today’s ammunition, that you avoid inflammatory words such as “always” and “never” — “You are always craving the limelight;” “You are never pleasant to my mother.”

7. “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” Nothing destroys a relationship quite like not speaking. Though never easy, the willingness to say “Sorry” and forgive the hasty word are essential for a happy marriage.

8. Small things can make epochs in married life. Whereas shattering experiences such as the loss of a job or a serious illness can sometimes draw spouses closer together, petty annoyances can chip away at a marriage. George Eliot said, “Small things can make epochs in married life.”

9. Never take each other for granted. An unexpected “thank you” or present, a squeeze of the hand, a hug, a timely card are all marriage enriching.

10. Humor is a wonderful solvent for the grit of irritation that often gets into the cogs of married life. What infuriating creatures we can all be at times! Humor can help keep differences in perspective. When a husband was reminded by his wife that he had forgotten her birthday, he replied, “How do you expect me to remember when you never look a day older.” Where there is kindly laughter and shared jokes, the possibility of real trouble is reduced.

These suggested pathways to happiness apply not only to Madonna and Guy, but equally to any couple setting off on the wonderful adventure of marriage.


JAMES A. SIMPSON is retired and lives in Perthshire, Scotland.