09.14.03 THE SUNDAY TIMES
The following interview by Jasper Gerard appeared in The Sunday Times in September 2003...
So very pleased with every breath he takes...
"I feel like Ilie Nastase returning to Wimbledon," says Sting as he drops his strides. He is changing outfits between songs for a Top of the Pops appearance while reflecting how, at 51, he is most certainly a senior on the pop tour. But unlike Nastase, Sting is still making winners. After 25 years in the music business, he is still the world's bestselling solo performer. He looks infuriatingly fit in the altogether: tanned, muscular and surprisingly hairy.
His only physical flaw is a finger broken in three places - and he even did that in zestful spirit, capsizing while rafting in Nepal the other day. Having discarded sweaty jeans, he dons chalk stripes. Is this the Al-Capone-meets-City-slicker look?
"F off. You're not a fashion journalist. This is f Jean Paul Gaultier." Ah yes, serious Sting, said to take mockery with less amusement than Queen Victoria. Having failed to save the rainforest, his latest crusade is Iraq. His new album, Sacred Love, was recorded in the build-up to war: "You may win this coming battle," he sings, "but could you tolerate the peace?" For one of Labour's most celebrated supporters, he sounds mighty out of tune with Tony Blair. "I am angry my country has gone to war on a premise that was clearly a crock of s."
Has it made him cynical about Labour? "I'm disappointed by spin. It can't go on, it sets a very bad example; we are meant to be the world's most democratic people. But truth simply seems to be (Labour's) fallback position, because they are mainly recruited from the legal profession."
His song This War features a politician standing on the white cliffs of Dover looking at his soul crashing on the rocks. "It's about someone who has let political expediency get in the way of ethics." Yep, that would be Blair. Sting laughs, then frowns: "We are in an incredible mess: our troops, our country, our credibility.
"I've got no answers," he says, breaking into an embarrassed grin, "except what songwriters always say, 'love'." But surely he's too bright to believe that? "Of course I believe it," he says firmly. "I think the world's problem is lack of love. The Osamas and Udays can't have had much love because they end up monstrous bullies."
If Osama tunes in to the hit parade from his dark cave, he will go mental when he hears Sting's refrain: "There's no religion but sex and music." Sting laughs: "He clearly doesn't like music. I don't know whether he likes sex..."
But while nobody can doubt that Sting likes sex - we will not reprise his penchant for tantric tussles - surely it's just Californian psychobabble to so elevate sex. "Well, it's my religion; to reconnect with the world of spirit."
While connecting with the spiritual, Sting has never lost touch with the material. Does he detect any contradiction between his right-on opinions and his wealth? "Well I didn't get my wealth - and it is a rather large amount - by exploiting people. There's no sweatshop in the Far East making my songs." He smiles: "The sweatshop is in my house and I'm the one sweating. I think I spend my money well; I employ a lot of people, I pay them well."
So he never feels guilty? "Well, my luxury is my beautiful homes." He owns seven. "I use them all; I travel extensively round the world. I used my home in Wiltshire yesterday, my home in London last night, my home in Italy at the weekend. The same will happen in New York at the end of the month, then on to LA. I spent a quarter of a century living out of a suitcase. All I'm asking is to be in my own home. My kids appreciate that: we are a peripatetic family: I can work from America, Britain or Italy."
One song on his new album, 'Dead Man's Rope', features a fellow who moves around to avoid reality. Does Sting? "Hmm," he ponders, cradling his legs on the sofa. "We all have to face up to mortality, no matter how successfully you move round the world. My philosophy," he continues, "is I would like to die without fear; an acceptance that dying is as normal as birth. I haven't got there yet, I must admit.
"I would like to live to a ripe old age. I was walking in my garden the other day and thought, 'I could do with another 50 years of this.' But death might be round the corner. Even money can't protect you from that, unfortunately."
