The following article by James Harding appeared in a November 2001 issue of The Financial Times
Falling for her, lock stock and barrel: Trudie Styler - actress, producer and the very well-connected wife of Sting - is hard to resist, as a sceptical James Harding discovers.
Reporting can be an awkward business, but it was only when I met Trudie Styler for lunch that conducting an interview first gave me reason to blush.
Styler was billed as a wonderful, seductive woman. "You will love her," I had been told.
It is hard to think of a neater inducement to dislike someone than to be told you will adore them. And on paper, she seemed bound to appeal to the sneering, envious and uncharitable side of any hack. Styler is the wife of that enduring pop star Sting. She is an actress who, since the acting work dried up, has divided her time between good works: The Rainforest Foundation, making documentaries about the students of Tiananmen Square and HIV-infected Brazilian transgender prostitutes, financing such surprise hit movies as 'Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels', writing an organic cookbook based on her seven-acre vegetable patch, and bringing up her four children in a country house surrounded by the soothing beauty of the Wiltshire Downs.
Having famously been responsible for introducing Madonna to Guy Ritchie, the director of 'Lock, Stock,' Styler was recently cited as the eighth best-connected person in the UK by Harpers & Queen, the magazine that should know about such things.
Styler wandered into Cecconi's, an elegant modern Italian restaurant with bright white tablecloths, deep tan upholstery and dark wood finish in London's Mayfair. As she unbuttoned her knee-length fitted camel-coloured coat to show a sleek matching skirt, tight black knitted top with a low V-neck, I looked at this attractive woman with a designer mess of blonde hair and knew I had to keep my sceptical wits about me. Difficult questions about a seemingly charmed life were going to have to be asked.
Whatever your conversational intentions these days, how-ever, introductory chit-chat has been replaced by serious discussion about the attacks on Afghanistan and the new world of fear.
Styler, a rainforest campaigner and a reader of the conservative Daily Telegraph, was worried about the bombing campaign. She was a bad flier even before September 11. She has a 16-year-old son and had never before wondered what life was like for mothers in the age of the military draft.
By the time Styler had ordered a white wine spritzer, there had already been 20 minutes of anxious talk about the war. At which point, we made our introductions.
Styler started out by explaining why she began to make films: frustration.
"Perhaps I was reaching an age, over 30, past my sell-by date. I was not even getting a part in a play in Bolton," she says, recalling being passed over in the late 1980s to play Blanche DuBois in a Lancashire playhouse, after having had a good run in her 20s with the likes of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Around this time, she was in the Amazon basin. Styler and Sting - whom she had met when they were neighbours in Bays-water and, having fallen in love, made uncomfortable exits from their respective partners to be together - had been campaigning for a couple of years against cultural and environmental devastation in the rainforest. ("Don't make me out to be a do-gooding worthy," she says with a naughty chuckle. "Anything but that.")
On this trip, she was on her own, visiting the Kayapo country to check how Rainforest Foundation programmes were playing out on the ground. She went for a swim and some children were daring each other to swim across the local river, the Xingu.
She thought she would give it a go, too. Misjudging the under-currents, she remembers nearly drowning. "I thought, if I make it to the other side, I am going to do something different with my life. I am going to sit in the driving seat," she recalls. She made it across, flew home and set up a production company: Xingu Films.
Xingu's first film, 'Moving the Mountain', told the story of the Chinese student protesters of June 1989 in their own words. Tiananmen was a subject she had stumbled into. A friend had asked whether she and Sting had any spare clothes to lend to an exiled protester in New York.
His name was Li Lu. In 1989, he was well known in Beijing as one of the leaders of the democracy demonstrations. By the end of the 1990s, he would be a celebrity in certain Manhattan circles as a fund manager. But in the early 1990s he was an impoverished, no-name exile. Styler, who rolls her eyes to think of all the spare clothes her husband has in the closet of their New York apartment, not only lent him something to wear but took an interest in the book he was writing about his life. Over the next four years, and under the eye of director Michael Apted, it became 'Moving the Mountain'.
