MISS LONDONNovember 01, 1987
The following article by Minty Clinch appeared in the November 1987 issue of Miss London magazine...
No shades, no subterfuges, no stardom trips. At 36, Sting has finally exorcised the ghosts from his machine. Minty Clinch talks to Newcastle's most famous export.
For me, Sting is a small neat blue-eyed demon - that's how we see him in the movies - who moves like the athlete he once was. We shake hands and he sneezes, the victim of a heavy cold. No demon, but flesh and blood. Polite, articulate, professional, very much in control. But very much a rock star. We may meet on a film set, but he insists that music still has top billing.
His album, '...Nothing Like The Sun', named from a line in a Shakespearean sonnet, is about women as mothers, mistresses, wives, daughters, lovers; women who are happy and women who are in pain. Sting loves women, and he's known them in all those guises, so he knows what, he's singing about. As always. He writes songs from living a life, and he makes sure it's not a life circumscribed by the trappings of stardom. No armoured cars, no shades, no bodyguards. In a crisis, the agile Geordie who used to be a schoolteacher believes - no, knows - he can look after himself.
"I'm not part of a machine. I refuse to be cloistered away with a manager, an accountant and a producer. That way I face a blank wall. My songs come from conversations, people I meet, news events. Take 'They Dance Alone' for instance. That was inspired by meeting a group of women during an Amnesty tour of America. They'd been imprisoned without trial and tortured by Pinochet in Chile: When their men had gone missing, they find no one to complain to so they did the country's traditional courting dance with invisible partners as a gesture of grief and protest."
Sting's women can be spotted in smart parts of London. There's his ex wife, actress Frances Tomelty, who lives with their children in Hampstead. Down the road in Highgate in a house bought for ¬£600,000 from Yehudi Menuhin, we find Trudie Styler. Likewise an actress and the mother of two blond Sting babes. His five-year relationship with Trudie triggered the song Secret Marriage on the new album but, true to antipathy to cloisters, the universal provider keeps his options open. He returns to the independent Trudie when he needs to rest but otherwise he lives a bachelor existence in Manhattan and Malibu.
Creativity means New York, where poets and painters and choreographers and rock stars mingle freely. Sting's corner of it is a SoHo loft from which he emerges to take his clothes to the laundrette and buy his groceries in the local deli. Dead ordinary. Just like any other bloke. Very stimulating too. "You can't help but want to work. In London there's no cross pollination between people in the arts but in SoHo, we're all jammed in, we're all learning, we all live very close to the street."
It is here that the songs get written. Here that his fellow musicians gather when the album deadlines approach; but California has its part to play too. When he needs it, the $1,000,000 beach house in Malibu he bought from Barbra Streisand is there waiting. Although he flies regularly and expensively between these three homes, often accompanied by his children and always by his large music computer, Sting denies any charges of jet setting. Oh no. He's still "a schoolmaster at heart" a Newcastle boy made good, and almost by accident at that.
Pensively he reviews his oh-so-well charted childhood. Gordon Matthew Sumner was the son of a milkman, a natural capitalist who began delivering bottles before school when he was seven. By the time he was 10, he had a paper round after school as well. His pockets bulged with 10 shilling notes, some of which he spent on the trappings of the beat generation, cr??pe soled shoes, black drainpipe jeans - in fact anything his Dad hated, anything that made him mad.
At school, it was the same story. He was an achiever, but no one loved him for it because they sensed he was rebellious and mocking. "I did well despite the teachers. Not many of them liked me. I was very arrogant. I don't know where it came from but it was definitely there. I was involved in an older disruptive group, my friends were delinquent, and I was delinquent by association. I was one of three out of 40 to pass the 11-plus and I was an athlete as well, the Northumberland 200 metre champion. So I made the teachers mad."
Even at the time he was unrepentant. His horizons hadn't expanded beyond Newcastle at this point, but he had become accustomed to getting his own way: He'd had a guitar, a legacy from an uncle who emigrated to Canada, since he was seven and he'd figured out how to play it pretty quickly. Then he started writing songs, again instinctively. In his teens, he played the pubs and clubs with whatever band would have him. There was a lively sub culture in the Sixties and he had no trouble picking up a fiver a night six nights a week. Money that he invested in electronic equipment - and in that celebrated brown and yellow striped jersey from which his memorable name evolved.
"I wish I still had it. The name started as a joke really. I was working with this trad band, guys in their forties, and I was the kid who played bass. They were being patronising when they rang up and asked for Sting, but the name stuck. Soon everyone was calling me that and it gave me cachet. I don't answer if people call me Gordon now."
Success bred fantasies about earning a living as a musician, and it was Frances Tomelty who made them come true. Theirs was a theatrical romance: she was the leading lady, he was part of the orchestra. But she was Belfast born, just passing through. If Sting wanted her, he had to follow her to London. Accompanied by howls of outrage from and friends over his lost schoolteacher's pension, he did exactly that. Once there, got in touch with Stewart Copeland, who'd seen him perform back home, and The Police were born.
Much of the rest is rock history. Sting lived, in a squat in Mayfair with his bride and when he couldn't put groceries on the table, she sent him out to make commercials: Dyed white blond hair with green bits sticking out was in in 1975, and the ad execs loved him. Between times the Police toured seedy clubs in Europe without much luck. Their turning point was 'Roxanne', written in a seedy Parisian hotel room overlooking a streetful of prostitutes. 'Roxanne' wasn't one in particular; she was all of them, and for Sting, she was the ultimate date with destiny. "It was a simple song and I had no conception that this was it. We signed a record deal, money began to come in and bit by bit I became a respectable citizen instead of a squatting bum."
As surely as the royalty cheques arrived, Sting's life was torn apart. One victim was Frances Tomelty: the couple divorced in 1983. Another was The Police whose members woke up one morning to discover that their leader had left them far behind. "As you get older, you don't want to be part of a gang. Making personal statements rather than conveying the party line is a function of maturity. What had once been creative competition became draining, and the music suffered so I decided to end it, but in my own time."
It was a solo musician and an actor who walked away from the wreckage. Sting's first film parts had been in 'Quadrophenia' and 'Radio On' even before the Police took off. In the early and mid-Eighties, he resumed this interrupted secondary career with demonic manifestations in 'Brimstone And Treacle' and 'The Bride', interspersed with rather more dramatic roles in 'Plenty' and 'Dune'. In his screen mode, he displays formidable charisma combined with a less enviable talent for picking losers. Perhaps the last name on the credit list, 'Stormy Monday', due out in 1988, will change all that. Shot in his native Newcastle, Sting takes the part of gangster and jazz club owner, Finney, whose principle aim in life is to make a pile of money.
Now 36, Sting is facing the future with his customary objectivity. "I've carved out a niche for myself where I can be myself. I have a vague homespun philosophy and I sing about it. Otherwise I ski and windsurf and ride motor bikes. I read books and I try to keep an open mind about things. I don't smoke, I don't take drugs but I do have an occasional vodka. I know I have to face up to the ageing process, not fight it. I should have the common sense to get out but I think it would kill me. Above all else, I love my work."
© Miss London magazine