Interview: THE EVENING STANDARD (2005)

August 09, 2005

The following article by Liz Jones appeared in an August 2005 issue of The Evening Standard magazine...

Trudie Styler is returning to acting, but the role that made her famous is Mrs Sting the rock wife who wears couture, has Tantric sex, grows potatoes and saves the rainforests. Liz Jones gets a private performance.

The last time I saw Trudie Styler in the flesh, she was front row at Versace in Milan, watching the likes of Gisele Bundchen and Carmen Kass sashay past in all their earlytwenties loveliness. She was seated next to her husband, Sting, and was holding on to him for dear life, as if he might be filled with helium and would, at a moment's loss of concentration on her part, float tantalisingly out of her grasp. She was like that too when I saw her on the telly at Live 8. There she was in a great big hat and floaty dress, clinging to her husband like a Russian vine, all simpering noises and ingratiating angles. Yeughh. I hate women like that. Stupid women, usually blonde, who are defined by their husbands; who are too terrified to ever let their man out of their sights.

But, and it's a big but, when I actually meet Trudie Styler, in the beautiful offices of her film production company, Xingu Films ('Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels' was one of her successes; in 2003 she made a documentary about Bangladeshi child labourers and she is soon to work with Robert Downey Jr on a film about New York), overlooking St James's, she isn't remotely what she seemed. Instead, she is incredibly businesslike, incredibly sure of herself, doesn't simper one bit and is disarmingly selfdeprecating and honest.

She is more beautiful in the flesh, too, very slim in her tight blue jeans, skin taut over high cheekbones (again, that look she has about her of some kind of 'work' isn't what it seems; she had plastic surgery as a teenager because, aged two-and-a-half, she was hit by a runaway bread van; she grew up being called 'scarface').

There are so many other contradictions and myths surrounding Ms Styler, it is hard to know where to start. First of all, I suppose, is the myth that, being the wife of an incredibly rich (£185 million at the last count) man, she wafts around tending the 60-acre organic vegetable patch all day in the grounds of their Elizabethan mansion in Wiltshire, barking orders at Andrew the butler (they also have a housekeeper and personal chef) to air her yoga mat. But a life of pampered leisure couldn't be further from the truth. Yes, she loves working, combining making movies and acting with raising her and Sting's four children. But she also keeps insanely busy because she suffers from an obsessive-compulsive disorder that she only just manages to keep under control.

'I think I've got something akin to hyperactivity disorder,' she says. 'If I just sit back and do nothing, the smaller the world that I operate in, the more I become a bit petty and start picking on little things and wanting to make perfection there, so it's much better that I'm in a bigger arena.' She says that if she were to stay home all day, she would be obsessing over whether the petals on a flower were dusty, and she would drive everybody mad.

The terms she uses to describe herself are 'quite controlling', 'exacting on myself and others' and 'tough'. Crikey.

'I'm one of those people who goes into the closet and before long there can be 15 things on the floor and I haven't found a thing to wear; the dress that I had on last week doesn't sing to me today so I am a bit like that and so, lately, the fewer things I have the happier I am. The more chaotic things become the more simple my external needs are.' Oh-kay. The latest project to keep her mind off whether something has been dry-cleaned or not is a role in a new BBC sitcom, 'Love Soup', written by David Renwick (One Foot in the Grave) and also starring Tamsin Greig and Michael Landes.

'It's been quite liberating,' she says. 'Instead of being a producer, as an actress I can just go home to my kids and have dinner.' She plays a meddling neighbour, a matchmaker, but when I try to press her on the fact that art might be mirroring real life (she and Sting introduced Madonna to Guy Ritchie at a dinner party), she says, 'I'm certainly not a matchmaker in real life'. Ah, well.

The myths about all the yoga malarkey, though, are all true. She tells me she still does two hours' practice every morning (her guru is the 90-year-old Pattabhi Jois, who brought Ashtanga to the West; she and Sting took up yoga 'after we [note the we] gave birth to Coco'), she has 'a spiritual life' and meditates daily, and assures me, when I bring up recent stories about Marianne Faithfull suffering from depression because she has lost her great beauty, that she doesn't mind growing old at all.

