Interview: Q (1993)

March 01, 1993

The following infamous interview with Adrian Deevoy appeared in the March 1993 issue of Q magazine...

How, wondered Sting, could he divest himself of his worthy and serious, though suspiciously sexy, image? Easy. First you go busking on the tube, then endure a Big, if late, Breakfast with your old mucker Bob Geldof.

"Every Breath You Take... five kids, guv... Every Move You Make... gawd bless you, lady..."

The improbable sound of Sting's exquisite squawk reverberates around Ladbroke Grove underground station. His mellifluous ballad of betrayal and surveillance floods the tunnel between East and Westbound Metropolitan lines. The noon-day tube travellers' reactions to the busking superstar are a joy to behold: several frown inscrutably (they're not going to be fooled by some bloke who just happens to look and sound exactly like Sting); some catch themselves gawping and scurry on self-consciously; a few stop dead in their tracks; others are completely derailed and shunt spellbound towards the wall. The most touching response, however, is from a young Spanish girl who freezes in the headlights of his rough-hewn handsomeness, whispers, "Eez Steeng," and drops down on to the station steps in stunned surprise. Steeng, ever the consummate showman, addresses the middle eight to her. "Oh can't you see? / You belong to me / How my poor heart aches / With every breath you take". It's too much. The big brown eyes fill up and she has to ask her friend to pinch her. She never thought London would be like this.

The steps begin to clog with bemused customers. Should they go or is that the intro to 'Message In A Bottle'? And if he does Roxanne, then bugger it, they'll just have to be late. Sting, nimbly picking at his acoustic guitar, clad in a duffle coat he claims to have last worn when he was 11 (with a shrivelled conker in the pocket to prove it) does all this and more. He plays 'Love Is Stronger Than Justice' - a talking blues copping off with a country hoe-down - from his new album, 'Ten Summoner's Tales', he runs through 'Wild Thing', halts a version of 'Brown Sugar' halfway through the introduction because he doesn't know the words and "Mick Jagger would probably want a royalty" and then, having warmed up, he encores with a gorgeous reprise of 'Message In A Bottle' replete with punter-pleasing Spanish guitarisms and concludes the recital with a turbo-throated Roxanne. It is a quite splendid performance.

"That was bloody great," enthuses Sting, dutifully handing in his tube ticket. "Hang on, I want to buy some joss sticks..." Limply holding his guitar by the neck, he calls out absently "Roadie!" An old woman with a tartan shopping trolley glares at him and he doubles over laughing. Its been a marvellous morning and what's more he's augmented his estimated personal fortune of £40 million by 75 pence.

Sting is lunching today with Bob Geldof, old spar and one-time fellow saviour of the planet. En route to the literary club where they are meeting, Sting enthuses about Geldof's "no bullshit approach to life. You are always guaranteed a full and frank discussion." Prior to their meeting, Geldof requested a copy of Sting's new LP and, just in case retaliatory ammunition was needed, Sting ordered up Geldof's last two solo efforts.

As the cab pulls up, Geldof ambles into view. Sting bounces out and a manly Mafia-style hugathon ensues. "How'reya big boy?" smiles Geldof. "How was the busking? I bet you only played your own f***ing songs." "I was going to do 'Rat Trap'," Sting counter punches, "but it was too complex for me melodically." Touche, Oscar!

Lubricational Irish coffees and glasses of wine are ordered and a three-hour conversation, which sensitive readers should be warned contains adult language, commences. For the most part, Geldof takes the lead, firing questions, cracking jokes and laughing like a blocked drain. Sting is a more cautious customer, thinking before he speaks (an alien notion to Geldof), gently jabbing and always on the look out for a wind-up.

Q: Bob, what did you make of Sting's new album?

GELDOF: I thought 'Fields Of Gold', which is a beautiful song, sounded very Irish.

STING: It doesn't! There's no diddly diddlies on it. (laughs)

G: But it's begging to be diddlised. (laughs)

S: It is devoid of diddle.

G: You seem really cynical about yourself. There's a line, Am I a man or a mouse? / I looked in the mirror and the mirror squeaked.

S: I'm not sure I was writing about myself.

G: Oh yes you were. Come on! Don't give us that old one.

