Photo: Yancho Sabev / wikipedia

My Songs concert by Sting, Papp László Budapest Sportaréna, March 16, 2022

$2000 a day would surely take most people’s breath away

A concert by Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, Commander of the Order of the British Empire, “English musician, actor, real estate investor and philanthropist”, likely wouldn’t attract many music fans. A concert under his stage name, Sting, is another matter.

Why is Sting called Sting? We ought to know by now, and if we ever did, we don’t recall. What are his biggest hits and what else is he famous for? What’s he worth? What about his personal life? He’s coming to town and so The Budapest Times went looking for facts, and one eye-opener we turned up is that he earns $2000 a day from one song alone – a day!

Gordon Sumner entered the world, centre stage, on October 2, 1951, in Wallsend, Northumberland, England. Mum Audrey was a hairdresser and Dad Ernest is said to have worked as an engineer and milkman (two rather disparate occupations). Young Gordon would often assist his father with the early-morning milk-delivery rounds and his “best friend” was an old Spanish guitar with five rusty strings that had been left behind by an uncle who emigrated to Canada.

Sting had younger siblings named Anita, Philip and Angela, and he attended St. Cuthbert’s Grammar School and the University of Warwick, leaving before graduating. He was a tax officer, building labourer and bus conductor (again, rather disparate occupations), then attended the Northern Counties College of Education in Newcastle Upon Tyne from 1971-74, qualifying to teach primary school.

He played jazz between his studies, with the Newcastle Big Band, Phoenix Jazzmen and Last Exit, and after graduating in 1974 he continued performing during the two years he spent teaching at St. Paul’s First School in Cramlington, near Newcastle.

The nickname “Sting” was bestowed by one of his Phoenix Jazzmen bandmates because while performing he often wore a hooped black-and-yellow sweater that resembled a bee, or wasp (wonder if it would be worth much on eBay today?). Much later, when addressed by a journalist as Gordon, he was quoted as responding: “My children call me Sting, my mother calls me Sting, who is this Gordon character?”

Sting moved to London in 1977 and formed The Police with drummer Stewart Copeland and guitarist Henry Padovani (who would be replaced by Andy Summers). The Police was basically a pop band with a few other styles dropped in, and Sting sang lead and played bass, and the trio all teased their bleached-blond hair (apparently dyed for a never-aired chewing gum commercial then retained).

Their debut album, “Outlandos d’Amour,” was released in November 1978 and reached the top 10 charts in the United Kingdom, France, New Zealand and the Netherlands. It featured the singles “Roxanne” and “Can’t Stand Losing You,” and was followed by 1979’s “Reggatta de Blanc” album, which topped the bestseller lists in four countries.

The single “Message in a Bottle” was certified Gold in the UK and The Police’s next three albums, 1980’s “Zenyatta Mondatta,” 1981’s “Ghost in the Machine” and 1983’s “Synchronicity,” yielded hit singles such as “Don’t Stand So Close to Me,” “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” “Every Breath You Take” and “Wrapped Around Your Finger.”

The band won six Grammys before Sting left to pursue a prolific solo career, though they reunited for a 30th anniversary world tour in 2007-08. He released his first solo studio album, “The Dream of the Blue Turtles,” in June 1985, and went on to release 13 more, including “…Nothing Like the Sun” (1987), “Ten Summoner’s Tales” (1993), “Mercury Falling” (1996) and “Brand New Day” (1999), which were all certified Platinum or higher in the UK and US.

With The Police and his subsequent solo career, Sting has sold more than 100 million records (there’s one of those nice round figures again). He has acted in several film and television projects, including “Quadrophenia” (1979), “Dune” (1984), “The Larry Sanders Show” (1996), “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” (1998), “Ally McBeal” (2001) and “Zoolander 2” (2016).

Sting has been nominated for 45 Grammys, taking home the prize 17 times. He hosted “Saturday Night Live” in 1991 and 1997, and he appeared on Broadway in “3 Penny Opera” (1989) and “The Last Ship” (2014). He has published two books, “Broken Music” (2003) and “Lyrics” (2007), and Queen Elizabeth II awarded him his CBE in 2003.

There are plenty of people and institutions out there just waiting to dish out accolades, and Sting was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2000 and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002. The Police made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the following year.

There’s more but that’s enough. Sting must be worth a bob or two, right? The Budapest Times discovers a website called “Celebrity Net Worth. The Website Future Billionaires Read Every Day”. And it states straight out that the “English musician, actor, real estate investor and philanthropist” has a net worth of $400 million (presumably give or take a few dollars and cents) as of July 2021.

Interestingly, Sting’s classic ballad “Every Breath You Take” from 1983, about an unhealthy obsession with a lost love, is one of the top 10 most profitable songs of all time for royalties. After being one of the biggest hits of 1983, the song received a huge re-boot in popularity in 1997 when the rapper Puff Daddy (now known as Diddy) released his cover tribute to the late rapper Notorious B.I.G., “I’ll Be Missing You.” Diddy’s version would go on to win a Grammy and become one of the best-selling singles of all time with more than 7 million sales worldwide.

In 2010 Sting’s former business manager claimed that this song is responsible for more than a quarter of all the singer’s lifetime publishing income, and today still produces $2000 a day ($730,000 a year) in royalties for Sting. Songwriting for “Every Breath You Take” is credited 100 percent to him. When Diddy produced his version, he neglected to seek permission first, which allowed Sting to demand and receive an unheard of 100 percent of the remix’s publishing royalties (the standard would have been 25-50 percent).

Curiously, the only part of the original Police song that Diddy actually sampled was Andy Summer’s guitar riff. Neither Sting’s vocals nor Stewart Copeland’s drums can be heard anywhere on “I’ll Be Missing You.” Because Sting is listed as the sole composer, Summers did not receive a dime in royalties from Diddy and was not even consulted for his blessing.

In fact, Summers was not even aware of the song until his son heard it on the radio. Summers called Puff Daddy’s recording “the major rip-off of all time”. Furthermore, he elaborated: “He actually sampled my guitar, and that’s what he based his whole track on. Stewart’s not on it. Sting’s not on it. I’d be walking round Tower Records and the fucking thing would be playing over and over. It was very bizarre while it lasted.”

That’s rock ‘n’ roll. Expect to hear “Every Breath You Take” during Sting’s My Songs concert at Papp László Budapest Sportaréna on March 16. The show features his most beloved songs, both with The Police and as a solo artist. Sting will be accompanied by an electric, rock ensemble and “special guest” will be Joe Sumner, Sting’s son.

PS: Sting and his wife Trudie Styler co-founded the Rainforest Foundation Fund with Kayapo Indian leader Raoni Metuktire, and a species of Colombian tree frog was named Dendropsophus stingi in his honour due to his “commitment and efforts to save the rainforest”. Sting is 70 years old.

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