He wriggles towards us like a 70s disco queen, dancing to 'Brown Sugar'. 'It's one of my favourites. I had to decide a long time ago what to do when our songs came on - cringe or dance. I went for the dance option.' Mick Jagger talks to Mariella Frostrup about fame, family and turning 60 Sunday July 13, 2003 The Observer
Barcelona lies open-mouthed in anticipation. The city is in the grip of a surrealist's dream. It's awash with disembodied crimson lips. In the Olympic stadium a sea of them flutters flaccidly in expectation. Later that night, they'll be flapping in time to the beat and looking faintly pornographic. Wherever I go in this noisy city, these soundless mouths confront me. Around the pool at the Arts Hotel, the same greedy, crimson smackers are tattooed on to arms, spread across backs and chests. I rub my eyes in disbelief when a pair emerges from the pool embedded in a woman's navel. Now, here in my room, this 'labia majora'; the original all-consuming, eternally hungry gob is wide open and looming ever closer. It's like seeing the Mona Lisa for the first time after a lifetime of being sent postcards. It sneers, it twitches, then cracks open to reveal a dark interior lit by a single glinting diamond embedded in a molar. Like a lighthouse beacon it signals danger, but still it entices you ever closer. Nearer and nearer you go, and then suddenly it explodes and spreads like lava. The face brandishing those ravenous lips crumples into itself; a paper bag of mirth. Mick Jagger is laughing.
The soon-to-be-60 singer with the Rolling Stones has plenty to laugh about. It's 40 years since his band sped into the charts with 'Come On' and began their tenure as the greatest rock'n'roll band in the world. Four decades later, they are still on the road on a year-long, sell-out tour. Jagger will be celebrating his six decades to date at a stadium in Prague. I wonder if he ever imagined he'd be spending this birthday thus. 'Yes,' he chuckles, 'It was booked years ago.' But at 60? I press on. 'I think every birthday you get to you sort of can't believe. When you're 21, you can't believe you're 21, when you're 30, you can't believe you're 30. You start getting a bit better at this as you go on because you've already done 40 - that was big, difficult, incredulous. So you just have to accept it.'
A glance around the Olympic stadium in Barcelona suggests that the Stones' appeal extends far beyond their own generation. I watch fathers hoist seven-year-old sons on to their shoulders, teenage girls throw their underwear in a torrent on to the stage, macho bikers perform Mexican waves and whole families in matching Stones T-shirts. The spirit of carnival suffuses the stadium and the excitement is palpable. 'They're a communal celebration, these big outdoor shows,' says Jagger with obvious pride. 'I don't want to blow my own trumpet, but it is amazingly successful to do this kind of tour at any time. Whether you're 20 or whether you're 60, there are very few people out there - I mean you can count them on the fingers of one hand, the bands who can pull off a tour this size.'
I'm amazed that he can still muster up the enthusiasm. Touring from an outsider's point of view seems a rather relentless grind. 'It's great fun, really. That's the thing. It's hilarious watching the whole of Barcelona get wound up for the Rolling Stones, - there's the most enormous build-up. Reading all the papers, I go out on the street and they're all going, "Oh, I bought my ticket three months ago," and there's all these footballers all lined up with their model girlfriends to come to the show. I mean it's hilariously funny. To have that effect, it's an enormous laugh. And, of course, you get paid for it really well. You feel fantastic at the end of the evening if you give 50,000 people a great time and you're earning tons of money. So who's losing out?'
In the UK, the Rolling Stones are often ridiculed as wrinkly rockers for having the audacity to strut their stuff post-50. But for those old enough to remember the early days of the group who invented the sex, drugs and rock'n'roll lifestyle, it's a miracle that they are still together. Earlier that day I'd spotted the famously nocturnal Keith Richards, 59, sporting what appeared to be a healthy golden tan.
In the 60s, a Stones tour spelled hysteria, in the 70s and 80s debauchery, and in the 90s the last word in stadium rock. Nowadays, it's more of a family affair. Rampaging around the hotel are scores of Rolling Stones offspring including four of Jagger's seven children and two of his grandchildren. Occupying the bandwagon full time for this 'Licks' tour are 180 people, including a core group of employees who run the show and have been involved with the group for 20 years. It must put the Rolling Stones on a par with the Civil Service in terms of long-term employment prospects. Along the way, this army of roadies, technicians and assistants is augmented by the ever-increasing gang of kids whose ages roam three decades, wives, ex-girlfriends, friends and parents. A Stones tour is a spectacle before it even hits the stage.
