With his latest album, Brand New Day, released last year, Sting returned with another set of distinctively melancholic yet danceable songs. An icon of popular music for the last two decades, he has managed to convey his music to people of all generations and nationalities, an achievement most artists can only dream of.
Nicknamed 'Sting' because of a black and yellow striped sweater he used to wear, Gordon Sumner was raised in the bleak industrial town of Newcastle in Northeast England. His parents were a hairdresser and a milkman, but his mother was a classically-trained pianist. She taught him his scales so well that he was offered an advanced piano scholarship! But jazz and guitar were Sting's real loves, so he moved to London to play professionally.
On the beat
With American drummer Stewart Copeland and British guitarist Andy Summers he formed The Police in 1977. Their punk-reggae sound broke through in a big way with "Roxanne", banned by the BBC due to its lyrics. The scandal made it an instant hit, of course!
Their first album, Outlandos D'Amour, was swiftly released to great acclaim. The band's next three albums came out in quick succession with hits like "Don't Stand so Close to Me"and "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic". The release in 1983 of Synchronicity and its mega-hit "Every Breath You Take" secured the band's place in pop history. Seventeen years on, the song is one of the most aired records on American radio, having scored five million plays!
Sting decided he had achieved all he could with The Police and the band fell apart at the height of its success in 1984. Sting's solo career evolved on an even greater scale thanks to his lyrical voice, candid views on political and social issues and, above all, his ability to blend jazz, reggae, bossanova, and rock and pop. His first solo album, the jazz-influenced The Dream of the Blue Turtles, featuring the cream of America's young black jazz musicians, was a revelation. 1991's The Soul Cages, dealing with the loss of his parents, who died within a few months of each other, and 1993's Ten Summoner's Tales both won Grammies.
Sting finally married his girlfriend Trudie Styler in 1992 after they had already had three children together. They bought Lake House in Wiltshire - a vast mansion set in 800 acres, although British music magazine VOX commented, "to name it a mansion is a big understatement: it's like an Elizabethan version of Wembley stadium, only with more staff and better toilet facilities."
Like all real superstars, Sting has spent some time on the covers of the tabloids. In 1996, the British media attacked when he said he was not against taking drugs, just after a nationwide debate on the death of a teenage Ecstasy-user. The artist later regretted his statements. "Best not to say anything," he said. "I tend to be very candid. But that's the thing with people from Newcastle. We tend to say what we think."
More positively, Sting speaks out on environmental issues. He has established a charity, The Rainforest Foundation, which aims to protect both the environment and indigenous peoples. He has also supported Amnesty International, the organization aiming to free political prisoners.
The silver screen
Sting has also acted in several movies. His film career has run hot and cold, but his performances in such films as Brimstone and Treacle and Quadrophenia have been well-received. On the musical side he contributed "Probably Me" for Lethal Weapon 3 and soundtracks for Leaving Las Vegas, Sabrina and The Three Musketeers with Bryan Adams and Rod Stewart.
When rumours appeared that the ex-Police frontman was losing his sense of hearing, and would soon go completely deaf, fans were devastated. Despite these fears, Sting feels well and continues composing and touring. And anyway, if Beethoven managed why can't Sting?
What is the secret of the forty-nine-year-old rock star's stamina? It may be his commitment to Eastern philosophies, yoga and Tantric meditation - and definitely living outside London!
Perhaps the much-anticipated Brand New Day, released in autumn 1999, was thanks to this lifestyle. As the title implies, it is an album full of optimism and new beginnings. It contains an explosive and positive mixture of styles: the mystic and trance-like "Desert Rose" with its Arabic influences, the country and gospel "Fill Her Up", French rap in "Perfect Love...Gone Wrong" and the gentle bossanova of "Big Lie Small World". The music is such an exhilarating crossover that it has been acclaimed by the critics as one of Sting's finest albums. And it undoubtedly marks a brand new day in Sting's career.