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'You can’t achieve anything in life without a small amount of sacrifice.’ Second, she is friendly and considerate – a rare thing in superstar circles.
Third, the fact that, in these tropical temperatures, not a bead of sweat mars her perfect brow indicates that she is, quite possibly, superhuman. As she’s been famous in her native Colombia since the age of 13, I’d dismissed her as South America’s Britney Spears with an overexposed navel and a penchant for ridiculous lyrics ('Lucky that my breasts are small and humble, so you don’t confuse them with mountains’, went her pan-piping international hit Whenever, Wherever). With 40 million record sales behind her, Shakira makes comparable Spanish-English 'crossover’ acts such as Jennifer Lopez and Enrique Iglesias seem like minnows.
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.
She brainstormed about child poverty with Gordon Brown ('I like his accent,’ she says, laughing) and the 82-year-old Nobel literary laureate Gabriel García Márquez, who has written dubious essays about her 'innocent sensuality’.
Within minutes of shaking hands, I’m sucked in by Shakira’s charm, too.Tiny (she’s 4ft 11in) in cut-offs and a T-shirt, she looks as if the most pressing thought in her head is what colour to paint her toenails, but as soon as she starts talking it’s clear that those bleached-blonde curls conceal a mind of steel.As someone whose life has been almost entirely played out in public (she performed her first public belly-dance aged four), she must surely be a basket-case, but she seems utterly grounded.Normally, child stars are the puppets of pushy stage parents.But the way Shakira tells it she was always in the driving seat.The only child of a Lebanese jeweller (with eight children from his first marriage) and his Colombian second wife, she was born in Barranquilla, an industrial city on Colombia’s Caribbean coast.