The self-confessed ringmaster of this travelling circus is Michael Phillip Jagger, born in Dartford, London, on 26 July 1943, and these days better known as Sir Mick, knight of the realm and eternal bad boy. His celebrated reign in the media as the Sun King of rock'n'roll came to an end in the early 90s. The tabloids portrayed him as a tragic, burnt-out figure. His sexual promiscuity, seemingly unchecked by his Balinese 'wedding' to Jerry Hall, provided acres of column inches. Reports of his reluctance to pay off wives and girlfriends provoked outrage and charges of miserliness. Solo albums, like last year's Goddess in the Doorway, were ridiculed, despite sales of more than a million. Mick Jagger, it seemed, could do no right.
'Nearly everything they write about me is untrue, complete bollocks.' In the face of this barrage Jagger has remained tight-lipped, refusing to enter the fray, and so the speculation and conjecture about every aspect of his life continues unabated. All this despite the fact that the reality of his life bears little relationship to the headlines themselves. He remains on excellent terms with all his exes, none of whom are starving in a garret. Indeed, he still shares a London home with Hall. His children are well provided for and his relationship with them is enviably close. He's a responsible and hands-on father; these days more likely to be photographed out on the town with his daughters than with girls young enough to be his daughters (Sophie Dahl excluded).
Jagged Films, his film-production company, is a burgeoning success responsible for the critically acclaimed Enigma, starring Dougray Scott, and is now in pre-production on a movie about the life of the poet Dylan Thomas. His most recent excursion as an actor, in The Man From Elysian Fields, gleaned his best reviews to date. Finally, his band has been playing to sell-out stadiums across the world for the past year. It's a state of affairs for which he can take much of the credit, since he runs all aspects of the band's business.
'I don't think anyone else is interested. I don't think anyone else in the band is the slightest bit interested in that part of it. As long as it's successful. I'm sure if it wasn't successful they'd be very interested.' It's a typical Jagger statement, disingenuous and accompanied by a chuckle. From what I glean in snatched conversations with various members of the crew, Mick is omnipresent on tour, overseeing everything from ticket sales to set lists and stage design, the latter in conjunction with drummer Charlie Watts. If he's past it then hand me my bus pass now.
The tabloid image of Jagger continues to be that of a libidinous miser, a 'contradiction in terms' as he points out. I ask if either is true. On the subject of money he insists, 'All those rich lists in the Sunday Times are so far off the mark. I don't know about anyone else's, but mine definitely is. It used to go up millions even though I'd just been sitting around doing nothing. How they can make that stuff up and publish it, as factual evidence on a hundred people, is bollocks. I'm not saying I'm poor, but I do spend an awful lot of money just on keeping everything up, all the people and the children and all the ex-wives and the house that you don't live in that you still have to keep going.'
His outrage at the injustice of it all is making me giggle. 'I know you don't think I spend any money but I do,' he says. 'Anyway, those of us brought up in the 50s were taught to be frugal. We don't like throwing computers away as soon as they don't work - apart from out the window in frustration. We like cars to be repaired instead of junked. We're not brought up like Puff Daddy to be taking 30 free-loading friends to the south of France and spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on Cristal. The truth is, most English people, whether they're rich or not so rich, just don't behave like that.'
Much of the speculation about Mick's relationship to his cash is inspired by divorce and paternity settlements, the acrimonious nature of which he asserts is totally unjustified. 'We live in a very litigious society and the tactic used in divorce cases is to demand a huge sum of money in the hope that you'll eventually get a percentage of that enormous sum. But the papers say you are being sued for, let's say, £50m, so when you pay out 10 you're accused of being a miser. Most people would say £10m is actually rather a lot of money.'
It's not just wives, of course. Mick's most recent spat in the courts was with the mother of his three-year-old son Lucas, Luciana Morad, a Brazilian model with whom he had a three-month fling. 'Luciana didn't need to sue me. She didn't even give me a chance to give her any money. She just employed this adversarial self-publicising lawyer who wasn't the slightest bit interested in settlement, just in what publicity he could get for himself. She now realises that was a mistake.' As Jagger acknowledges about the relationship itself, which heralded the end of his two decades with Jerry Hall. 'It was a mistake and I admit it. But then I say that and in a few years Lucas reads it and thinks, "Oh I was a mistake," so I have to add the caveat that he's a really nice little boy. If I don't it sounds horrible.' It's as much as he will divulge on the topic of his sexual antics. Jagger is not a man given to self-scrutiny.
