Interview: DAILY MAIL (2014)

June 22, 2014

The following article by Geordie Greig appeared in a June 2014 issue of The Daily Mail...


Why my children will not be inheriting my £180million fortune: Sting wants his sons and daughters to earn their way (and says he's spending all his money anyway)

As one of the world's most successful rock stars, he has risen from an impoverished childhood to amass a huge fortune.

Now Sting has made it clear that his children will also have to earn their own way and should not expect to benefit from his £180 million earnings.

In a frank interview in today's Mail on Sunday Event magazine, the former Police frontman said he expected his three sons and three daughters to work, and added that there would not be much left to inherit anyway.

Sting, 62, who still has more than 100 people on his payroll, said: 'I told them there won't be much money left because we are spending it! We have a lot of commitments. What comes in, we spend, and there isn't much left.'

He added: 'I certainly don't want to leave them trust funds that are albatrosses round their necks.

'They have to work. All my kids know that and they rarely ask me for anything, which I really respect and appreciate.

'Obviously, if they were in trouble I would help them, but I've never really had to do that. They have the work ethic that makes them want to succeed on their own merit.'

Sting is not the only celebrity who expects their children to stand on their own feet.

Celebrity chef Nigella Lawson said a few years ago: 'I am determined that my children should have no financial security. It ruins people not having to earn money.'

It's not exactly rock 'n' roll, but the woman who really changed Sting's life - sorry, Trudie - was the Queen Mother.

Young Gordon Sumner, dressed in his Sunday best almost 50 years ago, was mesmerised as her Rolls-Royce swished past the front door of his street in Wallsend, North Tyneside.

The Sumners were poor, working-class Geordies; his parents Audrey, a hairdresser, and Ernie, a milkman.

The Royal visitor was there to launch a ship built at the end of his street at the Swan Hunter shipyard. Sting's grandfather had been a shipwright and the young Sumner was expected to go into a manual job, too.

The biggest vessels on the planet were hammered, welded and built there long before Gordon became Sting (named for wearing a black-and-yellow jersey, like a wasp).

'The Queen Mum waved and looked at me, and I looked back at her and that was it,' he says.

'There and then I thought, I am going to be rich, famous, successful and drive a Rolls-Royce like her.'

He decided he would use his voice and guitar to get a big house in the country, great wealth and acclaim. And so it all came to pass.

Now aged 62, the rock star, eco-warrior, father of six and grandfather laughs as he tells of the inspiration for his aspiration, all courtesy of the House of Windsor.

This is just one of a torrent of revealing anecdotes in a candid and wide-ranging interview, in which he tells Event about his complicated family background, his politics, children, death, drugs, Botox, the secrets of his long and happy marriage - and why his children won't be getting their hands on his fortune.

Today it's his own childhood that's playing on the mind of the boy from Wallsend who went on to buy seven homes across Britain, Italy and the U.S., sell more than 100 million records and earn an estimated £180 million.

Because to get all that, Sting tells me, he had to escape his family and abandon his North East roots.

'It was a pretty violent wrench. I didn't feel I belonged there and the family was pretty dysfunctional in many ways. My parents were not happy together.

'They loved their kids but it was a toxic environment. I needed to escape and I am glad I did.'

His mother was unfaithful, which eventually led to the breakdown of the marriage, and divorce.

Sting pursued his dream, which his father dismissed as delusional. And, at times, fame and fortune did look like fantasy, as Sting struggled through a series of jobs before finally becoming a teacher, his musical talents unrecognised.

He moved to London and began hurtling up and down the M1 to play gigs in pubs.

It was all small beer until 1979, when with his band, The Police, he exploded into the charts with Roxanne and everything changed.

And so the rest - five No 1 records with The Police, huge success as a solo artist, starring roles in movies, rainforest crusades, 16 Grammy awards and the most enduring marriage in rock 'n' roll (not to mention fending off 1,000 questions about tantric sex) - is well-rehearsed history.

Less well known is the acutely personal inspiration for his latest project, a compulsively toe-tapping, heart-rending musical called The Last Ship.

The musical, which had its world premiere in Chicago last week, draws upon his early life growing up around the harsh shipyard docks. Sitting in his 20th-floor penthouse in a Chicago hotel after overseeing final preparations for The Last Ship's maiden voyage, Sting talks with boyish wonder that his musical, four years in the making, is finally on stage. Next stop, Broadway.

