To Sting, the most interesting part of his life story isn’t an award show or stadium concert — it’s the time before he became known as his famous moniker.
In this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, the legendary rocker, 68, reflects on his unique life growing up in Wallsend, a shipyard town in northeastern England.
“Fame is a well-trodden path,” Sting says. “I grew up in such an unusual environment. It was kind of epic, in hindsight. I was born in a street that was towered over by giant ships. Literally you couldn’t see the sun. There were armies of men marching in to work on those ships every day. It was like being in a movie.”
“Also, people lived where they worked,” he adds. “That’s rare nowadays, and I didn’t appreciate it at the time. I wanted to get out of there, but I appreciate it now because it was a real community.”
As a kid, Sting (born Gordon Sumner) dreamed of a more glamorous life than the humble one offered in Wallsend.
“They would get a famous celebrity to launch a ship, and I remember seeing the Queen Mother in her Rolls-Royce at the age of 8 and thinking, ‘Why can’t I have that life?’” he says. “I suppose that’s what fed my ambition to escape.”
Sting did indeed escape and went on to become the leader of the new wave band the Police and later a solo artist, with 17 Grammy Awards to his name, hits including “Every Breath You Take,” “Fields of Gold” and “Desert Rose” and more than 100 million records sold.
And now, Sting says he’s on “one of the greatest adventures” of his career as he brings his childhood to life in his newly revived Tony-nominated musical The Last Ship, which is set in an English shipyard town in decline.
“For all of that planning to escape [Wallsend], here I am, eight times a week,” he says with a laugh. “But I love it.”
Sting stars in and wrote music for the show, which recently wrapped its Los Angeles run and is now playing in San Francisco through March 22 before setting sail for stops in Washington, D.C., St. Paul and Detroit.
“I’m very passionate about this project,” says Sting. “There’s more of me in this play than I had intended … Memories of my family and of their dramas are all in this play in a metaphorical way.”
“Over my dead body,” he says. “I couldn’t bear that idea. It’s better to have an overarching metaphor to express your life than actually have a biopic. It actually makes me shiver.”
“I’m going to do all my hits, and my hits are my own emotional landscapes,” he says. “I’m going to take people through my rather unlikely story from the beginning, and it’s told through songs and sets.”
Despite more than four decades of stardom under his belt, Sting has no plans to retire anytime soon.
“The doctor told me the other day, ‘Always assume that you’ve only lived half your life,’” Sting recalls. “I said, ‘Well, okay, then when I die, I’ll be 150.’ You just have to stay creative. In my head I’m only 15.”
For more on Sting, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere Friday.