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Article in Essence: 'Beyoncé's Destiny'
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"Let me tell you a story about Beyoncé," says her mother, Tina Knowles, sitting in a cluttered dressing room backstage at FilaForum in Milan, Italy, where Destiny's Child was performing last May as part of a 2005 world tour. It's one hour to showtime and Knowles, who designed the costumes for the tour, is sitting on the edge of a sofa hemming a dancer's gold-brocade bodysuit. "A week before we started the tour," she says, "I had surgery on my knee. I was supposed to stay off my feet, but I had to fly to Japan to make sure everything was straight with the clothes. When I got there, one of Beyoncé's dresses needed to be completely remade." Knowles drove around Tokyo for hours looking for new fabric and stayed up two days and nights sewing. Finally the dress was finished. "Beyoncé put it on, and I just hated it!" says her mother. The girls were about to go onstage. Mama Knowles couldn't help it--she started to cry. "I never break down like that, but I was just so upset and exhausted. Beyoncé looked at me and said, 'Mom, I know you're sad, but you gotta pull it together. We have a show to do.'" Knowles laughs and shakes her head looking up from her sewing. "Beyoncé's always like that. Just calm. She's always the centre of calm."

Thanks to the intense glare of the paparazzi, these days we expect a certain craziness from our stars: DWIs, beating down of maids, rehab visits, suspicious episodes of exhaustion, breast barings and all-around overexuberance seem like regular behavior for the rich and famous. Without the antics, what would a superstar be?

Maybe she'd look something like Beyoncé Knowles. While other stars give us drama and nuttiness, this recipient of eight Grammys, seller of 50 million records, and burgeoning film star is establishing herself as the anticelebrity. Behind the chest-poppin', booty-swirling, high-strutting fame is a methodical and gracious young woman who turned 24 last month. Although her gyrations sometimes look as if they'd do nicely for a stripper, offstage she carries herself with the modesty and reserve of a proper schoolgirl, acknowledging everyone from a driver to a fan with a soft-spoken appreciation, and impressing the public as an honest-to-God Real Nice Girl.

This is no small feat. Beyoncé is dogged by the press, radio gossip shows and online chatter--all reporting on her family's alleged strife (Her little sister had a shotgun wedding! Her father hates Jay-Z! Her father's unfaithful--and on drugs!) and her many supposed character flaws (She's bossy, bitchy and controlling). The rumors are never substantiated; her reputation remains unscathed. She's a Teflon diva.

Enter her camp, the roving caravan of 13 tour buses full of dancers, caterers and support staff who bring the Destiny Fulfilled Tour to stage, and you begin to see why. Beyoncé is undoubtedly Queen Bee, if for no other reason than her talent, vision and attention to the smallest detail. But she's a benevolent ruler, her ambition tempered by compassion, her discipline softened by humor.

"Beyoncé's still the same 9-year-old girl she was when I first knew her," says Kelly Rowland, who lived with the Knowles family when she was a child. "Except now she don't take no crap off of nobody. At our show in Dubai, Beyoncé threw a towel into the audience and they all started fighting. Beyoncé snapped into her mother mode. She was like, 'Listen! We came here to have a good time, and we do not like people to fight!'" In Beyoncé's world, the chaos exists around her, not because of her.

The Beyoncé enterprise is a family business. Cousin Angie is her personal assistant; Cousin Marlon is her road manager. And when she's on tour, everybody comes out to visit. In Rotterdam, Beyoncé's mother; her mother's best friend, Vernell Jackson; her sister Solange; and Daniel, Solange's dreamy-eyed 7-month-old baby, are all backstage. "I got to have my family around," says Beyoncé. "Angie, Michelle and Ty (D.C.'s assistant stylist) are really my best friends. Not everybody is blessed to have a family like mine."

The one notable absence in the D.C. lovefest is Mathew Knowles, Beyoncé's father, the group's manager since its inception. Early during the tour, The National Enquirer published a report that Beyoncé was considering firing her father, supposedly in the wake of an allegation that he harassed one of her dancers. The story was instantly picked up by the New York Daily News, Wendy Williams's syndicated radio gossip show, and endless Internet Web sites, spawning speculation about bad blood between the two. One online commentator wrote: "It could be worse. He could have warped her so much that she buys a ranch, creates a theme park, befriends a monkey."

When asked about the rumors, Beyoncé rolls her eyes skyward in exasperation. She won't address the gossip, but she will say this: "My father is still our manager. He hasn't toured with us since we were 17. And he only did that because we couldn't afford a soundman, so he was doing sound." Beyoncé says it has taken her years to learn how to ignore the tabloids: "I don't have a choice. How else am I going to survive? If you're sensitive, it's gonna drive you crazy." As an extra measure of self-protection, she simply refuses to answer questions about her man, ever. Even though we all know his name. Thanks to the tabloids, we've tracked Beyoncé and Jay-Z from Knicks games to the south of France. We know when she sings "we like the boys up top from the BK," she's talking about him. Still his name is never mentioned. Say the word boyfriend to her, and she shuts down. "I never talked about relationships," she demurs. "Even in school I never did. I only talk about them in my songwriting; otherwise things get too messy. It has worked because now nobody expects me to talk about them. But it's hard, too," she admits. "You fall in love and you want to tell everybody. But that's a place I just don't go."

On June 11, three weeks later, at a show in Barcelona, Spain, Destiny's Child announces that this will be the last tour; the group is breaking up, the ladies are pursuing other projects. The news is breathlessly reported across the globe. Beyoncé is a little surprised. "We named the record Destiny Fulfilled because we felt this would probably be the last one. We've been saying that since we started to record, but for whatever reason when we said it at the concert, people were really shocked."

It's not, she insists, that they'll never sing together again. "I'm sure we will sing on each others' albums or make appearances on each others' tours. Who knows," she says, "in a few years Destiny's Child may even do another record together. We love each other, and we love singing together. This is not one of those situations where there's a bad ending because something crazy happened."

With no plans for D.C. ahead of her, Beyoncé is making plans for herself. Next February, she stars opposite veterans Steve Martin and Kevin Kline in a remake of The Pink Panther, and next month she starts rehearsing for the much-anticipated film version of the Broadway musical Dreamgirls, opposite Jamie Foxx and Eddie Murphy. But she's also searching for something deeper, something she can barely articulate: a purpose, a reason, a mission.

"I want to take advantage of my celebrity to do something more than write songs that inspire people," she pauses. "I mean that's important. People have come to us and told us that we changed their lives, and we've helped them get out of bad relationships. Or they were alcoholics and they listened to "Survivor" and now that's their theme song. Which is really great. But there's something beyond this. Whether it's working with kids or going to Africa every year to raise awareness, or maybe just becoming a mother--I want to make my mark." Beyoncé looks out the window of her SUV moving down the narrow streets of Rotterdam. A man on a bicycle cuts through traffic to catch up with the car. He waves his arms frantically; on the back of his bike is a girl with a camera screaming, "Beyoncé!"

"All of this craziness," says Beyoncé, "is for a reason, I just haven't figured out what yet." in the meantime, this new kind of celebrity moves forward, one sure-footed step at a time.