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The Police's Stewart Copeland: 'Reunion tour made us more money than in our entire career'

Stewart      drummer
Stewart drummer

Stewart Copeland, 70, is a musician and composer who found fame in 1978 as founder and drummer of The Police, the multi-million-record-selling rock band.

The band achieved five consecutive Number 1 albums and 10 Top 10 singles, including five Number 1s. His composing work has included the film Wall Street and TV series The Equalizer. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife Fiona.

Did your childhood influence your attitude to money?

My family lived a very wealthy lifestyle despite a meagre diplomat’s pay, because we lived in what was then called the Third World.

I was born in America and moved, aged two months, to Cairo and later Beirut. I was 14 when my father had to evacuate his family back to London and a tiny apartment.

I didn’t know which words were English or Arabic and adjusted to not being able to cross the street anywhere you want. I grew up in St John’s Wood where my parents bought a house, but his pay didn’t extend as far.

He did the same job for American oil companies but there was always underlying anxiety about where the next cheque would come from. I went to Millfield public school in Somerset on a bit of a scholarship.

What were your first jobs?

Banging s*** in bands in Beirut and London, but I didn’t get paid till I was much older. At 17 I worked in a record store in Kensington. Then at college in California I sold advertising for a university magazine. That was me: the cold sell. Walk into a store: “Hello, are you the manager?”

Are you a saver or a spender?

Saver. Sting and I got a reputation as a hot rhythm section, which paid the bills. One day we met Andy Summers who was doing somebody else’s session. The first years of The Police, when we were starving, I lived off what I’d saved from (previous band) Curved Air, using some for The Police to hire a PA or truck for gigs, and paying myself back out of that.

Do you use cash or cards?

Cash. Musicians live hand-to-mouth. In 1978 my Barclays bank manager wouldn’t give me an advance even though I’d been banking there since I was 17. I had turned up with a cheque in Deutschmarks while getting evicted and needing that money to pay my rent.

It was for a tour in Germany, but to him I was just a scruffy musician. I tried to explain my cash economy and that I did have small transactions going through, but he said no and I got evicted. My next bank was Coutts who helped me buy my first house.

Were you squatting at first?

We called it a squat but it was a fancy two-storey Mayfair apartment. My father had a socialite friend living in it who’d taken in paying guests; but they wouldn’t leave when she wanted to return to New York. So my father had a great idea, suggesting my brother Ian and I move in, which we did.

Ian started throwing wild parties and soon the other folks left, except for Lady Georgina Campbell who wouldn’t budge. The wilder Ian’s parties got he’d still wake up and see she’d left him a glass of water and an aspirin.

They eventually got us out and I moved to a bedsit in Fulham where I had to pay for rent and every hour of band rehearsal. By then we were getting work as a rhythm section, and I was writing articles for Sounds magazine, reviewing equipment. Money was trickling in.

Were you tempted to give up?

Bands tend to be optimistic. As I was getting slung out of one apartment – I lived in nine places in London – and loading up my VW Beetle to head to another basement to crash I heard my mini hit (Don’t Care by Klark Kent) [No 49 in 1978] on the radio.

Although that was at the bottom I ended up on Top of the Pops and The Police were right behind it, starting the journey to the top.

Have you invested in property?

Yes.  There was the obligatory first rock star’s estate in the country where I got a beautiful estate with a polo field at the end of the garden. By then I was working mostly for Hollywood doing film score work and bought a pied-à-terre in LA, selling the Buckinghamshire place.

None are commercial properties: we buy houses with a view to flipping them. Now we live in one house and have a retirement house in Montecito, California, where Meghan and Harry live.

Do you invest in the stock market?

Yes. My wife’s getting more clever at it. We’re long term, very conservative.

Your best and worst financial decisions?

Worst, real estate. If I’m buying, you know the housing market’s about to crash! We’ve done better since Fiona took over. I spend money building a studio with triple windows and heavy doors, but when I sell it they say, “What kind of Granny flat is this?” Best, marrying Fiona.

Have you done lucrative TV commercials?

Yes. A Wrigley’s commercial was the birth of The Police blond look. Sting was to be a wild rock star but they needed a band. Sting said, “I’ve got a band.”

Andy and I showed up and to make us look wilder they peroxided and spiked up our hair. We thought, “This is cool.” They paid us £50 each which kept us going for a month.

Your fee rose later?

Oh yes. I did music for jingles (Hyundai, insurance) with a buddy who ran a jingles house. As a film composer, advertising music is the sweet spot: the highest paid for the least music.

I did three Mountain Dew ads that ran during the Super Bowl that year: they paid six figures for 60 seconds.

The most I ever got paid was for the BlackBerry. They wanted just five notes, an earworm as the phone’s theme. Each of those notes I was paid for would have put my kid through private school for a year.

Do you have valuable equipment?

Don’t tell the taxman but when I was going back and forth to college in America to my family home in London I’d buy a guitar in America, sell it on Shaftesbury Avenue for twice the price, go back to America and so on.

I ended up buying a 1968 Gibson Standard SG now worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. I paid £125 for it in 1972.

Your most lucrative soundtrack?

For Wall Street in 1987 I was paid six figures. For my first film for Francis Coppola I played all the instruments myself. When he said, “We need strings!” I had to hire a string section.

But doing it at home we had those big budgets to spend on ourselves. One day the studios cottoned on: million-dollar composers were fighting off $200,000 composers, and the gig goes to the $20,000 kid with a laptop.

What was your most lucrative tour?

The Reunion Tour in 2007 probably grossed more than the entire income of The Police until then.

When we played at the Shea Stadium in New York to 60,000 people back in the day tickets were $17. Playing to 80,000 at the Stade de France tickets were now $300. I think it was the third highest grossing tour in history [revenue over $360 million (£284 million)].

That’s why I can afford to write opera now, where it’s all about art and the business model is to lose money!

The best and worst things you’ve bought?

Best, my horse box. It had a clubhouse, balcony; I could take eight horses to games around England. It was a hang as well as transport.

Worst, a Hillman Minx car I bought in 1977 for £25 which a day later got trashed on Hammersmith Road.

An articulated lorry overtook me and squished it into the ground. And as I’m looking at it the cops pull up and give me a ticket for bald tyres.

Stewart Copeland’s Police Deranged for Orchestra album is out on June 23. His Police Diaries 1976-9 to be released in October. Pre-order at