The following article by Nigel Williamson appeared in a March 2000 issue of The Times
At 48, Sting finds that being an adult is more important than being a pop star.
More than the Sumner of his rock'n'roll past - All grown-up: Sting has left the rock'n'roll sandpit to become a joined-up songwriter
These days Sting doesn't sound much like a rock'n'roller. Words such as discipline and responsibility litter his conversation. "I know I sound like an old fart," he laughs with a refreshing lack of self-consciousness. "But if my lifestyle doesn't tie in with being elegantly wasted and not giving a f***, then that's too bad."
He can afford not to worry overmuch about where he scores on the barometer of street credibility. The hottest ticket in town is for the former frontman with the Police, who tonight begins a run of ten sold-out dates at London's Royal Albert Hall on the British leg of an 18-month world tour in support of his latest album, 'Brand New Day'.
We are talking in one of his many grand properties, a rambling 18th-century house in Highgate, north London, all oak panelling and herringbone brickwork. Sting also has estates in Tuscany and the West Country and more homes in France and America.
But from his lofty perch as one of the world's richest rock stars (his personal fortune is estimated at £80 million), Sting suspects that young bands today have it far too easy. "They make a video and they are instant superstars. They've never had to trek up and down the M1 and hump the equipment up and down flights of stairs. When we started, I did that and held down a day job. That's a real apprenticeship. It gives you backbone and resilience," he says.
Sting, you will have gathered, is a great believer in the work ethic. "I'm not complacent because I've never defined myself by my achievements. I value myself according to whether I have worked to the best of my abilities regardless of whether or not I have been successful."
He attributes such old-fashioned attitudes to his Newcastle upbringing. "We lived next to the shipyard, there was a coal mine at the other end of town. My father left school at 15 and worked every day of his life until he died for no real reward. Yet he was a hero to me. What I learnt from him was the dignity of work and that's what I hope my children learn from me."
Yet he's come a long way from those working-class roots on Tyneside - where he was born Gordon Sumner 48 years ago - and I wonder where he now regards as home. "I suppose I don't really live anywhere," he shrugs. "I spent 20 years living in hotels. I don't relish that any more, so having the odd house around the world is very nice."
Indeed it must be and much of the media interest in Sting these days seems to centre less on his music and more on his celebrity lifestyle. He insists that he is not irritated by this. "At the end of the day I still make my living as a musician not as a celebrity. That's all I ever wanted to do and to me that seems dignified and honourable. The music is there for anybody who wants to listen. If people are more interested in my lifestyle, that's fine, too."
Where does his songwriting inspiration come from these days, given that his definition of a problem must be deciding whether to spend the weekend at his Tuscany palazzo or at his stately home in Wiltshire? Sting is unoffended by the question.
"It's hard to write a good pop song about being happy without being banal and smug. I have to be honest about my mood. I'm feeling upbeat and if that doesn't coincide with popular taste, then fair enough. But you can't lie because people detect the shallowness and insincerity."
Instead of the usual singer-songwriter soul-baring, the songs on 'Brand New Day' are written in a range of different role-playing voices. They include a cross-dressing transsexual, a garage attendant and even a dog, jealous of the man who is dating his mistress. "I've done my stint of confessional songs," he says.
To the embarrassment of his wife Trudie Styler, he also once notoriously boasted that they enjoyed seven-hour Tantric sex sessions. "These days that includes dinner and a movie as well," he jokes wryly.
Despite his affluence, Sting is still proud to call himself a socialist and is passionate about causes such as Amnesty International and Greenpeace, which he has supported for 20 years. "I am an adult, which is more significant than being a pop star. And being an adult means that we do have some power in the world and a responsibility for what the world is like and how it can change. Rock'n'roll wears the clothes of rebellion but it is really very reactionary and conservative. Stravinsky is still more revolutionary than most pop music by a long way."
Sting plays ten nights at the Albert Hall from tonight until April 7. 'Brand New Day' is out now on Polydor.
© The Times
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