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Life inside Prince's Paisley Park

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Kevin Winter/Getty Images for NCLR

How do you prepare for an audience with Prince? It feels like there should be a purple velvet handbook, some kind of formal protocol. Does he expect visitors to bow and avoid direct eye contact? Would dressing in his favorite color please him, or is that like wearing white to a wedding? How many topics are off-limits for such a famously private star?

The answer to all those questions was: He didn’t seem to care—at least not during the day I spent with him late last summer at Paisley Park, his longtime home and studio outside Minneapolis. (For the record, he wore black and gave great handshake; the only subject he ever really shied away from was the one he practically invented—sex.)

His publicist’s sole instructions were that I should book a flight immediately and stay in my hotel room until I was summoned. The focus should be on his upcoming album, HITNRUN, and his voice could not be recorded. While I waited, I tried not to think too much about the stories I’d heard: that he could be difficult and remote, sometimes walking out abruptly when he didn’t like a question or felt he’d been disrespected. I preferred the ones that said there was a more accessible, almost playful side to him, that on a good day he might even make you pancakes.

Jules Ameel/Getty Images

Whether it was luck or chance, the Prince I got that August afternoon was the second one—funny and thoughtful and endlessly engaged in the world around him, even while his whole life seemed to be contained in the lavender bubble of his compound. Pancakes never materialized, but he constantly offered to call in food, and the spread laid out in Paisley’s bright industrial kitchen looked like a birthday party for a highly lactose-tolerant 8-year-old: quesadillas, nachos, piles of mozzarella sticks.

Deep-fried cheese didn’t seem to be the secret to Prince’s own sylphlike figure. He moved like a dancer when he walked, and even at 57 his skin was luminous, as if the pair of pet doves he kept—their names are Divinity and Majesty—feather-dusted him daily with fine emollients. The leggings and swingy tunic he wore tipped toward the lady side of unisex, but he spoke in a deep, candle-melting baritone that only got throatier when he laughed. (When he really liked something I said, he’d point his fingers and whoop; I embarrassed myself more than once trying to hear that sound again.)

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