THE DAILY EXPRESSFebruary 01, 1996
The following interview with Alan Jackson appeared in a February 1996 issue of the Daily Express newspaper...
A magnificent country house deep in the English shires and an informal lunch is served at the kitchen table. Sitting at its head, he seems an unlikely architect of controversy, this father of six who cradles his baby son and listens as wife Trudie Styler and guests chat of films, farming and football.
But if almost two decades on the world stage have taught Sting anything, it is that there is no point in being surprised when the Press or public rise up in indignation against you.
An intelligent and forthright man he knows that is the price you sometimes pay for speaking your mind. A soon-to-be-published biography of Sting, unauthorised and pieced together from the cuttings files, may leave him open to misinterpretation yet again however. "According to it, I'm a sex maniac and drug addict," he notes with weary resignation.
"Well, look at me - if it were true, wouldn't you say I represent a pretty good advert for that lifestyle?"
And you have to see his point. Crop-haired, muscled and radiating good health, he looks easily 10 years younger than he actually is. "It's funny because I have led a pretty wild life, but none of it's in the book," he continues.
"Now, my book on Sting would be interesting to read. Yes, I've experienced a lot in the past, put myself through things as a kind of learning process, but I've certainly come out the other side in one piece. But I'm not sure I'm wise even to say that in the current climate."
In particular, he challenges the biography's assertion that he suspects his home town of Wallsend to be full of his illegitimate children, the result of an allegedly promiscuous lifestyle led before he met and married his first wife, actress Frances Tomelty.
"I can categorically deny ever suggesting such a thing, because it would simply not be true," he insists. "Like any other adolescent, my formative years were full of both adventures and misadventures, but the implication that I've actually sired other unacknowledged children is a ludicrous one. I have never had a paternity suit brought against me, let alone had to contest one. And as to the suggestion that an ex-girlfriend of mine ever aborted our child and subsequently committed suicide - well, it doesn't merit a reply. It's absolute rubbish."
Sting, who has never lacked the courage of his convictions, has no regrets about his controversial drug statement.
"I don't back down from what I said - I completely stand by it," he insists. "I think that the situation which currently exists in our country with regard to the criminalisation of drugs is unsatisfactory and protects no one other than the gangsters who profit from supplying them. By ignoring this fact we are leaving our young people in the hands of such villains."
A dedicated family man - documentary film-maker Trudie gave birth to their fourth child, Giacomo, just six weeks ago, while he has a teenage son and daughter from his earlier marriage - Sting is anxious that no subjects should be taboo for discussion between he and his children.
"Particularly with regard to drugs, there's an open channel between them and me," he says. "They know they can talk to me about them, have done so and, I hope, will continue to do so. Because I think that the idea of criminality can so easily raise a barrier, not only between parents and children but between the police and young people in general."
The drug row began after an informal chat with a European journalist, a promotional tool to publicise next month's new solo album, Mercury Falling, and a subsequent world tour. Somewhere along the way; though the subject of Britain's fast-growing Ecstasy culture had been introduced into the conversation, and the 44-year-old superstar found himself being asked to comment on the recent spate of related deaths among youngsters. They were indicative of a problem which isn't going to go away, he said. Therefore, we should accept the fact, and consider making the drug legal.
A singular and provocative view perhaps, but hardly an unexpected one - Sting has spoken often of his belief that only the legalisation of potentially fatal drugs will allow society to effect their safe and controlled usage. The climate of fear created among parents by the tragedies of Leah Betts and others gave his views a new currency, however.
With just one phone call to a Fleet Street news desk, that European journalist triggered the call for all right-thinking Britons to rise up in outraged protest. The resulting generational divide is, Sting believes, widened yet further by the British Establishment's continuing close relationship with the tobacco and drinks industries.
"There's an hypocrisy that is very evident to young people who are making choices about drugs. The hospitals are full of patients who have contracted lung cancer from smoking cigarettes; a legal drug. Or those who have sclerosis of the liver from drinking too much alcohol; again, a legal drug. But because they're the preferred drugs of the government - of politicians and judges and lawyers - they're deemed to be acceptable."
