Editor’s Note: If there is a life lesson to learn early on, it is to always work hard for what you want in life. Sting has done his kids a major favor by not giving them everything they want on a silver platter. Though it may not seem like it, this is a gift they will be taking with them to the grave.
As one of the world’s most successful rock stars, he has risen from an impoverished childhood to amass a huge fortune.
Now Sting has made it clear that his children will also have to earn their own way and should not expect to benefit from his £180 million earnings.
In a frank interview in today’s Mail on Sunday Event magazine, the former Police frontman said he expected his three sons and three daughters to work, and added that there would not be much left to inherit anyway.
Sting, 62, who still has more than 100 people on his payroll, said: ‘I told them there won’t be much money left because we are spending it! We have a lot of commitments. What comes in, we spend, and there isn’t much left.’
He added: ‘I certainly don’t want to leave them trust funds that are albatrosses round their necks.
‘They have to work. All my kids know that and they rarely ask me for anything, which I really respect and appreciate.
‘Obviously, if they were in trouble I would help them, but I’ve never really had to do that. They have the work ethic that makes them want to succeed on their own merit.’
Sting is not the only celebrity who expects their children to stand on their own feet.
Celebrity chef Nigella Lawson said a few years ago: ‘I am determined that my children should have no financial security. It ruins people not having to earn money.’
It’s not exactly rock ’n’ roll, but the woman who really changed Sting’s life – sorry, Trudie – was the Queen Mother.
Young Gordon Sumner, dressed in his Sunday best almost 50 years ago, was mesmerised as her Rolls-Royce swished past the front door of his street in Wallsend, North Tyneside.
The Sumners were poor, working-class Geordies; his parents Audrey, a hairdresser, and Ernie, a milkman.
The Royal visitor was there to launch a ship built at the end of his street at the Swan Hunter shipyard. Sting’s grandfather had been a shipwright and the young Sumner was expected to go into a manual job, too.
he biggest vessels on the planet were hammered, welded and built there long before Gordon became Sting (named for wearing a black-and-yellow jersey, like a wasp).
‘The Queen Mum waved and looked at me, and I looked back at her and that was it,’ he says.
‘There and then I thought, I am going to be rich, famous, successful and drive a Rolls-Royce like her.’
He decided he would use his voice and guitar to get a big house in the country, great wealth and acclaim. And so it all came to pass.
Now aged 62, the rock star, eco-warrior, father of six and grandfather laughs as he tells of the inspiration for his aspiration, all courtesy of the House of Windsor.
This is just one of a torrent of revealing anecdotes in a candid and wide-ranging interview, in which he tells Event about his complicated family background, his politics, children, death, drugs, Botox, the secrets of his long and happy marriage – and why his children won’t be getting their hands on his fortune.
Today it’s his own childhood that’s playing on the mind of the boy from Wallsend who went on to buy seven homes across Britain, Italy and the U.S., sell more than 100 million records and earn an estimated £180 million.
Because to get all that, Sting tells me, he had to escape his family and abandon his North East roots.
‘It was a pretty violent wrench. I didn’t feel I belonged there and the family was pretty dysfunctional in many ways. My parents were not happy together.
‘They loved their kids but it was a toxic environment. I needed to escape and I am glad I did.’
His mother was unfaithful, which eventually led to the breakdown of the marriage, and divorce.
Sting pursued his dream, which his father dismissed as delusional. And, at times, fame and fortune did look like fantasy, as Sting struggled through a series of jobs before finally becoming a teacher, his musical talents unrecognised.
He moved to London and began hurtling up and down the M1 to play gigs in pubs.
It was all small beer until 1979, when with his band, The Police, he exploded into the charts with Roxanne and everything changed.
And so the rest – five No 1 records with The Police, huge success as a solo artist, starring roles in movies, rainforest crusades, 16 Grammy awards and the most enduring marriage in rock ’n’ roll (not to mention fending off 1,000 questions about tantric sex) – is well-rehearsed history.
Less well known is the acutely personal inspiration for his latest project, a compulsively toe-tapping, heart-rending musical called The Last Ship.
The musical, which had its world premiere in Chicago last week, draws upon his early life growing up around the harsh shipyard docks. Sitting in his 20th-floor penthouse in a Chicago hotel after overseeing final preparations for The Last Ship’s maiden voyage, Sting talks with boyish wonder that his musical, four years in the making, is finally on stage. Next stop, Broadway.
‘The irony is that I’m going back to Wallsend, from where I had done everything in my power to escape,’ he says.
‘But we have to go back to where we came from and reassess, give thanks for it and honour it. I want to celebrate where I came from; that town, what they did, and the hardship.’
In The Last Ship, a young man runs away from home, returning 15 years later to discover he had fathered a child before he left, only to abandon his home town again, on a ship after the shipyard goes bust.
The songs, he says, came in a rush of inspiration following a period of writer’s block. He knew it should be a musical, and from the off knew that one of his oldest pals from the North East, Jimmy Nail, would star in it. (The actor and sometime musician is the one person on the planet who gets to call Sting Gordon.) The music is as addictive as his most potent songs – all are written by Sting – and after Broadway he would be happy to see it open in London.
The story draws on Sting’s ruptured relationship with his father.
‘A father’s love can sometimes be misconstrued,’ he says.
‘It can be about control; it comes from anxiety.
‘A father wants to dictate to a son what he should or should not be doing. And to my father the ambition I had seemed like bulls***, pie in the sky. And he wasn’t wrong. I wanted to be a successful musician; the chances of that coming off were millions to one. He thought it was ridiculous. “Get a proper job!”
‘Once I had become successful he was proud of me, but he never really understood it.
‘I passed the 11-plus to get into a grammar school with a scholarship but he had wanted me to go to a technical school. Engineering was what he knew and did.’
Sting’s aim was more fanciful.
‘I had some vague idea I wanted to study the classics, speak French and Latin.’
His goal was always to escape.
Such aspirations were more encouraged by his mother.
‘She initiated me in the dark arts of music and dreaming. She lived her life through me and encouraged me to do all the things my dad did not understand.
‘Did I have to divorce my dad? As much as any son has to do so to individuate. You have to. It’s part of growing up. You have to leave the nest. Sometimes it’s painful. It is necessary.’
Sting did not attend either of his parents’ funerals, because he felt the inevitable media intrusion would be disrespectful, but he did pay his dad a final farewell as he lay dying of cancer.
As he sat beside him, Sting suddenly realised ‘with the jolt of an electrical shock’ that for all their differences, their hands were identical. “We have the same hands, Dad, look!” I was a child again, desperately trying to get his attention.’
Sting held his father’s hand next to his own, but little was said by these two strong Tyneside men. One sentence, however, stayed in Sting’s memory.
‘Aye, son, but you used yours better than I used mine.’
It was the first time Sting could recall ever hearing a compliment from his dad, or being acknowledged for what he had achieved.
His father, just 59, closed his eyes in exhaustion, Sting kissed him softly in the centre of his forehead and whispered that he was a good man and that he loved him. They never saw each other again.