S: Maybe by accident. But what I did was say, I'm going to start writing on April 1 and finish on August 31. I'm going to be a songwriter and I'm just gong to write songs, not necessarily confessional or autobiographical songs, just songs. I didn't really want to write about me. I'm a song-writer. Do I have to f***ing slash my wrists every time I want to write a song ? Having done it on 'Soul Cages' and exorcised a lot of ghosts, I didn't want to excavate another trauma, I just wanted to write songs for fun.

G: Do you think if you wrote a song like 'Every Breath You Take' again, it would be a hit?

S: I'm not sure I want to do that. I'd rather sell discreetly, as I do.

G: At least you have that luxury. (laughs)

Q: Would it satisfy your ego to have a big hit single?

S: My ego is fairly well satisfied.

G: God, it must be by now.

Q: Wouldn't you like to be more famous?

S: No, I'm as famous as I want to be.

G: What kind of a question is that? I'm not flattering him here but Sting is f***ing famous. He has got immense credibility as a writer and a musician.

Q: Do you think you have?

G: Not at all. People wish I'd shut the f*** up, go away and do anything else but music, but that's difficult when its the one thing I really love doing. If I didn't do it, something would seriously snap. It's absolutely central to me. It's the one thing in which I invest everything: physically, financially, psychologically, emotionally. It may not work for other people but in my life it's the big thing.

Q: Does it hurt then that people don't want it?

G: I'm not hurt by it, and I'm not angered any more but it's annoying that they can no longer get past the baggage that I carry with me.

S: People don't want you to be good at more than one thing.

G: When you went off and did the jazz thing, it irritated me to death because I hate jazz.

S: That's bullshit. It wasn't jazz. I flirted with the idea of jazz and used musicians that came from the genre to see what they'd be like with a pop format.

Q: Isn't there an element of musical snobbery?

S: Yeah, there is a snobbery about music. And I'm a musical snob. But the challenge is to engage musicians like that, whose head is somewhere else.

G: What challenges you? Do you set up targets for yourself to stop from getting bored?

S: You have to have a gameplan. How do you hang in without becoming irrelevant and ending up on The Word as a has-been? I want to go on that show next week and shoot everybody. I think I'd get off. Justifiable homicide.

G: They'd probably hand you the gun.

Throughout Punk, Sting and Geldof were seen by the central core of London punk bands as little more than bandwagon-jumping lepers. Sting, after all, came from a jazz background. His music had been rejected by all the major record companies for having "too many chords". The Boomtown Rats existed between the sweatily unfashionable buttocks of R&B and pub rock. Did the two princelings of pop punk feel like outcasts?

S: Well, punk was a flag of convenience for both of us. We were four or five years older, which counted for a lot in those days. But we also had a fair bit of musical experience and we could actually play, which was total anathema to the punks. We were good musicians and that wasn't politically correct at the time.

G: People said we tried to jump on the punk bandwagon but we had a saxophone for Christ's sake!

S: I remember Stewart (Copeland) threw a party at this squat he had in Mayfair and the Pistols, and the people that would become The Clash and Generation X all turned up and Stewart decided that this would be the next big thing and that he was going to form a new band. So I joined this ersatz punk band with Stewart and things began to happen.

G: Was that all part of your Jungian thing where you used to go on about synchronicity and serendipity?

S: Well, most things happen within a structure. You have to have a structure before you can have a happy accident.

G: That's not what you used to say around the time of 'Ghost In The Machine'.

S: Oh, I need another drink!

G: But you loved being a pop star, didn't you?

S: So did you!

G: Yeah, but I felt a complete d***. But it wasn't a sexual thing with me at all because I'm just not sexy. I'm a bit of a prat, actually.

Q: But, Sting, you worked the sex symbol angle pretty hard.

S: It was good fun. Appearing in magazines, taking your shirt off. It was a laugh.

G: But you still do that.

S: Of course I do. I've still got a body, darlin'.

G: The one thing that made me want to be successful more than anything else was there was this big bash of all the new bands and there were only really 10 punk bands at that time: The Stranglers, Pistols, Clash, Damned, Ramones, Talking Heads, Elvis, Generation X, the Rats, and everyone else was invited except for us, and when we arrived they wouldn't let us in because we weren't cool. More than anything else that motivated me to succeed.

S: We used to get the same bullshit. And I always used to think, When these f***ing guys are driving taxis, I will still be a musician. And some of them are driving taxis and they sometimes pick me up and I f***ing laugh.

Q: Do you remember the first time you met each other?