'The irony is that I'm going back to Wallsend, from where I had done everything in my power to escape,' he says.

'But we have to go back to where we came from and reassess, give thanks for it and honour it. I want to celebrate where I came from; that town, what they did, and the hardship.'

In The Last Ship, a young man runs away from home, returning 15 years later to discover he had fathered a child before he left, only to abandon his home town again, on a ship after the shipyard goes bust.

The songs, he says, came in a rush of inspiration following a period of writer's block. He knew it should be a musical, and from the off knew that one of his oldest pals from the North East, Jimmy Nail, would star in it. (The actor and sometime musician is the one person on the planet who gets to call Sting Gordon.) The music is as addictive as his most potent songs - all are written by Sting - and after Broadway he would be happy to see it open in London.

The story draws on Sting's ruptured relationship with his father.

'A father's love can sometimes be misconstrued,' he says.

'It can be about control; it comes from anxiety.

'A father wants to dictate to a son what he should or should not be doing. And to my father the ambition I had seemed like bulls***, pie in the sky. And he wasn't wrong. I wanted to be a successful musician; the chances of that coming off were millions to one. He thought it was ridiculous. “Get a proper job!”

'Once I had become successful he was proud of me, but he never really understood it.

'I passed the 11-plus to get into a grammar school with a scholarship but he had wanted me to go to a technical school. Engineering was what he knew and did.'

Sting's aim was more fanciful.

'I had some vague idea I wanted to study the classics, speak French and Latin.'

His goal was always to escape.

Such aspirations were more encouraged by his mother.

'She initiated me in the dark arts of music and dreaming. She lived her life through me and encouraged me to do all the things my dad did not understand.

'Did I have to divorce my dad? As much as any son has to do so to individuate. You have to. It's part of growing up. You have to leave the nest. Sometimes it's painful. It is necessary.'

Sting did not attend either of his parents' funerals, because he felt the inevitable media intrusion would be disrespectful, but he did pay his dad a final farewell as he lay dying of cancer.

As he sat beside him, Sting suddenly realised 'with the jolt of an electrical shock' that for all their differences, their hands were identical. “We have the same hands, Dad, look!” I was a child again, desperately trying to get his attention.'

Sting held his father's hand next to his own, but little was said by these two strong Tyneside men. One sentence, however, stayed in Sting's memory.

'Aye, son, but you used yours better than I used mine.'

It was the first time Sting could recall ever hearing a compliment from his dad, or being acknowledged for what he had achieved.

His father, just 59, closed his eyes in exhaustion, Sting kissed him softly in the centre of his forehead and whispered that he was a good man and that he loved him. They never saw each other again.

For years Sting felt unable to grieve properly for the loss of his parents.

He dedicated his 2005 memoir, Broken Music, to his parents but his new musical is obliquely a tribute as well. His voice lowers to just above a whisper as he recalls his dad. It is still a tender subject, 27 years after his death.

When I ask Sting when he last cried, there is a silence before he says: 'Just now.'

And he clearly is moved. He does not do public tears. The musical ends with a funeral, a joyous and celebratory one, at sea, and he feels as if many wounds are being unconsciously healed, many unsaid words being heard.

'Last night [at the theatre] I just thought back to my dad,' he says, 'and I think other members of the crew also did to theirs.'

Mortality is on Sting's mind, as he is now three years shy of 65, but he says he is relaxed about growing old.

'I've never hidden my age. I am a father and now a grandfather and I am proud of that [his youngest son, Giacomo, is 18 and his eldest, Joseph, 37].

'I have a story still to tell and part of that is I am facing the end of my life.

'I have lived more of my life than is to come: that is an interesting place for an artist - more interesting than writing about your first girlfriend. It is kind of serious,' said Sting

'In our 60s, how do we face this imponderable idea that we are not going to exist any more? We make art. We tell stories. We have to face it, to tell it. I am certainly not ready for death. Do I fear it? Well, I fear sudden death. I want to die consciously. I want to see the process. I suppose I already do.

'My eyesight is not as good as it used to be, nor my hearing. I am still extremely fit but have to work hard. But we decay. I love what Christopher Hitchens said about death - you have been asked to leave the party and the problem is the party will carry on without you. Very eloquent.

