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The Sweet Sting Of Success

August 11, 1985|ROBERT HILBURN

I t's late June on the sun-soaked patio of Sting's favorite suite in his favorite West Hollywood hotel. The rock and film star is insisting that the soft pop life isn't for him, but he sure looks content.

Sting, 33, has a charming, slightly self-deprecating and conspiratorial way of telling stories that makes everything he says seem like a revelation. The theme this morning is normalcy--or as normal as it gets for someone who is one of the hottest pop personalities in the world.

Sting's new album, "The Dream of the Blue Turtles," is in the Top 5. His much-awaited American solo tour begins Tuesday at San Diego State University's Open Air Theatre before moving Thursday to the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles for five shows. He also co-stars with Jennifer Beals in "The Bride," which opens Friday, and has a key supporting role in a Meryl Streep film due late next month.

With all this activity and that devilishly handsome face, Sting has the media enthralled. He has been on the cover of more than a dozen magazines in the last two months, ranging from Musician to GQ.

Still, he argues that none of this has gone to his head. Sting says he knows that fame is a trap and he must constantly challenge himself artistically (i.e., recording his first solo album with jazz musicians) and physically. He runs at least an hour every day and rides motorcycles at break-neck speeds.

"I demand the right to walk on the street and behave the way everyone else behaves," he maintains. "I don't have bodyguards or armored cars or sunglasses even. At home, I go around to the pub or the betting shop or to the store to buy cat food."

Maybe so, but there are forces at work to make sure that Sting enjoys that degree of normalcy. The hotel manager waits anxiously in the lobby for the reporter and photographer to come down from Sting's room. "Please," she says, "don't mention the name of the hotel (in your article)."

Is she joking? Every hotel wants publicity. But the manager's not smiling.

"Lots of celebrities stay here and there's no problem, but Sting mentioned the hotel in a couple of interviews and we ended up with his fans all over the place. We don't want to go through that again."

What this about behaving the way everyone else behaves? Is Sting really isolated? Doesn't he know that his hotel lobby is sometimes crawling with his fans?

Two weeks later, we test Sting's normalcy boast in London. He's on a movie sound stage, making a video for his new British single, "Love Is the Seventh Wave." He had agreed to continue the interview here, where the usual thing would be to talk in his dressing room or on the set. But I suggest during the lunch break that we take a walk down the street. I wanted to see how he'd react: A lot of pop stars feel uneasy in public. They speak proudly about being a regular guy, but they slip in through back entrances. Without hestitation, Sting replies, "Sure, let's go."

Sting spots a small park where several dozen people are sitting on the grass eating lunch. He suggests we join them, but first he wants to walk over to the nearby betting shop. He owns a horse that's running in the fourth race at York. Sting makes a small bet (about $75) and puts the ticket in his pocket.

On the street, Sting carries the aura of a man in complete control. There's an air of culture about him, but also a wry, mischievous streak.

He's oblivious to the stares from passers-by--and the magazine rack where his face is staring at us from three covers. He's even got guidelines on how to act in public. Waiting to cross the street, Sting is approached by young man for an autograph. He signs it and moves on.

("The secret to getting along in public is in how you behave," Sting advises. "If you run down the street with your collar up and three bodyguards alongside, people are going to obviously chase you. If you walk down the street normally, though, people will just say hello and maybe ask for an autograph. The trick is to keep moving, even if you sign it. That's easier than saying no.")

That control is one of the qualities often cited by people who've observed him since his rise to stardom six years ago with the Police.

"It's like he gets up in the morning and programs himself," says one associate in London. "That doesn't mean he isn't fun to be around, but he's very determined and you get the feeling he has always been that way. He's got incredible energy and drive.

"He may look as if he were born to be a star, but he had to struggle every inch of the way. In some ways, he has been running so long that the idea of stopping doesn't even occur to him. The one thing he hates is wasting time."

Sting's looks, seductive singing voice and sophisticated demeanor do give the appearance of someone who was handed success. But Gordon Matthew Sumner was no fortunate son. His father was a milkman in Newcastle, one of the most troubled towns in England. Everything about his neighborhood suggested dead-end. He was on the dole 10 years ago in London.

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