The following article by Christa D'Souza appeared in a July 2004 issue of The Daily Telegraph
'I'm happy to make people pay up...'
Film producer Trudie Styler talks to Christa D'Souza about life and love with Sting, jokes that backfire and her passion for her latest fundraising project.
There are all sorts of ways to spend a sunny summer's day in London. I'm spending this one with Trudie Styler, looking at a picture of a dump site in Equador. "I'll tell you, this one I went to made me dry retch," says Styler, who has just been appointed national ambassador for Unicef UK's End Child Exploitation fundraising appeal.
"I had to keep getting back in the car to get away from the smell of all the toxic hospital waste, dog waste, human waste and baby diapers. It was so sad, seeing these 10-year-olds with babies on their backs, eking out livings by separating bits of cardboard and plastic. Sting was sure I was going to bring a few children back with me. I didn't, of course - that's not the way you deal with the problem - but just look at this little girl here. I totally fell in love with her."
It is just before lunch and we are sitting in the grand, oak-panelled living room of the Georgian manse that Styler, Sting and their four children call home whenever they are in town. The house buzzes with smooth activity: Spanish housemaids bustle in and out with cups of herbal tea and bowls of organic munchies; pretty assistants and PAs check to see if everything is all right. From behind a door, the voices of two men can be heard, one of them clearly Sting, having a very important-sounding meeting.
In the midst of this industrious atmosphere is Styler herself, curled on a leather sofa under an 18th-century Italian oil painting and looking ever the multi-millionaire rock star's wife in her black cowboy boots, size nil jeans (a diet of quinoa, fruit and cashew-nut cream for the past three months has whittled nine pounds from her already slim frame) and itsy-bitsy pigtails. It's amazing to think that, last January, she turned 51, an event that the family marked by releasing thousands of helium balloons into the air when they all went to India.
Outside, in the garden, under a large elm tree, Styler's youngest child, Giacomo, is wriggling about distractedly in his chair, while having a lesson with his private tutor.
"I suddenly decided, six months ago, that I was going be a typical old rocker and have him educated at home, rather than at school," explains Styler, "which suits him because he is quite forward for his age.
"Honestly, you should have seen him the other day at the Shrek 2 première. We were on the red carpet with all these photographers and, suddenly, I heard this little voice pipe up: 'Excuse me, are you Rupert Everett? Would you like my autograph?' So, darling Rupert had to stand there while Giacomo - who writes very beautifully but very, very slowly - signs a programme for him. It was absolutely hilarious."
Mother of four, film producer, eco warrior and, now - along with Jemima Goldsmith, Robbie Williams and Ralph Fiennes - Unicef ambassador... if Styler really did sit at home in bed all day, "eating violet creams", as she herself once joked, perhaps she'd get a better rap in the press. As it is, she is always in the spotlight, and people seem to enjoy taking pot-shots at "Turdi" - the cruel nickname she was given by one gossip columnist not long ago.
Certainly, on paper, she can come across as something of a caricature with her five fabulous homes across the world, her grand celebrity lifestyle and her endless pet causes. One can see, too, how she might rub cynical journalists up the wrong way with her passion for yoga, spiritualism and "Isness" (as she calls the magical feeling she gets when she transcendentally meditates).
Me? I'm afraid I'm a sucker for all that, too, and I have to confess we spend a good deal of the interview talking about therapy and ashtanga - which, she explains, I should be doing to release all the pent-up energy she can see coursing around my head. At one point, she borrows my notebook to recommend a spiritual teacher, suggesting I immediately go out and buy some of his tapes to help me relax at night.
Yet, as open as she is, there are certain boundaries one cannot cross. When I mention a paragraph in her husband's memoirs, Broken Music, in which he likens the shape of her mouth to that of his first true love, a girl named Deborah, a tight smile is all I get for an answer. I instantly regret, too, suggesting that the book might have been better if he'd included some pictures. "Really," she says, coolly,
"I think having no pictures is great."
But we are soon back on track. And as her celebrity friends, such as Kate Moss ("She's so beautiful, I don't know what the hell is the matter with those people at Chanel! I must ask her if she can act"), Anna Friel (with whose boyfriend, actor David Thewlis, Styler has just produced a new film, Cheeky), Madonna and Guy Ritchie (whose first film, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, she produced), all know, she is a great force to have around.
She is definitely game for a laugh, too; a case in point being an interview she gave to controversial American radio host Howard Stern a couple of months ago, in which she claimed she enjoyed wife-swapping, threesomes and watching her husband pick up pretty girls at sex clubs.
"Bloody hell, that was an off-the-cuff joke that backfired," she snorts, loudly. "I've been saying those sorts of things on the Howard Stern Show for 10 years now! That's what we do - I play with him, he plays with me, and if I'm not entertaining enough, he cuts me off! But what all those newspapers who reported what I said don't realise is that Howard is a fantastic ticket seller. Fifteen minutes after the programme aired, my rainforest concert was completely sold out. That's $2,500 a ticket for a show and a bit of supper afterwards. You can't complain about that, can you?"
To a certain extent, Styler is making up for lost time. The daughter of a lampshade packer and a school dinner lady, she was brought up with her two sisters on a Midlands council estate. It wasn't, by her own admission, a happy childhood. At the age of four, she was nearly killed when a truck outside her house reversed into her. She suffered a severe facial disfigurement that caused her to be nicknamed "Scarface" throughout her school years (after extensive plastic surgery, you can still see the scar that "curls like the violent memory of an animal claw around the socket of her left eye", as Sting writes admiringly in his book).
When she was a teenager, her beloved mother developed Alzheimer's. Styler remembers a horrific incident when she came home from school one day to find her mother - by this time, clinically obese - running through the streets with no clothes on. Too embarrassed to bring her friends home from the posh grammar school she managed to get into, she spent a lot of time alone at home. "I had this very strong will to escape," she says.
She had always wanted to be an actress and she decided, at the age of 16, to go to live in Stratford-upon-Avon where she became a nanny and a cleaner to a Royal Shakespeare Company actor and his wife. In the mid-Seventies, she gained a place at the Bristol Old Vic and launched her acting career soon afterwards with a small part in the television series Poldark.
In his book, Sting describes his first encounter with Styler, in 1978, as a kind of epiphany. Styler is slightly more reticent about the moment, perhaps out of deference to Sting's ex-wife, Frances Tomelty - at the time, one of her closest friends.
"I don't think we felt we wanted to have sex with each other right there and then, it was more of a kind of human chemistry," she says. "Just as how, for our last wedding anniversary, he found a picture of me when I was 10 and he wrote a poem underneath it about the terrible fear he has about what would have happened if our paths hadn't crossed. It's the most beautiful thing I've ever read," she says, her voice faltering - and then, with a derisive snort: "I imagine that's what they'll put on my tombstone."
In her new capacity as a Unicef ambassador, she plans to organise a big Christmas charity do ("because I love Christmas"), probably at Lake House, their massive 16th-century manor house in Wiltshire. The tickets will be expensive, but Styler, in her inimitable style, will make sure that every one of her rich and famous friends buys one.
"Sting kids me that most of them have already had their phone numbers changed, but you know, I have absolutely no qualms about making people support my causes, if they can afford it. I mean, it's not as if I'm asking them to buy me a Prada dress, is it?"
© The Daily Telegraph