Interview: THE MAIL ON SUNDAY (2001)

November 17, 2001

The following article by Christina Appleyard appeared in a November 2001 issue of The Mail on Sunday newspaper...

The thing about Sting - The singer talks about turning 50, tantric sex and his love for Trudie.

He's famous for singing, saving the planet and tantric sex, not always in that order. But the thing about Sting is that most people, whatever their age, have a 'Sting moment'. Random research in the office reveals a fairly typical cross section. For a thirtysomething, it was the first rock concert she attended. She was ten years old and the babysitter hadn't turned up, so her parents took her with them. For the fortysomething, 'Roxanne' was the song that accompanied his loss of virginity, and for the fiftysomething, 'Every Breath You Take' is the only thing that persuades her to join in the Christmas karaoke.

More systematic research reveals acres of stuff on his involvement with the save-the-rainforests campaign and the Amazonian Indian chief who appeared to have a compact disc implanted in his lower lip. There is less than one would have liked on tantric sex.

The interview is planned to coincide with the live recording of a small concert in the garden of Sting's Tuscan villa. It is to take place in front of 200 people, mostly competition winners and record executives. The CD is to be called 'On Such a Night' and the date scheduled for the concert is September 11. For obvious reasons, it is a shaken, slightly embarrassed and extremely edgy audience that greets Sting when he walks out on to his ludicrously beautiful backyard this evening. The stage is framed by olive trees, bougainvillea and a concerned-looking Trudie Styler - his wife of nine years - peeping out of a window on the first floor.

Most of us hope he is going to announce the cancellation of the concert, just so that we can get back to our hotel rooms and the strange security of being glued to CNN. But he doesn't. Instead, he takes a risk. He says there will be a minute's silence after the first song and then it is up to the audience whether or not he continues. He risks making a fool of himself and the audience. Then he begins to sing 'Fragile'.

Maybe it is the electrifying, haunting rearrangement of a familiar song, or maybe it's because so many of his songs are instant anthems for a generation. Either way, it's a risk that pays off. Even the normally cynical were moved, some to tears.

And so this weird concert proceeded. With changes. Englishman in New York was out. Some of the lyrics of other songs were changed. The concert CD was retitled 'All This Time'.

And so we all felt a little better when it was over. What none of us knew then was that a friend of Sting's had died that day at the World Trade Center.

Two days later Sting is sitting, crying, in the garden of a hotel close to his house. They aren't show-bizzy tears. This is a bloke who has lost a mate.

It's awkward and uncomfortable. The prepared questions on tantric sex seem a bit tasteless now.

'I can't sing,' he admits, 'I really can't sing at the moment. I have cancelled three shows I was going to do. I am deeply depressed.' Changing the subject is a bit tricky. We begin to talk about his feelings about his own death. He has just turned 50 and, like most men of that age, mortality is something he has given some thought to.

'I'm certainly not without fear. I think that if I have an ambition in life, it is to die well, that is, to accept that it is as natural as being born and to demonstrate to my children that there is a way to do it. I am not there yet. It is certainly something I will work on and think about as my life progresses.' He doesn't look 50; in fact, he looks barely 40.

'As my children keep reminding me, 50 is half a century, and it sounds a vast amount of time. I don't feel 50; I feel like I'm seven in a lot of respects. But I have gleaned, by being about for a certain amount of time, wisdom, a certain objectivity about life and about my life that I did not have when I was 25 or 35. I have a reservoir of memories that I wouldn't trade for youth. Some good, some bad. Yeah, I am happy to be 50.

'Because I lost my parents while fairly young, his mother and father died within months of each other in 1987 I became more aware of my mortality than people who still had parents. But when my friends started to die, life was angry.

'There are a couple of friendships that I wish I'd achieved closure on before my friends left. A couple of my friends have died and things weren't said that needed to be said, and that's a regret. I think I made the closure with my parents before they left, but still there could have been more.

'I really miss my parents being here, and I think in their wildest dreams they would never have imagined places as beautiful as this that you could live in. You know, I see my children playing and I think my mother would just adore to be here to see them and my dad would be so proud of the land and the vineyard. It would be total fantasy.' He isn't so sanguine about the idea of illness. His tone is suddenly defiant. 'I don't want that. Both my parents died of cancer. And cancer is largely created by unhappiness and circumstances. I am a happy man.' He is calmer now and slips with ease into the more cultivated responses of a star who has been at the top of his profession for 25 years. He is said to be worth about £100 million. As well as the 600-acre estate in Italy, he has homes in Wiltshire, London and America.

'I think my life is almost lived in two separate phases. On the one hand, a lot of the year I am a touring musician where I do not have to think very much. I wake up in the morning, I am taken to the airport and I get on a plane and go to another city and I do a sound check. I check into a hotel, I do the show, I have a drink and I go to bed.

'Every day is more or less the same - a different city and country, but more or less the same. I am surrounded by people who do their job extremely well, who love me and who support me and they are an extended family.

'I enjoy that life and I try and extend that as much as possible. The only drawback is that I am not with my family a lot of the time.

'Then I come home and I have the wonderful privilege of being with my family, being at home but forced to think, forced to figure out what to do next, forced to reinvent the game, and that is hard.

'I am just about to do that. I am on my way home to England next week to do the school run - I do the school run much against my desire. I will be "Dad" for as much as possible and when the kids are at school, I will have to sit and think. Try to figure out what to do next.' He needs structure but, at the same time, he appears to hate routine. 'I am quite structured in one sense. I play guitar, I do yoga, I go for a walk, thinking, I have lunch. I try to integrate the day that way.

