“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 center 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.

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