Interview: THE LOS ANGELES TIMES (1985)

September 01, 1985

The following interview with Robert Hilburn appeared in a September 1985 issue of The Los Angeles Times newspaper...

Despite his success, Sting strives for normalcy.

It is late June on the sun-soaked patio of Sting's favorite suite in his favorite hotel in West Hollywood, Calif. The rock and film star is insisting that the soft pop life is not for him, but he sure looks content.

Sting, 33, has a charming, slightly self-deprecating and conspiratorial way of telling stories that makes everything he says seem like a revelation. The theme this morning is normalcy - or as normal as it gets for someone who is one of the hottest pop personalities in the world. He will appear at Blossom Music Center Tuesday.

Sting's new album, 'The Dream of the Blue Turtles', has been near the top of the charts all summer. He's co- starred with Jennifer Beals in a movie, 'The Bride', and has a key supporting role in an upcoming Meryl Streep film.

With all this activity and that devilishly handsome face, Sting has the media enthralled. He has been on the cover of more than a dozen magazines in the last two months, ranging from Musician to GQ.

Still, he argues that none of this has gone to his head. Sting says he knows that fame is a trap and he must constantly challenge himself artistically (example: recording his first solo album with jazz musicians) and physically. He runs at least an hour every day, and rides motorcycles at break-neck speeds.

"I demand the right to walk on the street and behave the way everyone else behaves," he maintains. "I don't have bodyguards or armored cars or sunglasses even. At home, I go around to the pub or the betting shop or to the store to buy cat food."

Maybe so, but there are forces at work to make sure that Sting enjoys that degree of normalcy. The hotel manager waits anxiously in the lobby for the reporter and photographer to come down from Sting's room. "Please," she says, "don't mention the name of the hotel (in your article)."

Is she joking? Every hotel wants publicity. But the manager's not smiling.

"Lots of celebrities stay here and there's no problem, but Sting mentioned the hotel in a couple of interviews and we ended up with his fans all over the place. We don't want to go through that again."

What's this about behaving the way everyone else behaves? Is Sting really isolated? Doesn't he know that his hotel lobby is sometimes crawling with his fans?

Two weeks later, we test Sting's normalcy boast in London. He's on a movie sound stage, making a video for his new British single, 'Love Is the Seventh Wave'. He had agreed to continue the interview here, where the usual thing would be to talk in his dressing room or on the set.

But I suggest during the lunch break that we take a walk down the street. I wanted to see how he'd react: A lot of pop stars feel uneasy in public. They speak proudly about being a regular guy, but they slip in through back entrances. Without hesitation, Sting replies, "Sure, let's go."

Sting spots a small park where several dozen people are sitting on the grass eating lunch. He suggests we join them, but first he wants to walk over to the nearby betting shop. He owns a horse that's running in the fourth race at York. Sting makes a small bet (about $75) and puts the ticket in his pocket.

On the street, Sting carries the aura of a man in complete control. There's an air of culture about him, but also a wry, mischievous streak.

He's oblivious to the stares from passers-by - and the magazine rack where his face is staring at us from three covers. He's even got guidelines on how to act in public. Waiting to cross the street, Sting is approached by a young man for an autograph. He signs it and moves on.

"The secret to getting along in public is in how you behave," Sting advises. "If you run down the street with your collar up and three bodyguards alongside, people are going to obviously chase you. If you walk down the street normally, though, people will just say hello and maybe ask for an autograph. The trick is to keep moving, even if you sign it. That's easier than saying no."

That control is one of the qualities often cited by people who've observed him since his rise to stardom six years ago with the Police.

"It's like he gets up in the morning and programs himself," says one associate in London. "That doesn't mean he isn't fun to be around, but he's very determined and you get the feeling he has always been that way. He's got incredible energy and drive.

"He may look as if he were born to be a star, but he had to struggle every inch of the way. In some ways, he has been running so long that the idea of stopping doesn't even occur to him. The one thing he hates is wasting time."

Sting's looks, seductive singing voice and sophisticated demeanour do give the appearance of someone who was handed success. But Gordon Matthew Sumner was no fortunate son. His father was a milkman in Newcastle, one of the most troubled towns in England. Everything about his neighbourhood suggested dead-end. He was on the dole 10 years ago in London.

