“I want to die with my wife still lov­ing me”

SHOW­ERED WITH AC­CO­LADES FOR A CA­REER SPAN­NING 40 YEARS, ST­ING CON­FIRMS IT IS FAM­ILY THAT KEEPS HIM GROUNDED

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Q&A - By JAMES WIGNEY

It’s AFL Grand Fi­nal day and in the depths of the MCG, St­ing is putting his band­mates through their paces. De­spite com­ing straight to the ground af­ter a long-haul flight from his New York home, he’s look­ing re­mark­ably fit and alert. His tanned face is weath­ered and lived in, but he looks ev­ery inch the rock star with his mus­cu­lar frame clad in black boots and Bal­main jeans, be­ly­ing the fact he will cel­e­brate his 65th birth­day the next day.

St­ing is ready to hit the ground run­ning in front of 100,000 bay­ing football fans as the head­line act on one of the big­gest days on the Aus­tralian sport­ing cal­en­dar. It’s no easy gig – just ask Meat Loaf – but he’s got this. In a mu­sic ca­reer span­ning 40 years, 16 Grammy Awards and more than 100 mil­lion al­bum sales, the mu­si­cian has played the Su­per Bowl, the NBA All-stars game and count­less are­nas and sta­di­ums around the world. But even af­ter all those years, he’s ever the per­fec­tion­ist. “Let’s go again,” he says, as he launches into the open­ing bars of his new sin­gle.

Later, in the makeshift green room set up in the cricket nets, watch­ing the pre-match en­ter­tain­ment on TV, St­ing asks pointed ques­tions about the up­com­ing game. Is there an off­side rule? How many points for a goal? Can play­ers get sent off?

Cu­rios­ity is a re­cur­ring theme when talk­ing to the man born Gor­don Matthew Thomas Sum­ner in work­ing­class Wallsend (a sub­urb of the north­ern in­dus­trial town of New­cas­tle in Eng­land). And it was cu­rios­ity – and burn­ing am­bi­tion – that in­spired him to leave it, caused, in part, by a chance en­counter with roy­alty, of all things.

The way he tells it, the late Queen Mother was vis­it­ing the ship­yards at the end of his street, re­splen­dent in a Rolls-royce. Their eyes met and in that brief mo­ment, a fire was lit in­side him – the dream of a bet­ter life.

“I was eight years old and wav­ing, and I caught the eye of the Queen Mother – she looked at me,” he re­calls a few days later in a lux­ury Melbourne ho­tel. “And I thought, ‘I want a big­ger life than the one I’m be­ing of­fered here. I want to be in that car or some­thing like it. I want to be in that ship that just goes off into the world and doesn’t come back.’ I didn’t feel I be­longed there.

“There was a coal mine at one end and a ship­yard at the other. Is that it? I saw those men come from work ev­ery day – I sold them news­pa­pers. I saw how tough their lives were.

[I thought] I don’t want that. I want to sing songs. I want to see the world.”

There’s a song on St­ing’s new­est al­bum, 57th & 9th, his first rock re­lease in 17 years, called “Head­ing South On The Great North Road”. It re­calls his early years when he left his reg­u­lar life as a school teacher who played in jazz bands by night, and rolled the dice to seek fame and for­tune in London and be­yond.

“That’s the most per­sonal song on the record,” he says. “It’s a jour­ney that Brian John­son of AC/DC made, Bryan Ferry, Mark Knopfler, The An­i­mals, me. We all had that ro­mance of head­ing south. The only way you were go­ing to change your life was to take the risk and put your gear in a van and head south. It’s a story of greasy trans­port cafes.”

St­ing would, of course, con­quer the globe as the front­man and chief song­writer for The Po­lice, the hugely suc­cess­ful and fa­mously frac­tious trio that re­leased five hit al­bums be­tween 1978 and 1983 and gave the world a pa­rade of hits, in­clud­ing “Rox­anne”, “Don’t Stand So Close To Me”, “Ev­ery Breath You Take” and “Mes­sage In A Bot­tle”, on its way to be­com­ing one of the big­gest bands in the world.