'But I am interested in the future. What will happen to the planet and us? I want to use every minute to enjoy it.'

While Sting outshone his parents, the challenge now for his own children is competing with the success he's achieved through what he modestly calls his 'singing and rhyming couplets'.

'My generation all assumed we would have a better standard of living. The one that we spawned cannot assume that.

'With my children there is great wealth, success - a great shadow over them - so it's no picnic at all being my child. I discuss that with them; it's tough for them.'

Sting does not believe they will inherit great riches.

'I told them there won't be much money left because we are spending it! We have a lot of commitments. What comes in we spend, and there isn't much left.

'I certainly don't want to leave them trust funds that are albatrosses round their necks. They have to work. All my kids know that and they rarely ask me for anything, which I really respect and appreciate.

'Obviously, if they were in trouble I would help them, but I've never really had to do that.

'They have this work ethic that makes them want to succeed on their own merit. People make assumptions, that they were born with a silver spoon in their mouth, but they have not been given a lot.'

Sting has more than 100 people on his payroll.

'I keep a community of people going. My crew, my band, my staff... it's a corporation!' Who runs it? 'Trudie! Well, a large aspect of it is Trudie, but I have a very good team of managers and lawyers. They all need paying, too.'

Selling the family home in London should raise some extra funds, then. The nine-bedroom townhouse, a stone's throw from Buckingham Palace, is currently on the market for more than £15 million.

'It's just too big,' he says. 'The kids have all gone and there are just so many empty bedrooms. We're just rattling around. But we are not leaving. I love England. I'm still English.'

Sting is not afraid to speak his mind and has stuck his neck out by campaigning for the decriminalisation of drugs. Does he really believe they help the creative process?

'I think if they're used specifically as tools for a stated purpose. As in, “I'll now smoke this joint and I'll write a song... or I will write a piece of poetry.”

'Then I think it's perfectly acceptable. But if you're just taking stuff to get out of it, then you'll just get out of it.

'If I'm feeling stuck on a lyric or an idea isn't quite gelling, sometimes a puff of weed will free it up.

'I rarely smoke it socially. It's a tool, just as a pen is. I'm not alone. Several artists have used drugs to make great art.

'I certainly wouldn't advocate that you have to take drugs to make art, but then you can't nullify the work of The Beatles. They took LSD and they made fantastic albums.

'Miles Davies made the most extraordinary music on heroin.

'Some people can cope with it perfectly well. I'm not here to make rules, or even state that there should be any rules. Drugs are dangerous, without a doubt.

'At the same time they can be useful tools but they need to be thought about as tools.'

So where does he stand on the legalisation of drugs?

'Legalising is a very complex issue. Decriminalisation is a first step, because I don't think it [criminalisation] helps. I don't think the social problems related to drugs are helped by the legal system or the police.

'Social problems and mental problems are best dealt with by psychiatrists.'

And what about when you see casualties of drugs, like Whitney Houston or Amy Winehouse?

'There are laws in place right now and they haven't protected Amy, they haven't protected anyone. I tell my children to be extremely careful. Luckily, they're not particularly prone to drug-taking, to my knowledge. But they're smart and they're careful.

'The drug laws aren't helping. We need a really honest debate in society. People will tend to want to make life richer. Life seems flat a lot of the time. Chemicals, alcohol, marijuana can help. It's almost a spiritual need to re-enchant life.

'I think that people are disenchanted with modern living and the drug culture is an attempt to re-enchant the world. It can, and it can fail.'

Sting has a ferocious fitness regime and a healthy diet. He drinks. He does not smoke. He has tried Botox twice, to relax a wrinkle on his forehead, but has no plans to try it again.

'I don't want to go down that path. I am not that vain.'

He has lived the rock 'n' roll life to the full and is candid about it. In fact, he seems a man of few secrets. He emails a close coterie of friends on a regular basis and that almost acts as his diary.

Have there been failures? He hesitates. He divorced his first wife, the mother of his two eldest children, and his memoir hints of other sadnesses.

'Relationships could have been better. No names. I'm still learning. When you're young you make mistakes. But were they failures? It's not a word I like.'

What has certainly worked is his marriage. He is passionate about Trudie.

'I am married to an extraordinary, gifted woman who surprises me every day with her intelligence, her compassion and her talent.

