Sting on the 40th anniversary of ‘Every Breath You Take’: A record fortune and a romance that started in scandal

The quintessential 1980s anthem celebrates its 40th anniversary this July and broke records for both popularity and earnings. Camouflaged as a ballad, the song about jealousy and control ended up becoming the epitaph for the singer’s first marriage and for his band The Police

Sting at a The Police concert
Sting at a The Police concert on September 17, 1983, in Augsburg, Germany.picture alliance (Getty Image)

Sting is the first big name confirmed for the new Christmas by Starlite festival. The 71-year-old British musician — who has as much star power as any current artist — has been announced as the headliner of the concert that will take place in Madrid in mid-December. The winner of 17 Grammy awards continues to travel the world on the My Songs tour, performing his most important repertoire both as a solo artist and as the frontman of The Police. Sting’s eldest son, Joe Sumner, is joining him on tour and has embraced his father’s legacy as a talented bassist; he even uses his paternal surname in his stage name.

This summer, Sting will perform The Police’s most emblematic song, Every Breath You Take, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary as a pop anthem par excellence. The tune is so catchy and enduring that it was even studied by researchers at the University of Denmark, and in 2019 BMI records, the leading copyright company, recognized it as the most played song in formula radio history. In July 1983, it dethroned classic songs like Michael Jackson’s Beat It, David Bowie’s Let’s Dance and Irene Cara’s Flashdance... What a Feeling on the Billboard Charts and catapulted the songwriter to stardom. But the song’s creation and success also served as the epitaph for Sting’s first marriage and for his band, which helped define the 1980s music scene.

“It’s a nasty little song,” Sting once said of the tune that had just made The Police the world’s most popular pop band. He wrote it while in the middle of an inspirational retreat in Jamaica, at the house that formerly belonged to Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond series. “One couple told me ‘Oh we love that song; it was the main song played at our wedding!’ I thought, ‘Well, good luck.’ I think the song is very, very sinister and ugly and people have actually misinterpreted it as being a gentle little love song, when it’s quite the opposite.” Sting said. Despite the romantic and seductive packaging that has made Every Breath You Take a common choice for first wedding dances for decades, the British musician has always maintained that the song was a therapeutic way of coping with the breakup of his first marriage to actress Frances Tomelty, the mother of his first two children. It was also a way to channel feelings such as “jealousy, surveillance and ownership.”

Gordon Sumner
Sting with his first wife, actress Frances Tomelty, in London on July 13, 1982.PA Images (Getty Images)

The divorce was avidly covered in the press at the time. After almost a decade with the Irish actress, Sting began a romance with Trudie Styler, one of Tomelty’s best friends. Since 1977 — before Sting had even formed the band that would turn him into a global phenomenon — the actress had been the couple’s neighbor in a building in the London neighborhood of Bayswater, near Notting Hill. As he writes in his autobiography, Broken Music, he fell in love with Styler the very moment he met her, but his engagement kept him from acting on it for years.

After word of the infidelity got out, the scandal took its toll on Styler. Her brilliant career came to a sudden halt amid accusations of “gold-digging” and misogynistic comparisons with Yoko Ono; she was blamed for The Police breaking up a few months after her romance with Sting began. She had previously traveled with the band on its triumphant 1983 world tour, even though Sting was still married to Tomelty. A few months later, without an official announcement, the trio that Sting formed with Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland disbanded after five studio albums, numerous clashes between egos, volatile temperaments and hit songs like Roxanne.

The Police
The Police in Japan, January 3, 1981.Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music (Getty Images)

“It was the least ideal situation you can imagine. Neither of us are proud of a situation that happened — it just happened. We loved each other and we lived together and then we got married and we had more kids. And that’s our life story,” the actress told The Guardian. The following year, Mickey, the first of the couple’s four children, was born, and Sting and Styler got married in 1992. Despite his fruitful reproductive history, Sting revealed in People magazine that his life goals never included fatherhood: “I became a dad by accident six times — that’s how smart I am. Yet they were the happiest accidents of my life because they’re remarkable human beings.”

When the media harassment finally stopped, Styler reinvented herself by producing social and humanitarian-themed documentaries — she was named a UNICEF ambassador — although she continues to appear in small and sporadic film and television roles. The couple’s early years were turbulent, but in 2023 the pair can now boast of being one of the most stable, long-lasting and influential marriages in Hollywood; they are friends with the likes of Robert De Niro, Madonna and the Clintons. Together, they have engaged in environmental activism with the Rainforest Foundation; supported indigenous peoples in Africa, Asia and South America; become trailblazers in promoting the advantages of organic food; and debunked the taboos surrounding tantric sex. The pair also shares a passion for viticulture and successfully market the wine produced on their 350-hectare estate in Tuscany. The secret to their long and successful relationship? “We love each other, but we actually like each other — and that’s an important distinction there. So, you can have both, and I think that’s important. Be married to your best friend,” Sting said.

Sting and Trudie Styler
Sting and his second and current wife, Trudie Styler, in New York in 1985.Robin Platzer/IMAGES (Getty Images)

With an estimated fortune of over $400 million, the British star is considered one of the world’s wealthiest artists after selling his entire catalog of songs to Universal Music last year for an astronomical sum. Just a few weeks ago, rapper Sean “Diddy” Combs (better known as Puff Daddy) made headlines when he admitted his alleged payment to Sting of $5,000 a day for sampling Every Breath You Take in his 1997 hit I’ll Be Missing You. Although Sting complained at the time that Combs had not asked for permission to use his song, he now boasts of their friendship and acknowledges that he sent a couple of his children to college with the proceeds from the tribute to a work that, as it celebrates its 40th anniversary, remains as relevant as ever.

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