Bear in mind that during this exchange we both know he's had a girlfriend for over a year, the LA-based stylist L'Wren Scott.
Do you think of yourself as single?
'That's a very tough one.'
I think it would be fair to say you were dating.
'That would be fair.'
Did you enjoy the period when you were single?
'It didn't last long.' [He bursts out laughing.]
Do you prefer to be in a relationship?
[No longer laughing.] 'That's a very complex question and I don't want to answer it.'
Do you think people are justified in thinking that you misbehave quite a lot?
'It depends what you call misbehaving. I find it very difficult to be married.'
Is monogamy a mystery to you?
'It's a great headline! I think monogamy is not for everyone.'
There follows a lengthy explanation of the social mores of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. It begins thus: 'At certain points in our recent history we've been forced to accept certain rules and regulations in our social behaviour. Which even some of us on the fringes of bohemia have been forced to come to terms with, ie monogamy, marriage, children, all those things, right?' He carries on with a look at pre-Victorian values, culminating in an argument for a more open form of relationship, as with the current restrictions marriage itself is impossible and divorce inevitable. 'Nowadays, it's acceptable that you get married and divorced every couple of years. As long as you're faithful within those couple of years that you're married. I mean I don't think that is particularly acceptable as a form of social behaviour. I'm not saying going around fucking everyone you like is acceptable, either. But there are many different forms of social arrangement.' Sir Mick could no doubt illuminate me on any number of them. I can't help wondering if Jerry Hall had to sit though the same history lesson each time another Latin lovely sold her story.
At this point, I have to declare an interest. From unpromising beginnings I've grown to like Jagger a lot. We met four years ago at the launch party for a book about the Stones. My view of him then pretty much echoed that of the tabloids. A dirty old man rocking on way past his bedtime. It was the week of the Stones' show at Wembley in 1998 and, on introduction, Mick told me that he was aching from head to foot. 'You poor thing,' I sympathised. 'The show must be really exhausting.' 'Oh, it's not the show, today is a day off. It's the cricket.' 'You've been playing cricket?' 'No, spectating. At my age even that's exhausting!' He burst out laughing and our friendship was born. In 'real life', Jagger is one of the funniest mimics I've come across, he's also erudite, incredibly well informed about just about everything and one of the most enthusiastic, if unconventional, dancers I've ever come across. There's a lot of elbow and lip work. A year after we met, I spent Millennium New Year's Eve with a group of friends on Mustique. Mick took to the dancefloor at midnight and was still there at 3am with the teenagers. He unabashedly gyrated his way through five Stones songs in the course of the evening. On another occasion, while making a 'short film' to keep the children amused over a weekend at his chateau in France, Mick's part (Sir Michael Du Lac) required him to walk through the formal garden dancing. We had no stereo outside, so it had to be to imaginary music. He wriggled his way with gusto down the front lawn towards us like a 70s disco queen. My husband asked him what he'd been dancing to. '"Brown Sugar"', he whispered. 'It's one of my favourites.' When I ask him if it causes him embarrassment when his songs come on he replies, 'I had to make a decision a long time ago - dance or cringe. I went for the dance option.'
It's hard to equate the touring, serpentine, slightly reclusive singer with the figure he cuts when he's not on the road. At his modest chateau, Jagger drives a small hatchback and can be found pottering around the local garden centre looking for plants to fill borders. Guests are led through the flourishing vegetable garden to check on his courgettes. Ever present, squealing by the pool, or clustering around him, are his children, now numbering seven and including Karis, the product of his brief affair with singer Marsha Hunt; Jade, the child of his first marriage to Bianca Jagger; his four children with Jerry Hall, Elizabeth, 19, James, 17, Georgia, 13 and Gabriel, 5; and finally Lucas, born of his affair with Morad.
Watching Sir Mick prowling around the stage, it is hard to imagine him as doting dad and grandfather. Then again, as a band member famously observed: 'He's a nice bunch of guys.' Jagger admits that the singer and father figure are quite disparate. 'Yeah, they are, but I can switch from one to the other quite quickly.' He giggles and his face settles with such ease into its laughter lines that it's clear he's spent the majority of his six decades smiling.
