Interview: THE GUARDIAN (2003)

November 12, 2003

The following interview by Emma Brockes regarding 'Broken Music' appeared in The Guardian newspaper...

Sting's tale

He's one of the world's most successful musicians, introduced Guy Ritchie to Madonna and has just been made a CBE. He has also written his memoirs - and doing it plunged him into depression. So why does everyone mock him? And why are we so obsessed by his tantric sex life? Emma Brockes hears the confessions of an 'ordinary' superstar.

In his memoir, Broken Music, we learn that Sting was tall as a child, so much so that people called him Lurch. We learn that his father ran a dairy and that his mother eloped with a man named Alan, which would forever "colour and distort" Sting's relationships with women. When his parents died within a year of each other, we discover that their eldest son went to neither funeral. This was in part, writes Sting, because he had allowed his "emotional evolution to be stunted by the shallow and tepid waters of popular culture".

Writing Broken Music put Sting into a depression for two years and reading it is pretty sobering too. Of his first girlfriend, he writes, "we had explored our first intimacies like children making blood promises in the dark, attempting to secure the volatile cargoes of the future in the fumbling, silent exchanges of our hips and hands." Sting asks to be read metaphorically. He is trying, he explains, to "remake the drab prose of my life into some kind of transcendent poetry". So the line "we move together effortlessly like synchronised swimmers in a sea of longing" refers not, as one might expect, to his girlfriend, but to Mr Wilson, his boss in the tax office. Before he became a pop star, Sting had worked for the Inland Revenue.

The 52-year-old has just come from the palace when we meet, having collected a CBE from the Queen for services to the music industry. "Commander!" says a friend, popping his head round the door. We're in his wife Trudie's office. Sting says he is still a bit drunk from the lunch. "I'll try and regain my equilibrium. I'll probably fail. Fuck it." He grins humourlessly and displays small, sharp teeth. His arms bulge like Popeye's. For some reason, I thought he didn't drink, probably because of all that yoga he does. "I drink alcohol," he says. "I don't smoke anything legal. I drink coffee. I like chocolate and ice cream. But apart from that I'm really healthy."

Did the palace host the lunch?

"No, no, it was just my mates. Going to the palace is one thing, but actually it's a good excuse to bring my mates down from Newcastle. My old economics teacher came down. My family, my brother and my sisters came down. My current band."

Did you ...

"Actors ..."

Right ...

"A couple of sirs arrived. Geldof and McKellen. Sir Jimmy Nail. It was a lovely, lovely lunch."

Sting's approach to fame has always been to big-up his "normality," the fact that he feels like an "impostor" in the world of the super-celeb. He doesn't take limousines, he doesn't have bodyguards. When he meets journalists, he says, it isn't important what the questions are. (I smile dumbly.) What's important is that they connect as human beings. "People who know me very well, which is about half a dozen, would tell you that I'm pretty - I might be complex - but I'm fairly normal. I'm not an arrogant person. I'm quite a shy person. The stage persona is merely a mask. Most performers are like that. Madonna? She's as shy as I am."

The problem with all this is that, since only the famous ever say "I'm an ordinary person", it tends to evoke its exact opposite. In fact, Sting's ordinariness has never been in doubt. While insisting that he feels "marginalised" and an "outsider", Sting's place in the music industry has always been firmly in the centre. He admits he has been "perversely unfashionable", to the extent that the first manager of the Police said of him, "you got this guy in the band, whatsisname, Smig? He's a goddamn jazz singer." And he is always getting slated by his peers. Elvis Costello recently saw Sting perform at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and called his act "appalling". Why do people give him such a hard time?

"Maybe because they know I can take it. Everybody has a right to fair comment. I can deal with it." He frowns. "He [Costello] wasn't that good either."

And what of the accusation that he is terminally bland? "What do they want me to be, Idi Amin? Saddam Hussein? I don't feel bland at all." But how can one be marginalised and mainstream at the same time? "Well, lots of people only see the surface. They don't see a struggle."

In fact, says Sting, he is a lifelong risk-taker. He calls it "following his truth" and it is why he resigned from a secure teaching job to try to make it in a band. His parents didn't follow their truths, he says, and that is, ultimately, why they died. "My father couldn't express his love for his wife. My mother couldn't express that she needed intimacy and she had the perfect right to find that wherever she could. We were conditioned as a family not to express ourselves."

Eventually, when it was "too late", Sting's mother made a last-ditch bolt for freedom and eloped with one of her husband's employees. It didn't work out and she came home more miserable than ever. "I think that killed them. I think cancer - I'm not an expert or a doctor - but I think cancer is the result of undigested dreams and forcing yourself to do something that is not distinctively you."

After blaming them for an emotionally frigid upbringing, Sting made peace with both parents before they died. But he didn't go to their funerals. "I think I underestimated the importance of the mourning process. I thought I'd said goodbye to them, which was important, but the actual interring of the remains and the sharing of that with the family, I didn't take that seriously. I thought, I'll just get on with work. I was deeply afraid. Running away is what I've always done, as a matter of course." He doesn't regret it, though, regret being the holy taboo of all therapised thinking. "I don't really regret anything. Now, of course, I'd go to their funerals. Then, I didn't. But it certainly had its effect on me. I did suffer because of it. But then I can't regret that."

He left his wife and two children to marry producer Trudie Styler, with whom he had four more. They introduced Guy Ritchie to Madonna - a fact Sting brings up before I do. "We're famous for that one particular introduction and that gets translated as 'we throw these celebrity parties for people to matchmake'. Well, we have friends, and some of them happen to be celebrities. In fact, celebrity is not something I'm particularly interested in."

Right. Any other matchmaking successes? "Well, didn't we introduce JLo and Ben Affleck?" I have no idea. "I'm not sure how that's going at the moment."
Sting is a famous proponent of tantric sex. I ask him to give the frustrated Guardian readers a few tips. He looks indignant and says it's about "a journey", not "fucking for eight hours". OK, I say. "I try to be lighthearted about it," he says, "but at the same time, there is some serious information about couples and how they can relate and sex is only a tiny proportion of it. It's about ritualising a period of the day with your partner; it can be looking at each other, touching each other, running a bath, a massage, deeper levels of connection. Sex is only the surface. Once you really connect, telling the truth, talking, all of that. Tantra is much too complex for me to discuss. But it's about reconnecting with the world of the spirit through everyday things. My church happens to be the person I live with. She is my connection to the sacred. I don't know how that's going to look in print."

What exactly is the spirit?

"I don't know what it is. But it's something I need to connect with on a regular basis and the roots for me are music and my relationships. I don't know what it is. I only have a limited brain. I'm just a human being."

© The Guardian


Nov 11, 2003

After a period of depression and soul-searching, Sting returns with a new album, a new book and new faith in timeless truth. If the wise men of Spinal Tap are to be believed, Stonehenge is "a magic place/Where the moon doth rise with a dragon's face." But from a grassy ridge outside Salisbury, England, that overlooks the monument, Stonehenge is actually both more and less strange than that. A motorway runs close by, so it's not as isolated as photos often suggest, and it covers a smaller area than you might expect. Still, the massive stones towering over the visitors circling their bases are a mind-blowing sight...

Nov 4, 2003

He was born Gordon Matthews Sumner back in 1951 in a working-class district in northern England. By 17 he was simply known as Sting, and he's been making music now for a quarter century, winning 15 Grammys and millions of fans worldwide. Sting has just released his 10th solo album called 'Sacred Love'. He's also just published his autobiography called 'Broken Music'. I met up with Sting recently at the Boathouse Restaurant in New York's Central Park...