Styler, it seems, has a tendency to stumble into things and make something of it. 'Boys from Brazil', the Xingu film about transgender prostitutes, was the result of spotting a couple of statuesque Brazilian transvestites from the window of her car in the Bois de Boulogne. It led to the uncovering of an international industry, the export from Brazil of men who would sell themselves as women.
Disarmingly, she spends as long talking about the flops as the triumphs. She made a film - 'The Grotesque' - in which Sting played a butler called Fledge. "It really did not do well at all," she said. I nodded. She repeated, as if to make sure I had got it: "No, I mean, really not well. At all."
When Guy Ritchie came to her with the script for 'Lock, Stock,' she was drawn to it for a couple of reasons other than thinking it was an original. "It was full of typos and spelling mistakes," she remembers. "Guy is dyslexic and I am dyslexic and my son has had learning problems." So that struck a chord.
Then, she adds: "Guy said, 'And my Dad says hello'." John Ritchie had been one of the first to give a helping hand to the Rainforest Foundation.
"I have a sense of karma that runs through my life. I am not embarrassed about it. I feel very strongly about giving back. John had helped me out and it was my duty to help Guy out," Styler says.
She, with Sting alongside, became one of the project's first financial backers. More important than the money, though, Styler was instrumental in making sure that the film, once made, got distributed.
Long before 'Lock, Stock' was a box office hit, it looked destined to go straight to video. Harvey Weinstein, the Miramax boss, had walked out of a screening.
So Styler stepped in. "I called Tom Cruise as a friend. He had lived in our apartment in New York for 10 months and I asked him to go to a screening." Cruise went. Mobile phones went crazy. The movie had a distribution deal the next morning.
Styler acknowledges that she is not the average independent producer. "It helps hugely that I have never had to get a cheque in by next week to feed my kids and pay the mortgage," she says. Her husband "pays for the houses and the school fees".
Styler is the middle daughter from a working Worcestershire family - her father worked as packer and dispatcher in a local lampshade factory, her mother worked as a school dinner lady. She has two sisters, but in a rarely guarded moment, acknowledges they are not close. She does not go any further than that.
Being Sting's wife has presumably helped. She has access to a celebrity address book when arranging an annual fund-raising bash at Carnegie Hall in New York. She has been making a movie called 'The Sweatbox', about the making of 'The Emperor's New Groove', an animated feature for which Sting did the music.
But Styler's point is that being a producer has given her confidence and choice. She is no longer an actress "waiting for the phone to ring". In fact, she is now "revisiting acting, but in a position of power. I love working with actors. I love acting. And I feel it is my time." Last week, she was in Los Angeles, doing a cameo in 'Friends'.
At this point, one of Cecconi's attentive but unintrusive waiters appears at the table to say it is nearly 3.30pm. "The car is waiting for your next meeting. If you stay any longer, I am told to tell you, you are being a bad girl."
"Ooh," she says, "I like being a bad girl."
This reminds me, I need to ask the searing questions about her dark side, her hidden disappointments, the stain to the beautiful picture of her life. Fumbling for a way into this, I ask her what would a tabloid newspaper reporter ask such a social celebrity at lunch.
She rattles off the questions: "What was Madonna's wedding like? When did you last see them? Were they fighting? What is tantric sex like? Is it true that your husband approves of drugs?"
And, the answers?: "Great fun. A few months ago. No. Lovely. Yup."
"Lovely?" I ask.
"Yes, lovely. It takes patience, but lovely," she says.
Given that we have now inched into personal celebrity stuff, I ask a little about her matchmaking skills. She seemed to have pulled off one wedding, which is more than my mother has done in a non-professional lifetime of nuptial wishful-thinking. Since Madonna and Guy, any successes? "None."
Well what about me, any thoughts?
"Well, I think you and I would be well-suited," she laughs. "Do you like older women?"
She is joking. I laugh nervously. I look away. I mumble something stupid. I blush.
I have succumbed.
© The Financial Times