'The other night I was trying to get Gabriel to come on stage and hide behind the amps and watch. Which I thought was a funny thing to do. It was half way through the show where Keith does his two songs and he was just finishing. It was a big stadium show. So I said come on Gabriel, let's just go up and hide behind the amps, but he got really scared. One minute I was being dad and then suddenly I had to go on and I was left with Gabriel half way up the steps and he started to cry. You know, like children get very fearful. I can remember those fearful moments, usually involving large crowds when my father would take me to football matches. Anyway, I had to go back on so I gave him to the first person there, Alan, who's worked with me forever, so he was fine, and I rushed off and did 'Sympathy for the Devil'.' At which point he opens his iceberg-blue eyes wide in pantomime style and delivers a burst of 'Woo, woo' - the crowd chant that greets that particular Stones' anthem. 'It was just a funny moment. Talking about going between one and the other.'
For a grandad he's in bloody good shape. Jagger's milky-white stomach is on display throughout the interview in a stripy blue and white shirt only buttoned across his nipples. He is so lean and wiry that you could follow the progress of a pea journeying through his intestines. The Stones have always looked nutritionally challenged: Jagger puts it down to the fact that they're Second World War babies, but to have a rock-hard belly at 30 let alone 60 is quite an achievement. Gym sessions every other day with his Norwegian trainer, Torje, ('It's not fashionable to do it every day'), a near teetotal stance on alcohol and eight hours' sleep a night are just some of the contributing factors. Then there's the more unusual assertion that touring not only keeps him healthy but brimful of vitality. 'That may sound absurd, but there is something to be said for it because if you're actually functioning in this way, then you have to be completely switched on. You know, you're very involved, you have to be very healthy, you have to work very hard, you're interested in things and you're seeing a lot of the world. All these things make you much more vibrant than if you were the classic, semi-retired rock musician that's got money but is sort of going to seed and doesn't really like anything going on around him, because everyone else is 30 years younger and selling records and he's not doing anything. I'm not in that position - which I think is not a very good position to be in, to be honest.'
On tour he slips very comfortably into the giant bubble that is built around their transitory existence. Jagger, with all the trimmings, is a shock if you have any experience of the off-tour Mick, a shadowy will-o'-the-wisp who slips in and out of London alone, with only his driver and the blacked-out windows of his car hinting at his iconic status. 'There are some famous people who like to be in a bubble the whole time. I don't. I find it fantastically restricting.
I think it's very important to be part of a larger society. Not just a famous individual that's isolated.'
On tour, Jagger's computer keeps him in touch with the world; he emails friends and reads the papers via the internet. 'I made a resolution to give up reading the tabloids. I was becoming obsessed with all the same things I criticised other people for being obsessed with. Some old biddy falling in the pool or some divorce or other.' Instead he keeps his beady eye on world affairs. 'There was a front page in the Independent the other day about how the Brazilian rainforest is disappearing even faster than anticipated thanks to the European obsession with soya beans. It was on the BBC web page, too. So I immediately cancelled my soya intake, which was minimal I admit, probably once a week when I had soy on my salmon. But it's terrible to have to say to your children, look at this now because when you're my age it will be gone. One imagines them as permanent features, like the London Eye.' Mick can't stay serious for long. As for the war in Iraq, he describes it as a 'huge post-imperial adventure. Personally, I didn't think it was of any importance to the politicians whether there were or weren't weapons of mass destruction there. It's power politics. You want to control certain parts of the world because they're important to you. The geo-political map has shifted and you want to go in and re-draw it. Anyone who thinks it was about anything is naive.'
One of Mick Jagger's most appealing qualities is his unabated lust for life. If you're planning an adventure, Mick's in. Recently, in answer to his publicist's question about what he'd do if he wasn't a rock star, Mick replied: 'I'd write travel guides.' He's only partly joking. I've seen him in operation, pouring intently through Lonely Planets and Rough Guides and that was just to recce a possible trip to Martinique. An unscheduled break in the Far East, thanks to the Sars epidemic, saw Jagger and his children making a long-anticipated trip to Cambodia's Angkor Wat. 'It was a wonderful place.
I visited the main temple, which is vast, during the full moon and there was absolutely no one there. Rather dangerously we climbed the temple. There were no handrails. It's very steep, by the way,' he says laughing. 'Steep and narrow steps and quite high and quite dark. As I was clambering up with my children I thought, "Oh, I'm not sure this is such a great idea." There's only one section which has a hand rail and we weren't on it.'
The eternal bad boy continues to seek his thrills, not in nightclubs, not with a cocktail of narcotics, but clambering up temples in the dead of night. Happy 60th Sir Mick. We're lucky to have you.
The Rolling Stones tour the UK from 23 August to 15 September, via Twickenham, Wembley, Glasgow, Manchester and Dublin.