'Above all else, I like her. She walks into a room and my world lights up. She is sunshine.

'I am very fortunate. I like what she says, the way she laughs. Her sense of humour.

'We share the same nostalgia, we come from the same working-class homes in the North of England. We remember the same TV shows, same commercials, same daft jokes that tickled us as kids.

'We have a lot in common. Both of us went to grammar school. I was educated with kids like me but also lawyers' and doctors' sons learning eclectic things with sons of miners, every sort. It gave you a sense of the world, a bigger world.

'But marriage is a daily negotiation, a daily compromise, a daily debate, a reassessment.

'I make all the big decisions, but luckily in the past 30 years there haven't been any!

'I don't want to jinx it by saying we have a secret formula. We appreciate our time together. I miss her when I am touring and we are apart.'

When it comes to overnight stars like Justin Bieber, he says he's glad he had to work from the ground up to get his rewards.

'I came up in an era of playing pubs for ten quid each and going back night after night. I served on the shop floor. It builds a resilience and a toughness.

'If it had all been handed to me on a plate, I'm not sure I would appreciate it or have survived.

'These days you can become an international superstar overnight with a video aged 18 or 19, but I don't envy them.

'I don't know how you cope with that without another life with which to compare it. I had a job, a mortgage and children. I was a tax worker! It's not about fame - anyone who wants fame needs their head examined - it is about happiness.

'But the shop floor I have described has disappeared. Pub rock became stadium rock, so there aren't places for people to play. It's hard for young musicians. You can make a killing, but it's hard to make a living.'

Does he feel guilty about his wealth?

'Why would I feel guilty? It's not a useful emotion. I use my houses and love having them. I am grateful I have made money.

'I appreciate it because I spent much time without it. I use my money well. I am not a billionaire. I am very well off and I am certainly not complaining. I was not given it. I earned it through hard work and it was hard work. You try singing for two hours, getting on a plane every day. It's hard, but I love it.'

Despite the fame, he tries to live as normal a life as possible.

'I demand a citizen's life - I really do. Walking the street; going to a bar on my own. But there is also a bit of the school master in me.'

When he was mobbed at the airport, he firmly told fans it was inappropriate to be chasing autographs when he was trying to get his luggage.

'I want to be able to pick up my bags from the carousel and walk to the car. There are times when I don't want or need attention.'

Sting is not interested in party politics, but instead takes a philosophical view on events, including the war on terror.

'It's a very odd phrase this “war on terror”,' he says. 'Let's try to understand it a bit before we declare war on it. I think most of our problems are a lack of consciousness about things, a low level of understanding of reality.

'For me, jihad is a metaphor - you are fighting your own demons in your own mind. The Promised Land is another metaphor. The Virgin Birth, Adam and Eve is a metaphor. They are beautiful metaphors but when you accept them as literally true then you are in very dangerous territory.

'This is happening in all religions. I don't have a religion. They have a right to believe but they can't foist that on everyone else. We are not blameless. We created Iraq, Jordan, Syria.

'We just drew arbitrary lines on a map to control resources and people, disregarding tribal affinities, and that is always going to cause problems. No belief or region has a monopoly on stupidity.'

And on that note it is time to head back to the theatre. He is happy to spend a 12-hour day making sure his new baby gets better and better.

'The play continues to grow and it is exciting but there is still much to do. I'm utterly exhausted but seriously happy.'

The show must go on. It is a piece of musical theatre as compelling on the head, the heart - and the toe. Singing, rhyming couplets - and spending. It's what Sting does.

'The Last Ship' opens on Broadway on October 26 (previews from September 29). For tickets, go to

(c) Daily Mail by Geordie Greig


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Jun 18, 2014
"The message you brought to the world 25 years ago is as important, in fact it’s even more important now as it was then. It is absolutely crucial that the people of the world are again made aware of these growing issues and what we can all do to address them. There are years of hard work ahead for the Rainforest Foundations and other NGOs who work to support these communities but there is also something very simple we can all do. We can listen to this man, my friend, Chief Raoni and his nephew, Chief Megaron, and learn from their experiences. They have valuable lessons about our world from which we can all benefit. Ultimately, this developing, progressing world we live in needs to recognise that these forest communities are not a ‘problem’ but that they are actually an implicit part of the solution to the global problems we now all face….Through upholding histories, we can protect futures." - Sting.