G: Yeah, Gerry Cott, the Rats' guitarist, took me down to the Camden Palace to see The Police and there we only about 20 people there. He (points to Sting) was really f***ing aggressive to me. We were Number 6 with "Like Clockwork" and he was a bit embarrassed 'cos there was no-one at his gig.

S: People tell me this. I think I was just shy.

G: Well, you covered up your shyness with aggression.

Q: When did it dawn on you that you were going to become successful?

S: When I was 12. I don't know where I got the confidence from but my plan was that I'd teach for two years and then I'd go to London, which is exactly what I did.

G: Sting, the one thing that everyone thinks about you, and it irritates me, is that you seem so self-assured; there doesn't seem to be a chink in the armour.

Q: This is rich coming from Bob Geldof. You're hardly the world's least confident man.

G: I seem like that but I prevaricate and worry and I'm just not sure about myself a lot of the time. But you see Sting, at a gig especially, he's just so self-possessed.

S: But that's on stage. When I'm with my family, I can be vulnerable and not quite sure about anything. Being on stage is a f***ing war. That's not confidence you see, that's armour. It's not real.

G: It is real. All that I-knew-I'd-be-successful-at-12 stuff. I always dealt with it by bombast and by being opinionated and dogmatic. But its really self-doubt. It's been the bane of my f***ing life.

S: But don't you think that's an important part of your art? You get praised a lot for self-doubt. If you make a record that's full of self-doubt, everyone is like, Give him a Blue Peter Badge.

Talk turns to the British press, as it inevitably does with people who have felt the rough end of it. Geldof launches into a 15-minute rant which starts and finishes with him declaring that, "It's the single most anti-democratic force at work in Britain today." Sting's theory is that the tabloids have "disenfranchised the working classes in the country. It gives them no information that they can base their lives upon. No morality. It's just beer and tits."

"That's editors with too much power and not enough intelligence," spits Geldof. "Take 'em out and f***in' shoot them. Them and architects." "And accountants," adds Sting, obviously still smarting from his recent £6 million fleecing. Oh dear. Time to change the subject.

Q: You both seem to be currently engaged in what Bob Dylan recently described as "deconstructing the myth".

S: I think my myth is totally outside of my control. I don't think it's got anything to do with me as I actually am.

G: But it has. Your myth has largely to do with this sexy geezer who writes cool songs.

S: Do I look sexy to you?

G: No, you look like a c*** but you work at your body out of a certain narcissism or vanity. I wish I could be bothered to do exercise because I need to. But you're very self-aware in that respect. If a photographer comes up to you, you can just turn it on. Sexy Sting. It's instant.

S: No, Bob, it's just a strategy. It's a very artificial world. How else do you cope?

G: If I tried to do that, it could be patently ludicrous, so my vibe is being scruffy. People are seriously disappointed if I don't turn up looking a mess.

S: But women still fancy you.

G: Bollocks.

S: They do, Bob. I do.

G: Only if they fancy a bit of rough Paddy, same as the missus did 17 years ago. But you have to remember that Sting's image is very constant. The Rats' star faded and then a generation later, people saw me doing Live Aid, so there was some confusion as to what I actually did. But The Police's star never faded. They stopped when they were still massive and then you carried on. So people have a very clear, delineated idea of what Sting is about.

S: What did you think of Madonna's book?

G: Didn't read it. For the same reason as I wouldn't read the Camillagate thing. I've got (laughs) a very strict moral code. I just think it's so naff.

Q: Did you find it erotic?

S: Not at all. But I enjoyed it. I thought it was funny. And she managed to carve a bit of freedom for herself. I think she can do what she likes now.

G: She still can't make movies without being laughed at.

S: Let's face it, who can? (laughs) When are you going to make a new movie, Bob ?

G: I'm not, because I can't act.

Q: That didn't stop Sting.

G: Bitchy! (laughs)

S: Well, it's not the sort of job I really want to do. It's a very strange job to do. But, I guess, it's an attractive idea. I hadn't even been in the school play, so when someone asked me did I want to be in a movie, I jumped at it. How much did you get paid for that Pink Floyd Film?

G: At the time it seemed like a lot. I got no points which irritated the shite out of me 'cos it's a cult movie in America and Australia now. I took Fifi to see it and she wrote about it in her diary and it was brilliant. It said, Dad was in a film; he played a madman and the ending was really stupid. It brought home how bloody awful it was.

Mushroom soup and Mozzarella and asparagus salads are eaten with relish (both, curiously, devour everything apart from their sun-dried tomatoes) and the discussion heads up the road marked Deeply Profound Boulevard, Pervsville.