So being an international rock god is simply a way of avoiding death? "All of us are in denial. But we shouldn't stop working. Work defines us. And living in that paradox is what makes us interesting."
So has work saved him from the excesses of stardom? "I've experimented with certain hedonistic lifestyles," he says carefully. "But it's not really me: it's very short-term pleasure."
Writing his autobiography has brought on melancholia about the death of his parents, a hairdresser and milkman (with whom, from the age of eight, Sting had to rise at 4am to deliver pintas in his native Newcastle). Both parents died of cancer in 1987-8 when they were not much older than Sting is now. "I couldn't shed one tear. I was bewildered by that. I realised I had to do something to bring this stuff out."
His parents were a taciturn couple, with meal-time conversation restricted to "pass the salt", while love was guessed at, not expressed. The book, which deals with his early years, has helped to let tears flow and, he says: "I hope, in some way, to honour their lives."
He has struck many poses, but at least Sting has never played the working-class hero. "I don't have to wear it as a badge. I think I live in a meritocracy, I have just been awarded a K or something." Er, that would be your CBE. "Yes, Commander of the British Empire. I was a little ambivalent about it; there's a republican in me. But then I thought it would be churlish to refuse: I've done the best job I possibly could, representing Britain in the world. My mother would have been delighted."
His book will touch on his youthful loutishness, which earned him 42 beatings in one school year. The book ends when he is 25, thus avoiding the pain of his divorce from Frances Tomelty, who at the time was great friends with Trudie Styler, his second wife.
You are praised, I venture, for having the perfect rock... "Arse?" he offers. No, marriage. How have you managed to, well, keep it up? You must have been offered some fairly attractive groupies? "Um, yep," he bows shyly.
"Trudie and I have been together 23 years. We are fortunate to still be romantically attached. She's in Toronto at the film festival and I miss her terribly. But I don't want a little woman waiting for me; I want her to have freedom, and she allows me freedom. I can't quite put my finger on why it's lasted when six weeks is the showbiz norm. I'm just glad it has."
So what does he reckon it's like being Mrs Sting? "I'm sure I get on her nerves, but she knows me and still loves me, which is amazing. Occasionally I'm a bit of a grump."
The happiest marriage in showbiz, six children, seven homes and he's worth ¬£165m. Is it hard to write tortured love songs when his life is so tickety-boo? "I used to manufacture some crisis to be creative."
Deliberately row with the wife? "Oh, just cause trouble. I don't want to live that way any more. I've had enough heartache to remember it."
Abroad, he is lauded for his planet-saving campaigns but here he is lampooned: "If I came across as arsey, I still don't regret it." But most Brits just wondered why Sting appeared on Wogan with some foreign bloke who looked like he had a CD jammed into his upper lip. That must rankle? "No, I'm as English as you, I understand..." Indeed, his manners are impeccable, jumping to his feet when I offer to answer the door: "You are my guest."
Grey is creeping into his stubble but his locks, infuriatingly, have receded no further in years. "When I was 24 I thought I'm going bald but then it just stayed," he smiles. "I would like to go on (performing) for another decade. I'm not wearing a corset or wig or spandex trousers," he says, feigning to hide the contents of his cupboard.
He fears the longevity of his rocker peers will not be emulated by the Robbie Williams generation: "There are fewer iconic artists who will have a career of 30 years and end up in Vegas. There's a lot of wastage; if you don't make it instantly, you are out."
He accepts he sounds like a curmudgeon when he lays into yoof stars: "You do a few dance steps and mime a track you probably haven't sung, and you are a huge star. If you haven't done that gruelling thing travelling up the M1 to grungy clubs, success can't be so crystallised."
Contradictory? Pretentious? Too bloody rich? Of course. But as star of the seniors' tour, Sting is showing promising signs of self-mockery. What would he do if he retired? "Topiary," he smiles. "Making giant penises." Flip; but somehow more endearing than saving rainforests.
© The Sunday Times
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