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Sting: an Englishman on New York

As told to Andy Morris
02 November 2016

Having sold more than 100m albums solo and as part of the Police, Sting still finds inspiration in his adopted US home

In 1978, I was driven in a saloon straight from JFK Airport to the Bowery in the dark. We went to a little club called CBGB, which is hard to describe as anything other than ‘a toilet’. The dressing room was pretty bad, the bathrooms were even worse. It was a great gig though, we did two sets there – and that was my introduction to the USA.

I’ve always fantasised and romanticised New York. The people who live there make the city: it’s an amazing melting pot. I call it an island off the coast of America. The world lives in Manhattan and the music reflects that. We used to go to Bleecker Street in the Village. There was a great record store called Bleecker Bob’s and the clubs that Bob Dylan used to work at. I made pilgrimages to those places – and actually played in some of them.

I used to go to English pubs to watch football in New York – that was the only place you could meet other English people en masse, watching a cup tie on Saturday morning, very early. You miss the camaraderie and the hurly burly of British football fans. It was fun, but now you get more English football on American TV than you can in England. I can see just about every game – apart from Newcastle as we’re not in the Premiership any more.

I would attribute the energy of my new album to New York – it’s a very spontaneous record. Here, I don’t want to switch off. It’s the city that never sleeps, as Frank Sinatra says – I go elsewhere to sleep. I live right in the middle of town so I can go to a movie, Broadway’s right round the corner and I can go to the Met to see an opera. I live just across the road from Central Park, an amazing oasis in the middle of the bustling city. You can get lost very easily among beautiful elm trees and gigantic rocks.

Walking in New York inspires me – you see stories on the street of all kinds. It’s a great place to be famous, actually. New Yorkers have a self-esteem about them merely because they are New Yorkers. They could be taxi drivers, refuse collectors or whatever. It lets them approach celebrities as equals – they’ll say ‘Hi’ or ‘I like your music’ or ‘You suck’. It’s very direct and it’s very refreshing. I feel like a citizen rather than some strange alien.

I first met Quentin Crisp many years ago on a movie we did together, The Bride. When I moved to New York, we’d go and have lunch every couple of months. He was a wonderful man: sweet and interesting, and very funny and original. I admired him greatly. He was very flamboyant – he stuck out like a sore thumb in the Bowery. I wrote a song about him, Englishman in New York, about being himself, no matter what they say. Now people associate me with the song, but I’m not quite as flamboyant as Crisp was.

My toast preferences? That goes over people’s head that I like it done on one side. I don’t know how many people do. Maybe it’s totally unique!