Q: Do you believe in an afterlife?

G: I've got no time for the idea of reincarnation. Who wants to come back as a pine table or a parrot ? Give me oblivion. Imagine not having to think anymore. What a luxury.

S: The idea of heaven used to terrify me. Infinity. The thing that bugs me about reincarnation is that everyone was Charles II or a Russian princess or something. Wasn't anyone a plumber? Do you get people who claim to have known you in a previous life?

G: All the time. I was one of the 12 or one of the six or the four whatever they were.

S: They always say they were in the crusades with me or some shit. I'm always tempted to write back and say, Actually, my past life was much more prosaic than yours. I was a doorknob in Versailles and before that I was a louse in Rasputin's beard.

G: Reincarnation's bollocks. What's wrong with just nothing? End it.

S: I don't believe in religion any more, do you.

G: I'm very ambivalent because I believe that 50 per cent of your emotional capacity is spiritual. I think that all abstract ideas are in the spiritual realm. But whether that derives from a Godhead, I don't know. I'd like to believe it, but I cannot see it. Do you believe in God?

S: I believe in my own personal God.

G: What does that mean?

S: The only religious experience I ever had in my life, I had under the influence of drugs. I took this stuff called Dead Man's Root last year. It's seven hours of the death experience which I wouldn't recommend but I had this religious experience.

G: Was it like the time you f***ed a nun? (laughs)

S: I've never f***ed a nun! (laughs) That's an Irish fantasy if ever I heard one. Anyway, when you take Dead Man's Root you...die, basically, and meet your own God. The first hour and a half you are terrified and you're in this awful, frightening place that's not in your body. Then I cried, physically wept for two hours, I went through my whole life. I was involved in stories in real time that took years and then the last two hours I was beatific, in ecstasy. A sort of sainted state. It's the whole basis of holy communion as a drug.

Q: Would you take Dead Man's Root, Bob?

G: No, I wouldn't. I'd be too afraid. It's beyond my limitations.

S: I don't believe you can get into the spiritual state without drugs.

G: What about the yoga thing? You're into that. Does it work?

S: It can take you to higher levels, yeah. I've started to use it in sex now where you don't spill your seed, you don't come. You retain it all and go on for longer. You stay erect and your stomach goes as near to the spine as you can make it whilst still allowing you to breath and you never lose control, you just keep going.

G: Where's the f***ing fun in that? Why don't you just com ? I like to come as quickly as possible. Ten seconds is about my max. (laughs)

S: But that's just leg-over.

G: What's wrong with leg-over?

S: Why not have a w***? In yoga, sex is a spiritual focus of energy.

Q: So how does sex end?

S: It ends when you choose it to. If you've gone on for four or five hours, you don't really want to come.

G: Jesus, I would! You'd be bursting! (laughs) Is it like putting coke on your knob? Have you ever done that? You're in this kind of priapic state wandering round with this big thing that won't go away. (laughs) So you just f*** for hours? It's a bit boring for the boiler, isn't it? Does she not come either?

S: That's not the point. We tend to think that the whole point of sex is about coming and ejaculating. I'm not sure that's a good attitude.

G: But isn't that just like putting it off? The old cricket score vibe where you're trying to think of something really boring to stop yourself from coming? Isn't what you're talking about just a refined version of that?

S: (sighs) Maybe I'm just kidding myself but I do enjoy sex a lot more now. And I've always loved it.

G: I noticed that.

S: (laughs) It's a lot more fun now. It's more adventurous.

G: I'd get bored stupid.

S: I don't. I think it's a constant source of imaginative play... Oh all right, of course I come. But I try to put it off as long as possible.

G: What else do you occupy your time with? (laughs)

S: Touring, albums, otherwise... emptiness.

G: I have to keep hectically busy all the time or else I get chronically bored and I'm afraid of that because when I'm bored I get these black depressions. But when you're in your house, do you ever think, f*** me, how did I get to here? Do you feel self-satisfied?

S: That's not the word. It makes me laugh actually. When I'm in the garden and I turn around and look at this f***ing huge house surrounded by beautiful park land and trees. I always think, Jesus! How did that happen? There's always this worry, and it never goes away, of someone tapping me on the shoulder and saying, Come on, we know where you're from, now f*** off! (laughs) We get paid too much money. It no secret.

Q: Do you think you deserve it?

S: No, I don't deserve it at all. But I'm damned if anyone's going to take it off me.