Sting realised at a young age that he wanted more and he worked to get it. To paraphrase his Grammy-winning song, he has plotted every move he's made.

"My (working class) parents had never expected anything from life because they were conditioned to live in the same area, in the same class and have the same job as their parents," Sting says, sitting on a sofa in the West Hollywood hotel.

"We lived - literally - in the shadow of the shipyards and all the workmen would come by every morning; thousands and thousands of them. I'd watch them go home at 5 o'clock at night. I'd think, "Well, I suppose that's what I'll do.' But I realised I didn't want to do that."

Sting saw education as a way out. He was a good pupil and became an avid reader. It was, he recalls, the first sign of his obsessiveness. "I read 'Treasure Island' when I was 6. I don't know how much I understood of it, but I plowed through it," he recalls. "I eventually realised knowledge was the key to escaping."

Sting still feels strongly about reading. He is featured in a public-service magazine ad urging young people to read. Sting appears as comfortable in front of the camera in the London sound stage as back in his West Hollywood suite. The video features a dozen kids dancing around an elementary school classroom. Sting plays the teacher, sitting on the desk and strumming a guitar as he lip-syncs the song.

One reason he is comfortable is that the role is natural. Sting is a former teacher and the father of four children (sons, 8 and 2 months, and daughters, 3 and 1¬?). Two were with his former wife, two with his current girlfriend, actress Trudie Styler.

Sting's first goal was to stay in school as long as he could. He attended Catholic schools, spent an unsuccessful term in college, then worked at odd jobs (including bus conductor and government clerk) before going back to school to become a teacher. By this time he was into music, both rock and jazz. He was in and out of several jazz-oriented outfits.

By the mid-'70s, however, Sting was restless. He left teaching and went to London to pursue a musical career.

"It was a frightening time because I had a wife and a child, and we had no money, but the alternative was more frightening, staying in the school and becoming a deputy headmaster after 10 years."

While trying to establish himself as a musician, Sting took modelling jobs. "I can convince a camera that I am handsome, though I don't think I am," he says. Sting then got an offer from director Franc Roddam to play the role of Ace, the handsome Mod, in the film version of the Who's 'Quadrophenia'.

Still, music remained Sting's primary interest. Recruited by drummer Stewart Copeland, Sting joined the Police as lead singer and bassist.

The group's members have snared seven Grammy awards. They include one for best song of 1983: Sting's 'Every Breath You Take'.

The more you see of Sting, the more fascinating and complex he becomes. It's easy to see why he comes across quite differently in print. In some articles, he's warm, humorous, thoughtful. In others, he's icy and calculating.

In a profile on Sting for the British pop journal, Face, writer Dave Hill pointed to contradictions and unexpected lapses of taste. According to Hill, Sting followed a declaration that he was repelled by the misogyny of 'Purple Rain' with a sexist remark about an associate's girlfriend.

Continued Hill: "Yes, being two things at once is Sting's forte; turning out nasty, just when you thought he was nice."

© The Los Angeles Times


Aug 1, 1985

Fear and loathing in the Caribbean: "The strangest thing happened today: I was out windsurfing on my board and suddenly the rudder was gone. It just snapped off for no apparent reason." Sting is lying face up on a pool table at Eddy Grant's Blue Wave Studio in Barbados. "I believe that everything happens for a purpose, so I asked myself why did this happen now? Then I realised the truth. I'd lost my sense of direction." He shields his eyes with his forearm and continues in a low voice. "Is the album any good? I don't know anymore. My voice, it's so weak. I was even tearful before. I just wanted to forget the band. I wanted to go home, crawl into bed, just forget the whole thing because I can't sing..."

Jul 23, 1985

Sting II - Sting has a new band and new dreams. In a Spin exclusive he reflects on where he's going and where he came from: 60° West Longitude, 16°45' North Latitude - "Captain sir, permission to break out the vodka and orange!" whoops the handsome blond helmsman as he hugs the ship's sleek steel wheel, an impish gust suddenly sending some briny spray into his smirking face. "And the gods have spoken!" he asserts, wiping the bracing water away. "Aw, yes, this certainly beats the coal fields of Newcastle...!"