Interview: Trudie Styler | From the Observer | The Guardian
He boasts of his rock solid marriage, but this week was caught in a brothel. He's oh-so green, but is paid to advertise gas-guzzling limos meet. Sting, 66, is rock royalty – a virtuoso musician and supreme singer-songwriter with intellectual pretensions, who dabbles in folk, classical and. Sting, 66, is rock royalty – a virtuoso musician and supreme singer-songwriter with intellectual pretensions, who dabbles in folk, classical and.
Trudie's fork hovers over her chocolate cake. At first, she struggles to remember her lines. It seems incredible, I say, that she can remember it all. She's the mother of four of Sting's six children; the woman who accompanied him when he went to save the rainforest; the one with whom he practises tantric sex. More recently, she has gained renown for the names in her address book.
If you've got a cause, Trudie can get anyone you fancy on the telephone - from the Dalai Lama to Tom Cruise. She introduced Madonna to Guy Ritchie. He knows other famous, successful musicians. And he has also lived in the world of movies.
And we meet famous and successful artists. At parties, at things we go to. Not that we're friends with everybody. But after that amount of time, you do get to know quite a few people. And when I'm doing a charitable thing, it's easy - even if I don't know somebody - to put in a call. And they'll have some knowledge of me, because I'm Sting's wife.
Last year, she acted in two feature films, playing Anna Friel's mother in period chick-flick Me Without You and a gypsy fortune-teller in Confessions of An Ugly Stepsister, a retelling of Cinderella. She runs a film production company, Xinghu, which has just completed its fourth documentary project, and has two new feature films in the works, including David Thewlis's new movie, Cheeky. And every year for the last 10 years she has been the producer of the Rainforest Foundation Benefit concert in New York.
A three-hour musical extravaganza with a different theme each year and a gala dinner afterwards, this is the annual highlight of the Foundation's fundraising activities, and has become a fixture on the Manhattan charity circuit. When we first meet, in New York on a warm Thursday afternoon in mid-April, there are only two days to go before the concert. There is much left to organise. Trudie will spend the rest of the day rehearsing with the musical director, Narada Michael Walden, and the piece backing band.
The stars won't start until tomorrow. Half the evening will be devoted to a tribute to George Harrison. Oh, please say it works a tiny little bit,' she giggles. But she is careful in what she says, and keeps a blazing look ready for sensitive topics 'Is that,' she asks, when I point this out, 'the Don't Fuck With Me?
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She's well aware of the reputation she and her husband have had for being humourless, moralising dilettantes: But this image was at its sharpest in the late 80s, when Sting worked the chat-show circuit with Raoni, a Kayapo chief. I don't think it was a great beginning for the Foundation.
We didn't know what we were doing. They were practising yoga when Geri Halliwell was still practising dance routines in her bedroom; the environment has long since become a mainstream political issue; and they're less easy to poke fun at than when they were taking the bloke with the plate in his lip on Wogan.
Twenty years of being together, in the sort of industry where marriages fail. And we've been around now for such a long time that we're sort of establishment. I think we've become thought of in affectionate terms.
The theatre is almost completely empty. Ron Perelman - cigar aficionado, owner of Revlon and Marvel, billionaire sponsor of the Rainforest Foundation - lounges in the stalls with his wife Ellen Barkin and their children. Legendary French photographer Patrick Demarchelier wanders around, taking informal snapshots.
And squatting on the lip of the stage, concentrating intently on the three men clustered around the microphone, is Trudie. The song finishes, and Trudie stands. Nina Simone appears from the wings and shuffles slowly across the stage. She takes her seat at the grand piano with the stubborn air of an old lady reclaiming her favourite armchair. She plays 'Here Comes The Sun' unaccompanied. She does so at half speed, and sings in a strange, blank tone: George Harrison's lyrics of lysergic optimism transformed into an eerie dirge of lost hope.
At the end, a nervous round of applause echoes through the hall. Nina turns balefully toward the stalls.
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There is a pause. She stares straight ahead, unmoving. Trudie crosses the stage, crouches beside Nina's stool and whispers to her.
Nina continues to stare straight ahead and address her microphone. Up on the drum riser, Narada Michael Walden stands up from behind his kit. A horrified silence fills the hall. There is a terrible moment that lasts an eternity. Time enough to consider the good doctor's year career as a performer of unparalleled power; her years at the forefront of the civil rights movement; her years of suffering and pain.
And, finally, her reputation as one of the most volatile and unpredictable people ever to sit behind a piano. Dr Simone is motionless throughout.
And then, in a tone of withering disdain, her voice resounds from the speakers: Trudie Styler was born in She was brought up on a remote council estate on the outskirts of Stoke Prior, a small village on the Worcester and Birmingham Canal. Her father was a packer in a lampshade factory, her mother a school dinner lady.
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The couple had three children in three years. They were all girls: Heather, Trudie, and then Sabrina. One day inher mother was busy indoors giving her sisters a bath.
