11.06.98 THE MAIL ON SUNDAY


The following article by Adrian Deevoy appeared in a November 1998 issue of The Mail On Sunday magazine...

I went for a curry with Sting. In India...

It's Monday night and the weekend is but a faded stain on your singlet. You're bored with yourself and can't face cooking. Maybe you'll stay in with a takeaway and watch 'Big Train'. Or perhaps you could go out for a curry. With Sting. In India.

"Hallo, boy," beams Sting, bounding into the Spice Route restaurant, an especially tasty jewel in the crown that is New Delhi's Hotel Imperial. "A candlelit curry," he smirks surveying the sumptuous surrounds. "This is going to be romantic. Drink, darling?"

We order two improbably effeminate cocktails - featuring an unlikely alliance of lemonade and coconut milk-topped off with a type of minty spume, and settle down to talk some proper nonsense. Having spent the past two days on a spiritual joyride in Benares, Sting is in a slightly frazzled but effervescent frame of mind. "I've been on the banks of the Ganges," he marvels. "God, I've seen some of the most astonishing things. Burning bodies floating down the river, the lot."

India has become a place of regular pilgrimage for Sting. It is the logical destination for a man immersed in the double-jointed delights of yoga and the frankly time-consuming act of Tantric sex. Such is his enthusiasm for the salty sub-continent, he has even taken to wearing a dhoti - the low-slung nappy arrangement favoured by traditional Indian gentlemen. "It's just one long piece of fabric," explains Sting, "which you wind around yourself until it resembles a massive pair of underpants. The style you wrap it in depends on where you come from. It takes hours."

One tiny technical niggle for starters: how does a young man answer nature's call while sporting such complex netherwear?

"Peeing isn't a problem," he reveals helpfully. "You just pull it to one side. The other option I have yet to explore, although I suspect it's going to be very tricky."

Sting has done some daft stuff in his time. He grew his hair all long and girly, and hung around with that rainforest fella with the CD in his lip; at the very pinnacle of his fame, he went busking on the London Underground, and once laboured under the hefty misconception that 'shake and cough' somehow rhymed with 'Nabokov'. But last Saturday night, he really excelled himself.

Allow a sheepish Sting to explain: he was attending an Asian awards ceremony at which he was a guest of honour, seated at the traditional front table. Due to an acoustic oversight, the live music was so loud that Sting found himself having to surreptitiously mute the sound in order to protect his delicate, not to mention priceless hearing. Sitting with his hands clamped to his head simply wouldn't have been the done thing, but he remembered a previous occasion when he had effectively diffused the din by popping petals into his ears. Unfortunately this time, the only flowers to hand came with no such natural ornamentation, so he decided to use the stems.

Matters were further complicated when a kindly rock chum rummaged in his wash bag and found a pair of airline ear-plugs. Forgetting the foolishly-inserted foliage, a thankful Sting bunged those in, too. The rest of the evening, needless to say, passed quietly. But later that night, Sting began to experience a searing pain in his right ear. The hotel physician was called and the problem was duly outlined, with all the attendant embarrassment of the apocryphal bloke explaining how his privates got stuck in the hoover.

The doctor delved in with a pair of tweezers, but to no avail, and, as the patient's discomfort rose - if you'll pardon the horticultural pun - he referred the case to a nearby emergency unit. Now, A&E departments are never the most sought-after of post-prandial venues, but having to attend the Emergency Ear Nose and Throat department in a developing country at two in the morning can, frankly, be a downright inconvenience.

"It was horrible," reports a repentant Sting, "but they managed to retrieve this two-inch bit of stalk and I was sent home... I was going to say with a flea in my ear, more like a tree in my ear. There was some bleeding but no permanent damage has been done. Only to my pride."

More green drinks beam down and we descend into the feverish conversation peculiar to those anticipating the arrival of the poppadums. Sting says he's just read Ian McEwan's Booker Prize-winning 'Amsterdam'. "The idea is that you read it all in one sitting. I managed it in two and really enjoyed it." We discuss whether music has, in any way, been defined by technology; whether pop songs would have been three minutes long if it weren't for radio airplay; if the average length of an album is dictated by the amount of information a compact disc can store. "Have you ever wondered," asks this former teacher, "if rap music would have existed if it hadn't been for the car stereo?"

He talks tenderly about his kids: "Giacomo (the youngest of Sting's considerable brood) is three now, he's toddling around, shouting the odds." He even takes gentle criticism of his most recent thespian endeavours on the chin. "What do you mean, my cockney keeps slipping into Geordie?" he scowls dramatically, referring to his roving-accented cameo in 'Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels'. "That's the way I talk. I can't help it. Was it really that bad?' Just recently, Sting adds, almost as an after-thought, he's been trying to write some songs "but, you know, that has never been easy for me".

Could this be the same Sting whose ego used to be so large, it was said that you could see it from the moon? "That's all in check now," he laughs. "There was a time when I was arrogant and opinionated, but I'm older now. Hopefully wiser."

You want to believe him but, just as the waitress glides into view, he throws a celebrity wobbler and announces that he only wants a dessert. "I couldn't fit any more food in," he complains, lifting his T-shirt and clutching an enviably muscled and obviously empty stomach. "I've been eating all day. We'll have the curry back in London. Can I just have some ice-cream?"

Foiled by the faddy eating habits of another stratospherically-loved superstar. This job is just a series of cruel disappointments. Wonder if there's anything good on Indian telly?

© The Mail On Sunday
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