Their high-en­ergy shows and spiky blend of pop, post-punk, new-wave and reg­gae were fu­elled in part by in­tra-band ten­sion, par­tic­u­larly be­tween St­ing and drum­mer Ste­wart Copeland, which oc­ca­sion­ally boiled over into fisticuffs. At the height of the band’s suc­cess, St­ing pulled the pin, ea­ger for a new chal­lenge, and the band played its last show in 1984. He’s never looked back and – apart from a hugely suc­cess­ful, nos­tal­giadriven re­union tour in 2008 (“We made sh*tloads of money and ev­ery­body was happy that Mum and Dad had got back to­gether again for a lit­tle while”) – never felt the need to re­visit that era.

“I am very proud of it and what we achieved to­gether as a band, the three of us,” he says. “It was re­mark­able suc­cess over six years, and to carry on would just bring di­min­ish­ing re­turns. The most ex­cit­ing part of it all was the be­gin­ning, so I wanted to keep hav­ing new be­gin­nings, rather than press­ing the same but­tons that any chim­panzee can press to get a banana. It’s bor­ing.”

He re­mem­bers the early, lean hun­gry years of The Po­lice more acutely than its sta­dium-con­quer­ing prime. “The start of any­thing is the most ex­cit­ing thing,” he says. “A ro­mance, a pro­ject, a film, an ad­ven­ture… Be­gin­nings are im­por­tant.”

Leg­endary Aus­tralian pro­moter Michael Gudin­ski, who bro­kered the AFL deal and is a long-time friend, be­lieves St­ing is the most in­spired and en­er­gised he has been in years. “It was the most re­laxed I have seen him and I think he has re­alised that we all have to go sooner or later – and I hope it’s later for him,” says Gudin­ski. “I haven’t seen him that happy and vibed up for a while. When artists are in a good state and they want it, they de­liver.”

Gudin­ski, whose com­pany Fron­tier Tour­ing brought The Po­lice to Aus­tralia for the first time in 1980 and for many re­turn vis­its, in­clud­ing the re­union tour, rates St­ing as one of the most pro­fes­sional – and prag­matic – artists he has ever worked with.

“Years ago we wanted him to do Hey, Hey It’s Satur­day and he said, ‘I’m not go­ing on any TV show with a f*ck­ing os­trich.’ And I said, ‘Lis­ten mate, you’ve got all these stupid shows in Eng­land – it’s a high-rating show, it’s a fake os­trich and it’s your three and a half min­utes.’ And he lis­tened. I said, ‘It’s not about the show, it’s about your time on the show,’ so The Po­lice did Hey, Hey It’s Satur­day and it helped make for a mas­sive al­bum. And he said to me, ‘That wasn’t a bad os­trich.’”

At the height of his fame, St­ing be­came al­most as well known for his ex­tra-mu­si­cal ac­tiv­i­ties as for his songs. Images of him stand­ing along­side Ama­zon tribes­men in his quest to save the rain­forests – not to men­tion his throw­away line about tantric sex dur­ing a drunken in­ter­view with Bob Geldof – cre­ated in the public

con­scious­ness an im­age of the singer as some kind of cru­sad­ing New-ager.

“What­ever we did, we were try­ing to do the right thing,” he says now of the smart-alec barbs that were thrown his way. “I got a lot of flak for it, as you do, but you ex­pect that. It doesn’t stop you though. You do some­thing.”

St­ing has been an ac­tivist ever since his tours on be­half of Amnesty In­ter­na­tional dur­ing the 1980s. He’s knowl­edge­able and pas­sion­ate about pol­i­tics – US pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Donald Trump, he says, is a “f*ck­ing hoax” and Brexit is a “com­plete night­mare”. He still speaks with pride about the work done by the NGO he set up 27 years ago, Rain­for­est Fund, which pays for le­gal in­fra­struc­ture for in­dige­nous tribes and re­cently had a win in Ecuador by stop­ping a pipe­line from il­le­gally go­ing through the an­ces­tral lands. Though he lives in a New York pent­house and has houses around the world and a re­ported for­tune of $400 mil­lion, he is very aware of his good for­tune and is de­ter­mined to use it to make a dif­fer­ence.