'I never thought I was a great beauty,' she says candidly. 'OK, so seeing yourself on screen gets less and less enjoyable as you get older, but I live in the moment. I'm not always looking back, or wishing things might have been different.' What concerns her more is staying healthy. 'I know my body is going to age but I don't want it to get sick. So I eat organically when I can we are self-sufficient for three months a year. I don't do things that are bad for me I don't ever have fast food or processed food. I try to get eight hours' sleep every night.' For her 50th birthday, in January, they were in Rajasthan, and Sting let off 18,262 balloons, one for every day of her life. 'As they were released up into the air, rather non-ecologically I am ashamed to say,' says the woman who founded, with Sting, The Rainforest Foundation, 'and as I watched them go I thought, "Those are the days past, the days gone by and I can't get them back." It stayed with me.' (She cancelled Sting's 50th after they lost a close friend in 9/11.) They are obviously very much in love, even more so now, she says, than when they met in 1977; he was a struggling musician, married to the actress Frances Tomelty, with whom he already had two children, Joe and Kate. 'It was complicated,' is all Trudie will say on the matter.

At the time, she felt her perfectly decent acting career after graduating from the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, she had parts in Poldark and various Miss Marple series dried up because she was seen as a marriage-wrecker. But she is keen to lay to rest all that 'ridiculous tantric sex nonsense'. 'I think it's fascinating that people take an interest in what happens behind our closed doors,' she laughs. 'We are very much in love, we have a wonderful physical married life, and we've never hidden that' (a family friend told me they are 'like puppies' together). She says her children Mickey, 21, Jake, 19, Coco, 15, who is at boarding school, and Giacomo, ten used to blush when they were teenagers and all the Tantric sex stuff was in the papers, but that now, 'they have a good laugh about it.

Their poor old mum and dad, at it again' I wonder if having a beautiful young daughter in Mickey, an art student and sometime model (a former ES cover girl) who lives in her parents' duplex in New York's Central Park West (mum and dad threw her a 21st birthday bash at downtown Cipriani's), ever incites a touch of jealousy.

Mickey is always stealing her mother's incredible collection of designer clothes ('It's like having a vintage store inside the apartment,' Mickey said recently), including the gown she was married in (she was mounted on a dapple grey mare, remember?), designed by old friend Gianni Versace. Trudie snorts.

'Mickey and I are best friends. Actually, I spend more time buying clothes for her I do for me, but I love frocks and I'm still an American size 6, so that's good.' Would she consider plastic surgery to make her look younger? 'I don't feel I need it, to be honest.

It takes a bit of pressure off having good-looking kids let them do the parties and have their picture in the paper, we've done it. What I would rather do is buy a cottage in the Lake District and behave like a relaxed, middle-aged couple.' She tries hard to ensure her children aren't spoilt. 'Sting is a great dad. Neither he nor I come from privileged backgrounds [her mother, a school dinner lady, died of Alzheimer's when Trudie was pregnant with Jake; her father was a lampshade packer; she grew up on a council estate on the outskirts of Birmingham]. The kids seem to be very spontaneously happy when things are given to them and very grateful, and I don't know what that is, but I think it's to do with their genetic makeup, they're kind children naturally.

'I've been quite tough on them with regard to manners. As they are from a very privileged background, it's important that they're gracious because I think there's nothing harder on them in this world, and certainly on other people, when people of means go into the world and they can't be bothered or they're rude or not careful with expressing gratitude. I think to be grateful is a state of grace; that's about the only thing they were ever taught.'

During her gap year, Mickey worked in an orphanage in Bangkok and cared for children with AIDS, and now Jake too is doing his bit.

Trudie has started working for Unicef, and recently visited Sri Lanka to see how people's lives are still being affected by the tsunami.

'We'd raised a bunch of money. Sting had been in Australia and done a concert which raised over a million Australian dollars, and I'd asked for a million sterling to go to Unicef. So I was in Sri Lanka and Bill Clinton was visiting and Sting was there just supporting me, really, and we were staying in the field with two of our children when Sting got an invitation to meet Clinton. So I called him while they were talking and said, "Can you ask him to look into why all this aid has arrived in Sri Lanka and it hasn't been released?" and so he said, "Is that what you want me to ask him?" And I said, "Yeah, ask him that," so Sting did and Clinton said, "I give you my word that I will look into it," and suddenly, things started moving.' Trudie Styler.

She can make former presidents quake in their shoes. Not a desperate housewife at all.

'Love Soup' begins on BBC1 in the autumn.

© Evening Standard magazine