'I can't sleep without reading. I think I have conditioned myself to do that. I will either read in the afternoon and/or the night. I read every day.' Right now he's reading 'The Third Reich: A New History' by Michael Burleigh and a history of walking by a feminist author whose name he's forgotten.

'I read the literary supplements in the newspapers, and, also, I can smell a good book. I can walk into a bookshop and smell a good book. I'm always reading two or three at the same time.' At home he plays a lot of chess, but on tour his method of relaxation is rather different. He sometimes pops into a strip joint.

'Well that's interesting because on tour you are out there and if you go to a normal bar, it's not much fun. It's about booze and guys. If you go to a strip joint - and I don't do this very often, but I have been to a couple and it's been reported, so I'm not going to deny it - the mood is set by the women and everyone's focus is on these beautiful creatures doing their thing, you know, and so the focus isn't on you at all. You just relax, have a drink and let go.

'So I don't think it's a bad thing; I don't have a puritanical attitude. I can't. I think it serves a purpose in society. I mean, I have never met one of these girls who is abused or, you know, didn't feel that they weren't in charge. I think they are in charge and they set the mood. And that's good - it's good for men to feel as though women are setting the mood.' Some of his views are dangerously close to those of a conventional, run-of-the-mill 50-year-old. He is worried about today's male role models.

'What about the way that young men are catered for in television - for example, on the Bravo Channel? I saw a programme the other day when I was flicking through the channels called Ibiza Uncovered. I saw basic idiots getting drunk and being stupid. I mean, that's entertainment! I mean, what sort of model is that for growing up? Don't grow up, and just be a **** all your life. It's pathetic, it really is pathetic. I mean, I loathe it. We can do better as a sex than that.' His divorce from the actress Frances Tomelty in 1982 is his one abiding regret, and the still-piercing blue eyes are downcast when he says that it was 'largely my fault'. 'I regret the pain I caused everyone.' He has two children from that marriage and four from his marriage to Styler, and it must be a credit to him that his children have no profile on the celebrity brat-pack scene. The eldest, Joe, is 25. So how does he feel about becoming a grandfather? He bursts out laughing. 'I'm not sure I'm ready? Yeah, sure I would accept it. Trudie is dying for another baby.

Well I have six children - I think that's enough frankly. But I'm very pragmatic about life, so I wouldn't rule anything out.' His relationship with his wife is clearly one of the things of which he is most proud. And he is touchingly fluent when he talks about her.

'Trudie and I have been together for 20 years, which in show business is like some kind of record. She is a cornerstone in my life in many ways because she is my biggest supporter and my harshest critic, certainly my most truthful critic and she doesn't mind ****ing me off by telling me I've ****ed up, that what I've done is ****.

'And I'm blessed with people - not only her - who spend their entire time taking the **** out of me, people in my organisation. I think there is a terrible tendency for people in my position to be surrounded by people who are sycophantic, people who are "yes" people - "You are a genius", whatever.

And that means, of course, that you have no ability to be objective about what you do.

'But I'm blessed. Trudie is the main architect of the regime in which my hubris is balanced out by basic honesty, so she's gorgeous and I adore her.'

Could you ever imagine not being together?

'No, it would be the end of my life.' At last, it seems like an appropriate moment to ask the tantric sex questions. My research has revealed only that the aim is to maintain ecstasy and achieve a higher spiritual state. It's the opposite of a quickie. Sting's famous boast was that he could keep going for five hours. As a result of the story, the labourers in Sting's Tuscan vineyard call Styler 'Cinquehoures' (Mrs Five Hours).

'The tantric sex thing happened as a result of Bob Geldof and I getting completely plastered. It was all said tongue-in-cheek, but then I kept getting asked about it, so I have read a bit about it. You know, I wouldn't say I was an active practitioner of this form, but tantric is really a serious way of taking aspects of life, normal life - eating, drinking, walking, speaking, sex - as an opportunity of devotion, an opportunity to give thanks.' Is it more important to you as you get older, sex? 'I'm a very sexually oriented person.' More important? 'Yeah, I don't mean more of it, but is it, as a thing, more important, as an expression, more important? I think I am getting better at the real business of it. In other words, it's a fantastic mechanism for showing care, showing love and it's great fun, and it can potentially make life. It is an extraordinarily religious experience for me, it really is.' (Which, to be honest, is what he always says.) And so most people have a 'Sting moment' and now the couple of hundred of us who were at his concert in Tuscany that night will always share a rather special one.

In the car on the way back to the airport the next day my rather grumpy taxi driver stopped shouting at the other traffic just long enough to turn up his radio. They were playing 'Every Breath You Take'. He was surprised when I gave him a large tip.

© The Mail on Sunday



Nov 1, 2001

Sting On The Fragile Art Of 'All This Time': I looked out across the river ...and saw a city and an old church tower ...priests came 'round tonight offer prayers for the dying, to serve the final rite - Sting, 'All This Time'. Like echoing fragments of a familiar song, the sights at dusk on a recent September day at the Certosa del Galluzzo priory and church near Tuscany's Arno River seemed stirring and sadly symbolic in their comforting agelessness-as if life's deepest sensations have all been known and felt before. Minutes before sundown, a portly Italian monk of the Cisterian order met Sting; his wife, Trudie Styler; and their few guests at the massive gate of the castle-like monastery overlooking Florence. After bows and cordial hand clasps were exchanged, he led us down into the cloister's cavernous, 14th-century corridors...

Nov 1, 2001

We met Sting earlier last week just ahead of his one-off date on November 5th in the BBC Radio Theatre and we talked about music, The Police and we talked about his new album too. It's called '...All This Time' and I was doing some sums and it's probably the wrong side of twenty one years - does it feel like that...?