How could it be that my favorite cruise ever was on a ship that never left port? Easy: because Sting was the cruise ship entertainment.
Sting performed songs from his new musical, “The Last Ship,” before a select group of journalists and crew members aboard Cunard Cruise Line’s Queen Mary 2 in New York City (Cunard is partnering with Sting to support performances of “The Last Ship” at the Sage Gateshead in the UK).
And if Sting seemed at home as the shipboard entertainment, there’s a reason: he used to be a cruise ship musician.
Sting gets back to his seafaring roots performing aboard the Queen Mary 2. (Photo: Cunard)
“I used to work on the P&O line on a ship called the Oriana,” Sting told me as we chatted on the deck of the Queen Mary 2 after his performance. Sting’s cruising days, of course, were before his old band, The Police, hit it big in the 1980s and pretty much dominated my childhood.
During his former life on the high seas, Sting played bass in the shipboard band and even sang a little bit. But he said that came to an end when he was informed his singing was “bothering the female passengers.”
Fortunately, the experience prepared Sting for musical stardom. ”You had to do all kinds of music,” he said. “You had to play ballroom dancing, you had to play cabaret, pop music, disco, anything… It was a very good education for a young musician.”
Listening to Sting’s old sea stories after the show. (Photo: Brittany Jones-Cooper)
Anyone who’s listened to Sting’s music knows that ships and the sea are common themes in his work (“Message in a Bottle,” “The Pirate’s Bride,” pretty much the entire “Soul Cages” album). “The Last Ship” is no different; it’s based on his memories of growing up in the English shipbuilding town of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
“All the biggest ships that were built in the world were built at the end of my street… the supertankers. They were even bigger than this one,” he said, gesturing at the massive vessel on which we stood.
Sting seemed happy to return to the sea for that afternoon’s Queen Mary 2 performance. Could another cruise ship gig be in his future? ”The Queen Mary 2 is something I could get used to,” he answered, smiling — a sly acknowledgement of the irony that our shipboard performer that day probably is rich enough to buy the ship.
Sting’s performance was life-changing for me, and not just because I got to speak to a childhood idol. Whenever I go on a cruise, I usually skip the cruise ship entertainment, but I’m now rethinking that policy. After all, you never know: there could be another future 16-time Grammy winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee performing on board.