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In South America she is viewed as akin to Mother Teresa, thanks to her charity Pies Descalzos (Barefoot), which she founded aged 19 and which has opened six schools in rural areas, providing education and jobs for more than 30,000 people over the years. ’ nine-year relationship with Antonio de la Rúa, the son of the former president of Argentina, is the staple of Latin gossip mags.Friends include – inevitably – Bono, with whom she sung at President Obama’s inauguration, the only non-Americans to do so.
At 13, having pressed a demo-tape on a Sony executive in a Barranquilla hotel lobby, she acquired a three-album deal.
Although she had a number-one single in Colombia, sales of the first two albums were disappointing.
In 2005 she released the two-album series 'Oral Fixation’, the single from which, Hips Don’t Lie, became the biggest-selling single of the century, along with Madonna’s Hung Up.
As ever, that success just spurred Shakira on to climb even higher.
In any case, shortly after this watershed she wrote her first song.
Two years later she joined a touring dance troupe performing for workers in Colombian mines.She locked herself up with a personal tutor, studied the lyrics of Bob Dylan and the poetry of Walt Whitman and wrote the English lyrics to her album 'Laundry Service’, 'with a dictionary in one hand and a thesaurus in the other’.Why bother when a jobbing songwriter could have done it? 'I just felt that was part of my destiny and I had to fulfil it.'I tried to give my career a shot from Barranquilla, but the musicians would never show up.It was just not taken seriously.’ She persuaded her mother to move with her to the capital, Bogotá, where she found a role in a popular soap ('I was terrible,’ she says, chortling).It’s a sweltering night in the Bahamas and in a back room of a recording studio close to her home in an exclusive gated community, the belly-dancing Latino pop star Shakira is ripping the tinfoil wrapping off a rib of beef with almost indecent speed. ’ she exclaims in her quick-fire Spanish-American accent, rolling her eyes to convey that she knows divas shouldn’t eat at all, let alone gnaw ravenously on ribs.'I can only have meat once a week and today is beef day, so I’m happy. All fish and vegetables.’ But then her pouty face clouds over. Those words pretty much sum up the throat-warbling, buttock-thrusting, poverty-solving phenomenon that is Shakira Mebarak Ripoll, aged 32 and the fourth richest woman in music – after Madonna, Barbra Streisand and Céline Dion – with an estimated fortune of million (£23 million). You have to work out every day and say no to certain foods,’ she says, shrugging when I commiserate on the diet.She extended her reach to black America by duetting with Beyoncé and working extensively with legendary songwriters such as Donna Summer and Wyclef Jean.In her new album, 'She Wolf’, she has collaborated heavily with the producer of the moment Pharrell Williams to produce an electronic sound that barely nods to her Latin roots, but which will almost certainly be a huge hit with clubbers.I remember it so vividly: I made myself a promise that one day I would, one, vindicate my parents’ social and economic situation and, two, do something about those kids.That image of those kids that day in the park has never left my mind.’ It sounds like a cheesy speech from a miniseries, but I sense that’s how Shakira sees her life: an epic drama with her as the protagonist.