Sting: All This Time

Rock Star Releases New Album This Week

There aren’t many people who get through life with only one name. Think of Jesus or Moses or Madonna.

Nor are there many rock stars in their 50s who churn out music that excites people in their 20s.

But one guy who belongs to both clubs is Sting.

Fans will remember that he hit the big time 25 years ago with a band called The Police, even though back then he wasn’t exactly a law-and-order kind of guy.

He is a lot more staid and settled now, as befits his advancing years. He will be 52 tomorrow and he’s worth an estimated $300 million.

This son of a milkman has done well, and some say he’s getting better all the time. Correspondent Bob Simon visited Sting at his English manor house.

Sting showed Simon a 1943 American Army jeep, a Willys, that was found in a field in Greece.

“It’s in fantastic working order,” says Sting. “I’ve had it about 10, 12 years. I love it.”

This is just one of his idiosyncrasies. But he can afford them, and not just because he’s rich, but because he’s his own man now. His gang years are long gone.

“I think the idea of a rock group was some sort of teenage gang in the beginning. And when the teenage gang reaches 30, you know, it's a big deal. And when it reaches 40, it's a bigger deal. When the teenage gang is 50 or 60, you know, ageism creeps in. How can they be a teenage gang? Well, I’m not in a group anymore,” says Sting.

“We all feel pretty natural at what we do. But, you know, there aren’t many of us who survived it.”

Sting didn’t just survive the perils of rock stardom - he seems to have re-invented the notion. He has the trappings of wretched excess - eight homes around the world, for example. But when you look inside those homes, like one in the English countryside, you’ll uncover evidence of a pretty tame life: stacks of books, pictures of his family, a man hard at work.

It’s mid-September, just a few weeks before the release of his latest album. His last one was the biggest of his solo career, but he knows the only one that ever matters is the next one.

For the better part of the last year, Sting has been preparing for this moment, and doing it with the discipline of a drill sergeant. Most days, he works from 10 to 6. Last March, 60 Minutes II visited him in Paris, where he was recording and mixing his new songs.

In May, we caught up with him in his ocean-front house in Malibu, rehearsing the new material. When he finally got home to England, what did he do? He went back to work.

“I think the work defines me,” says Sting. “I would find it very difficult to be me without my work.”

But let’s face it. It’s nice work if you can get it. His estate is so large that there isn’t a neighbor within noise range. His co-workers are his friends, and when he travels, his personal chef comes along to make sure he is well fed on the road.

“We never have less than 31,” says Sting. “It's a big house. You need people.”

Is it good to be a rock star? “It’s good to be Sting. I do feel a little bit like Louis XVI, sometimes.”

His royal prerogatives are paid for by some of the most popular songs of the last 25 years. Remember “Roxanne”? She’s an ex he’ll never want to forget.

Between 1978 and 1983, Sting and The Police became, quite simply, the biggest rock band in the world.

Sting still makes almost $2,000 a day in royalties from just one song, “Every Breath You Take.”

Almost overnight, The Police made him rich - not bad for the son of a milkman. Christened Gordon Sumner, he grew up poor in the grim working-class neighborhoods of Newcastle, England. He hated the
town, and wasn’t very fond of his family, either. He remembers dinner table conversations that consisted largely of “pass the salt, please.”

“I was one of these kids that thought, ‘I actually don't belong here. Either in this family or on this street or in this town,’” says Sting. “I thought I was an orphan that had been, you know, sort of misplaced. I was kind of in the wrong environment. I just felt this wasn't for me. and I was plotting to escape from a very early age.”

But he stayed in Newcastle until he was 27. By then, he was married and a schoolteacher. He didn’t look like a budding rock star, but he played in jazz bands at night, sometimes wearing a yellow-and-black striped sweater. That might have been the most important thing he ever did.

“Trombone player in the band saw me wearing this ridiculous sweater, and said, ‘You look like a wasp. I'm gonna call you Sting.’ The name stuck. The name was mine. It's a strange kind of – tada - destiny."

He took his funny name and his growing family and put them all on a bus to London. There, he was present at the creation of The Police. They soon made it to the big time.

But hard times followed.

He and the drummer grew to hate each other. By then, he was a properly certified rock star. And the women and the drugs came with the turf.

“The band I was in fell apart, you know, because of all kinds of personal reasons. My first marriage fell apart. I almost fell apart,” says Sting.

“It's a bit of a rock ‘n’ roll cliché, isn't it? You become successful and then you're the biggest thing since sliced bread. And then you become a dissolute wreck. I think we've all had a go at it. We've all tried it out for size, you know. I mean, largely because I need to be in some kind of a crisis - some kind of mental trouble - to create good songs.”

Did he think that at the time?

“I subscribed to that idea that you had to live some kind of dissolute life, and be on the edge all the time. And so I manufactured those situations when I thought I could write songs. And I did,” says Sting. “I wrote some good songs in that period. Do I want to do that again? No. I really don't.”

By 1985, he’d divorced his first wife and taken up with her best friend, actress Trudie Styler. That’s when Sting began to refashion the rock-star image. He launched a solo career, backed by the best jazz musicians he could find.

Now, he does yoga instead of drugs. And the droves of women? He’s chased them away. All but one, that is. Fidelity has become his fetish.

“I've been a serial monogamist in my life. I love the woman I'm with dearly. And I want to spend the rest of my life with her. I want to die with her still loving me,” says Sting. “I think that's an important ambition that I have. And I'm very happy about that.”

He and Styler have had four kids together, and with the two kids from his first marriage, that makes six. And while we’re talking numbers, he’s sold 45 million albums since he went solo. But increasingly, they contain different sounds and different themes.

Rainforests seem more important than romance to Sting these days, and war-mongering politicians a better subject for songs than sexy ladies.

A serious rock star? Sounds like an oxymoron.

“I think it's a more interesting time to be writing. I'm not writing about my girlfriend or the latest dance craze. I'm writing about what it's like to be a citizen of the world, to be a father of six children, to be facing mortality in a certain way,” says Sting.

“I’m in my prime. I feel very natural in my own skin. I’m not pretending that I’m 24. I’m not wearing a corset or a wig. I feel dignified in what I do. I intend to stay that way.”

And this new dignity has not hurt sales. Rap stars embrace his work, comedians bring him into a new set of living rooms, and his audience keeps growing.

Earlier this year, he played to the biggest crowd of his career - 800 million people around the world saw him perform during halftime at the Super Bowl.

Would he miss the fame terribly if it went away? “I would miss fame. I mean, I do enjoy it,” says Sting. “I like having a place in society. I'm Sting, you know, and I just got made a commander of the British empire, I mean, there's not much of the British empire left. But I am one of its commanders.”