BILLBOARDMarch 12, 2003
The following article appeared in a December 2003 issue of Billboard magazine. The author was Melinda Newman...
A portrait of an artist...
For a man who says that his ambition was "simply to make money playing music," Sting has succeeded far beyond his wildest dreams.
Between his career with the Police and as a solo artist, he has sold a combined 100 million albums and singles, according to A&M, his label. The number is a bit too large for him to get his head around, he admits, but it sounds about right.
Today, his career and his lifestyle are something most people can only dream about: eight homes scattered throughout the world, tens of thousands of fans that scream his name in concert and membership in that elite group of artists known simply by one name.
Adding to that achievement, Sting is this year's recipient of the Billboard Century Award. The honor acknowledges the creative achievement of an artist's still-developing body of work.
Although a star for 25 years, Sting remembers very well his life before the Police and fame.
"It's important that I spent a lot of time being a real person before I became a celebrity," he says. "I was 27 before anything happened. I'd taught, I had a kid, I was married and had had a variety of jobs that had nothing to do with show business.
"So in a way, that allowed me a perspective on success and the fantasy of the hyper-reality of fame and success. So I've managed to keep it in perspective... I think," he says.
Sting was born Gordon Matthew Sumner Oct. 2, 1951, in the shipping town of Wallsend, England.
As he eloquently writes in his new memoir, "Broken Music," which hit No. 12 on the New York Times Bestsellers List this fall, he felt alienated as a child. Although his parents loved him, their unhappy marriage cast a pall over Sting and his younger siblings. His later love of literature only widened the chasm between him and his working-class roots.
From a young age, music provided solace. By his early 20s, his musical explorations led him to join several bands, where he honed his skills first as a bass player and later as a vocalist.
In an often-told story, Gordon Solomon, bandleader of the Phoenix Jazzmen, bestowed Sting's nickname after he saw the young artist wearing a yellow and black sweater.
In 1977, Sting joined drummer Stewart Copeland in the Police. The act was soon completed by guitarist Andy Summers.
In less than six years, the trio grew into one of the globe's biggest bands, consistently selling out stadiums the world over and topping charts internationally with its constant stream of hits.
But the relentless touring and infighting took its toll on Sting, who walked away from the band while it was at its zenith.
In 1985, he released his first solo album, 'The Dream of the Blue Turtles'. His subsequent solo projects have each built on his popularity. 'Brand New Day' arrived in 1999. Having sold more than 7 million copies worldwide, it is his best-selling solo release yet.
He dedicated his latest album, 'Sacred Love', to late Billboard editor in chief Timothy White. Released in September, it has already sold almost 2.5 million copies globally.
Whether with the Police or solo, Sting's often haunting lyrics reflect his beguiling intellect and fierce curiosity. His bass playing remains graceful and poignant, while his supple voice soars over the notes.
That, combined with his penchant for experimenting with different rhythms-from the reggae influences of the Police to the world beats of his recent albums-have given Sting a rare currency in the music world: He's an artist who never relies on formula but consistently delivers pop anthems that connect with the masses.
He has won 15 Grammy Awards-10 as a solo artist and five as a member of the Police. The Police were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year.
Sting's passions extend well beyond music. He has acted in many movies, including 'Quadrophenia', 'Dune', 'Stormy Monday' and 'The Bride', and he has appeared on Broadway in 'The Threepenny Opera'.
Additionally, he and his wife, Trudie Styler, have raised millions of dollars through their Rainforest Foundation, which aims to preserve the world's rain forests.
His philanthropic work will be feted in February, when he is honored as MusiCares' Person of the Year by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
In an interview conducted here during two days in mid-November, Sting laughs easily and often. Not a robust belly laugh but little outbursts of contentment, the laugh of someone who fully appreciates everything he's earned and takes nothing for granted.
He's charming, voluble and more than willing to expand on his past, even when it's an unhappy memory.
The first part of the interview takes place in a room above a rehearsal space at SIR Studios on Manhattan's West Side. Sting and his band are practicing for a 21-city tour that is already sold out, even though it doesn't start until January.
The second part of the interview occurs the next day, after a book signing at Barnes & Noble that drew more than 200 fans and left him feeling, he says, "emotional."
He goes straight into a rehearsal for his performance on the Victoria's Secret fashion show.
"Call it shallow, but there's something about skinny girls in high heels in their frillies," he says. "I don't know what it does to me, but it does something."
As he leaves rehearsal at the Lexington Armory, an autograph seeker asks Sting if he's ever collected anyone's signature. He smiles, says he has Frank Sinatra's, but shakes his head as he climbs into the sedan, saying, "Now even these guys are trying to interview me!"
Sting will receive the Century Award Dec. 10 at the Billboard Music Awards in Las Vegas. He will also perform on the live Fox-TV broadcast.
Jeweler/sculptor Tina Marie Zippo-Evans, who has custom-crafted the award for past recipients, will design the trophy for Sting as well.
Now in its 12th year, the inaugural award was given in 1992 and was named for the imminent 100th anniversary of Billboard in 1994. White created the award in conjunction with then-publisher Howard Lander.
© Billboard magazine