“It would never oc­cur to me to some­how not be po­lit­i­cally ac­tive,” he says. “I had a real job before I had this one. I worked in an of­fice, I worked on build­ing sites, I worked as a school teacher in a min­ing vil­lage. I paid tax, I voted, I had a kid, I had a pen­sion plan – so I had a real life – and then when I was 26, I sud­denly got this crazy, won­der­ful, priv­i­leged life. But it’s richer and I ap­pre­ci­ate it more be­cause I have had a more mun­dane life as well and I am grate­ful for it.”

ST­ING SPENT HIS re­cent min­im­i­le­stone birth­day in Melbourne alone and in a re­flec­tive mood. He has al­ready out­lived his emo­tion­ally dis­tant milk­man fa­ther Ernie and hair­dresser mother Au­drey by more than a decade. And the deaths ear­lier this year of fel­low rock icons David Bowie, Prince and Lemmy, as well as his dear friend actor Alan Rick­man, left him con­tem­plat­ing his own mor­tal­ity as well as in­spir­ing the song “50,000”. Age, he says, is no bar­rier to ac­tiv­ity – and it cer­tainly beats the al­ter­na­tive.

“I am al­ways amused by the phrase ‘age­ing rock star’, pre­sum­ably writ­ten by an age­ing jour­nal­ist,” he grins. “But you ei­ther get old or you die, that’s it. Age is some­thing that I’m not ashamed of, and I’m al­ways very up­front about how old I am with a sense of pride and sense that you should be­come more sage as you get older. I mean I haven’t man­aged to do that yet, but it’s an am­bi­tion I have – that one day I will be sage.”

For all his suc­cess, he is en­tirely un­con­cerned with leav­ing a mu­si­cal legacy – St­ing would much rather be re­mem­bered well by his fam­ily. A fa­ther of six – he has two chil­dren, Joe and Kate, by first wife Frances Tomelty, whom he di­vorced in 1984, and two sons, Jake and Gi­a­como, and two daugh­ters, Coco and Mickey, with his wife of 24 years, Trudie Styler.

“I want my kids to think well of me,” he says. “I would want to die with the woman I am mar­ried to still lov­ing me, which I think is a good am­bi­tion. That’s a real am­bi­tion more than, ‘Oh, I need to have 20 more Gram­mys.’ Who gives a f*ck?”

Styler, an actor and pro­ducer, is “the glue of the fam­ily” and St­ing con­cedes that the life of a fam­ily man and that of a tour­ing mu­si­cian are far from a nat­u­ral fit. His chil­dren used to be mor­ti­fied when he’d pick them up from school and other par­ents would ask for his au­to­graph. While he’s proud of them all (“They are very well-bal­anced in­di­vid­u­als, fiercely in­de­pen­dent, hard­work­ing, con­sci­en­tious, smart, well-ed­u­cated peo­ple, so I can’t have let them down that badly”), he’s equally de­ter­mined they pay their own way.

“I wouldn’t want to rob them of the plea­sure and sat­is­fac­tion of mak­ing it on their own,” he says. “Of mak­ing a liv­ing with­out be­ing given a Donald Trump nest egg. They have had a great ed­u­ca­tion, they’ve lived in lovely houses and in stim­u­lat­ing en­vi­ron­ments, and they are out in the world. Ob­vi­ously if they got into trou­ble I would help them, but I don’t feel like they are wait­ing for me to pop off so they can in­herit what­ever is left.”

St­ing says he was re­cently asked who the most re­mark­able per­son he had ever met was. Af­ter decades of rub­bing shoul­ders with ac­tors, singers, po­lit­i­cal lead­ers and ac­tivists at the high­est level he replied, sim­ply: “I think I am mar­ried to her.”

“[Trudie] tells me when I am on my high horse and I need to be taken down a peg or two,” he says. “But she is also the first point of call for any cre­ative work I do, be­cause I know she is telling me the truth – she is not blow­ing smoke. And she loves me. To have that, as a man in my po­si­tion, is es­sen­tial. Oth­er­wise you are spin­ning in space – there is no um­bil­i­cal cord.” 57th & 9th is out on Novem­ber 11.

``trudie tells me when I´m on my high horse´´

THE MU­SIC MAN (clock­wise from left) St­ing at the AFL Grand Fi­nal last month; out with wife Trudie Styler and daugh­ters Mickey (left) and Kate; with Ama­zo­nian tribesman Chief Raoni in 1989; at a 2013 char­ity event with Styler.

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