Trudie had been given firm instructions to stay indoors but wandered outside anyway, into the normally deserted road. She doesn't remember anything about being hit by the van, or being dragged beneath it. She was only two-and-a-half, the unlicensed boy driving it only But she spent a long time in hospital. It meant she didn't really have friends at school until she was into her teens.
I think a lot of it was, you know, no boo-hoo about it - but I looked pretty strange for the first few years of my life. The other kids had names for them: Trudie and her sisters would put on pretend plays behind the sofa. Trudie got into the local grammar school, in spite of her dyslexia. In the fifth year, she was cast in the school play. She was good at it. She liked the attention it got her.
She decided she'd found what she wanted to do with her life. Her father didn't agree. He wanted her to get a good, respectable job: So, at 17, while her mother was out at a whist drive, she left. And, after plastic surgery - paid for by her mother's court case - Trudie Styler really did become an actress.
She went into rep, and then signed a nine-month contract to appear in the Cornish bodice-ripping TV drama Poldark.
She falls in love with a preacher. It was quite a big part. Up in the expensive, velvety darkness of Central Park West, the elevator stops on the second floor. It opens right out into Sting and Trudie's apartment. A grinning girl in a blue bikini, her body painted all over with flowers, hands me a giant daisy.
Behind her at the bar, waiters and waitresses wear tie-dye T-shirts, headbands and comical Afro wigs. In the next room sits a giant ice sculpture of a peace sign, lit from behind by multicoloured revolving disco lights. Only one member of staff is not kitted out in fancy-dress, instead wearing a white Nehru jacket and exuding a chilly dignity.
This is Andrew, the family butler. Trudie wanders from room to room, a glass of white wine in her hand. Jeff Beck is sitting in the corner. There is Wynonna Judd, having her picture taken with Sting.
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Glenda Bailey, editor of Harpers Bazaar - the magazine of which Trudie is a contributing editor - is talking to the artist Steven Sandler. Nina Simone sits alone on a sofa, attended by a handsome young man whose name no one knows. I meet David, a gaunt, weather-beaten looking man in a tight suit, homemade earrings and brothel creepers. I don't want to correct anyone's interpretation of a song. Songs should be ambivalent, they should have more than one meaning.
Some are deliberate anthems to growing old and - if you can bear it - watching people around you perish, while contemplating your own demise with equanimity. The track 50, for one thing, "was inspired by the death of so many rock stars this past year. He was not a theatrical rock star, but he was a cultural icon. Of course, it's a delusion, but all of us feel it. So I wrote this song from the point of view of another rock star getting older, someone a bit like me, not completely me.
And remembering the fantastic days, you know, of filling stadiums, when 50, people listened to you. Death haunts others too; death haunts everyone. The new, wise version of Sting tries to bring this sentiment across in a conscious demonstration of musical empathy-meets-activism in the track Inshallah, a paean to displaced and forced migrants around the world.
People and their families are in boats, trying to find safety - people from Syria going to Turkey, from North Africa to Italy," he continues. They're escaping warfare and poverty. And even in peace, they are trying to escape climate change.
It's not a crisis that will stop. He talks about the crisis of restricted human movement as "one of the major problems of this century".
Inshallah is just an exercise in empathy. Say I'm trying to find myself putting myself in a boat with my wife and children: How do I feel?
Hope - it's a very beautiful word," he says. Since his solo appearance for The Secret Policeman's Other Ball in aid of Amnesty International inSting has been aligning his name, clout and music-making with various social and political causes. A frequent headlining act at Live Aid concerts, he has also dedicated songs to environmental activism One Fine Day and victims of the Pinochet regime They Dance Aloneamong other causes.
The point is to - through music - engender compassion, as much as it is to raise awareness. Growing up the eldest of four children in a struggling family in Northumberland, Sting - born Gordon Sumner - multitasked as a bus conductor, builder and tax officer before taking a teaching qualification and working as a schoolteacher.
It was during his early after-work days as a jazz club performer that his nickname surfaced, coined for a striped yellow and black jumper he wore to gigs that made him look like a bee. While the band made their name largely in the New Wave scene, as a soloist, Sting went on to dabble in genres as diverse as folk, reggae, pre-baroque music and Stravinsky - all to considerable commercial success, as proven by the million records he has sold to date.
During his songwriting hiatus, before the return of his muse in this month's upcoming album, Sting embarked on several world concert tours with fellow rock icons Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel. But it is not all about making money while he still can, he asserts, instead it is about not standing still. I do my show. I find my hotel, I sing and drink. A lot of thinking goes into it. It's the hardest work, but it's also kind of relaxing," say the soon-to- be grandfather of seven.
He has six children. A season when I tour.
I have a season when I spend time with my family. I don't feel like Grandpa. It's wonderful to see your children with their children. When they get difficult, I just hand them back.
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They are very independent, they are very proud of their independence. I wouldn't want to rob them of the satisfaction of making their name in the world themselves. I made sure they had an education. They really expect to make their own money. Just aware of mortality. I'm always aware of my mortality.