He adds: "It's a fundamental problem, and one that's going to be hard to tackle. Someone who gets through 40 cigarettes during the day and who then drinks nine pints of lager at night isn't going to want to accept that they're a drug addict, but obviously they are. And if you're going to argue that soft drugs lead the user on to other things, you must apply the same principle to the consumption of tobacco and alcohol. Only when we acknowledge our hypocrisy can we expect youngsters to listen to us."
His solution to the drugs problem is to consider adopting a scheme currently operational in Holland whereby users can, without recrimination, have drug supplies tested by officials for strength and purity. "It allows them to know exactly what it is that they're considering taking and hence gives them a guideline for usage," he says. "And currently we're offering youngsters no guidelines at all. Something like 500,000 tablets of Ecstasy are taken in Britain each week, without any kind of monitoring or practical advice. That to me, is criminal because it's putting people at risk."
Sting is at pains to point out that he is not encouraging the use of this or any other drug. Although I believe that legalisation would produce a climate safer than the one currently prevailing, I'm not advocating drug usage at all. I'm simply saying that it is a fact of modern life that our nation is using drugs, and that consequently we should seek to make things safer. There should be greater public debate about it, though not necessarily fronted by a rock star, as I'd be the first to admit."
This latter view, coupled with his own immovable promotional and rehearsal schedule so close to an LP release and tour, has led him to reluctantly turn down an invitation by Jonathan Dimbleby to front a television debate on the legalisation of drugs.
"I would love to have done it, but only if I had the time to prepare myself properly, to have all the relevant facts and figures at my disposal. I think it vital that the issue be discussed though, because the level of hysteria surrounding it at the moment is quite staggering. I'm told a group of radio stations were actually threatening to ban my records in reprisal for my expressing an opinion, which is almost akin to McCarthyism. I'm not alone in my views though, there has been a lot of support for what I said.
"Let me make it very clear, though that it was never my intention to upset the family of Leah Betts - I have nothing but sympathy and respect for their grief. And I'm actually on their side. I, too, want our youth to be protected."
As he speaks, a chill mist hovers over the surrounding acres of Wiltshire countryside - his country estate borders that of Lord and Lady Tryon - and he throws another log on the fire warming the vast and beautifully-restored drawing room in which we sit.
"It takes a lot to get me to leave here," he says of the home where he wrote and recorded all of 'Mercury Falling', the follow-up to last year's multi-platinum Best Of... collection, 'Fields Of Gold'. Its 11 well-crafted and, at times, witty new songs combine to give an impression of a personality far removed from the hectoring and rather humourless Sting of popular prejudice.
So while certain peers of Sting's chase supermodels, court their children's nannies, or set up home with girlfriends 20 years younger he would seem to be holding any mid-life crises neatly at bay. Indeed such is his loyalty to the marital bed that he has recently boasted of using yoga techniques to prolong love-making sessions for up to five hours before orgasm. He smiles broadly when reminded of this, then looks pensive. "There's a theme of self-acceptance running through these songs, and it's a relatively new acquisition for me," he says eventually.
"I was alienated and angry as a younger man, and railed against the world as a result. Now I feel much more comfortable within my own skin. I actually quite like myself these days. "It's not that I'm complacent, but I do accept more readily the things I can't change - like growing older, for a start. Some things don't change, of course. I still like beautiful women, but then I tell Trudie that the day I'm tired of beautiful women is the day I'll be tired of her. I'm certainly not of a mood to go to discos and try to pick them up though - I'm not interested in that sort of behaviour whatsoever these days."
If that's bad news for the paparazzi, at least his recently-proven ability to provoke media frenzy simply by speaking his mind should keep him in the headlines. Because Sting is not about to start toning down his opinions for anyone's sake... 'Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot' is the title of his new single, and in cheerful middle age it seems as apt a motto for him as any.
"You know," he concludes with a self-mocking grin, "I sometimes wonder what my children will have to do to shock me. When your own parents are delinquent, what's left to you?"
© The Daily Express