Q: Do you give money to beggars?

S: Sometimes. I always keep a quid handy for those guys who clean your windscreen; at least they're doing something for the money.

G: I always keep a f***ing revolver handy for those c***s.

Q: Do you receive begging letters?

G: All the time. I put them straight in the bin. I bet I get more than you.

S: I bet you don't.

G: I reckon I get at least 70 straight begging letters a week.

Q: Death threats?

G: Yeah, weird ones. I've got a file that just says 'Nutters'.

Q: The most interesting thing about Bob Geldof and Sting is their wives. Discuss.

G: I think someone like Hilary Clinton - who is supposed to be a woman who is pretty hip - has totally defined herself in terms of her husband, which I don't think is true of Trudie or Paula.

S: Socially I'm loath to go anywhere without Trudie. I don't like to go to a party without her. I don't want to do much at all without her. I certainly don't want to have a sexual adventure without her. If you have an affair with somebody, it means you exclude your best friend.

G: But would she go along on a sexual adventure with another boiler?

S: Yeah. If she was serious. Wouldn't Paula? With you and me?

G: What? A fours-up with me and Paula? She wouldn't want to shag you.

S: But would you fancy it? I think Bob Geldof secretly wants to shag me.

G: f*** off! (laughs) I do not want your greasy k*** in my face, thank you very much.

S: It isn't greasy!

G: Well it would be after all the in and out, wouldn't it?

Q: Our final question comes courtesy of Harry Enfield. Would you rather (a) Watch me shag your missus or (b) be taken up the Gary Glitter by 'Iron' Mike Tyson?

S: (pensively) I'd prefer to watch him screw the missus. I could give him a few pointers. You don't want to do it like that!

G: I wouldn't like to see him shag the missus because he's such an ugly f***er. If my alternative is getting one up the a*** from 'Iron' Mike Tyson, I'd take that as the option, because I don't think he'd be interested. (laughs) Much as I tried to turn him on, I don't think I could get him going.

Q: Gentlemen, thank you for your honesty.

When the cab taking Sting and Geldof across London to a photographic studio gets lost, it's interesting to note their respective reactions. Geldof huffs and swears and grabs the A-Z from the driver. Sting, who still has his guitar with him, sits back and composes a little song about the ridiculousness of the situation. It goes: Captain Bob is in control / But he's talking out his hole / Captain Bob is navigatin' / Might as well be masturbatin' / Captain Bob is... Geldof looks up from the map, "Shut up, you Geordie twat," he reasons.

Later tonight, they decide, they're going to take the wives to a preview of the new Dracula film. "Maybe we could get that foursome going after all," suggests Sting cheekily. "You can ask Paula if you want," muses the Irishman. "I know what the answer'll be."

Geldof happily dispatched, Sting is back at his beautiful North London home and in a more reflective, vulnerable mood. He sips his herbal tea, fiddles with some chess pieces and explains how his 16-year-old son wants to be in a band. "I've told him he should concentrate on his 'A' Levels," he sighs, as Trudie Styler wanders in and ruffles his hair. "Is that the right thing to say?" He talks about his own parents dying and the terraced house he grew up in and, for a moment, he looks as if he might fill up like the Spanish girl this morning. He gazes out into the mist hovering over Hampstead Heath and allows a wave of melancholy to wash over him. "It's been a fun day," he says sadly.

In a small way, it's comforting to know that multi-talented millionaires aren't always happy. It's like the comedian said: You can't have everything. Where would you put it?

© Q Magazine


Feb 1, 1993

Sting is amused. Given that the man's reputation is that of an intellectual with all the warmth of an android in an iceberg, this is a moment worth savouring. Worth marking off and pressing into the scrapbook of memory. Not that he's unleashed a torrent of giggles and guffaws. Rather, it's something that's just there, something that surfaces in his wry, patient tone of voice. The thing that has provoked this rare display is a question - a couple of questions, actually - about his alleged frostiness...

Feb 1, 1993

Sting lightens up, brings a ragbag of styles to latest disc. Sting, an English teacher turned pop star, is often typecast as a dour, cerebral man who cracks a smile only rarely. He's a leader among pop's serious social warriors who staged Live Aid, mounted the Amnesty International tour and committed time and money to protect the world's rain forests. Sting's tightly strung, often confessional image was further heightened by his last album, 'The Soul Cages', a ruminative, rite-of passage work about the death of his father...