Sting in her tail
Published 29/01/2010 | 05:00
Coco Sumner doesn't really do small talk: "I've never been romantically involved with Pete Doherty," she announces. "We both went and sang a song together once. Everybody has been saying we were involved. And we're not."
At just 19 years old, Sumner already projects the hard-boiled inscrutability of a seasoned celebrity. This is exactly as you would expect. The daughter of Sting and Trudie Styler, Coco grew up in a media goldfish bowl and has an instinctive understanding of fame's distorting effects. The Pete Doherty rumours? Best to nip them in the bud before they metastasise and assume a life of their own.
Still, she is only a teenager and isn't always quite so circumspect. Speaking last year, Coco stirred up a bit of a firestorm when commenting on her father's much-mocked penchant for tantric sex. Apparently, the whole thing was a story concocted by the saintly Bob Geldof.
"Bob Geldof made up this thing and it stuck and became an international joke," said Coco, who records Florence And The Machine-esque pop under the moniker I Blame Coco and comes to music after stints as a Burberry model and actress (you might remember her from fantasy movie Stardust).
"It is a bit embarrassing when people bring it up," she continued. "I don't have anything to do with my parents' sex life. They love each other, so what?"
Does it bother Coco that her father, once a preening pop pin-up, has, of late, turned into a bit of a punch-bag, heckled for his weird sex life, silly hair and easy-to-mock environmental crusading? Or that Trudie is portrayed as a triangulating ice queen, a Lady Macbeth for the TMZ era?
"Everyone gets offended if someone is mean about your family," she says today. "That's human. What hurts you makes you tougher, but it's not nice when you read something nasty about your family. That's animal instinct, I guess."
Coco isn't the only celebrity offspring seeking to make a name for herself at the moment. There is also actress Lily Collins (daughter of Phil), model Leah Weller (the apple of Modfather Paul's eye), Lola Lennox (opera singer daughter of Annie) and Jethro Cave, son of Nick, who is kicking up a bit of a squall in the modelling industry on account of his rock-star antics.
Even David Bowie's 38-year-old son, movie director Duncan Jones, is becoming famous in his own right. His micro-budget future thriller Moon is being acclaimed as one of the smartest sci-fi flicks of recent years. It's almost enough to convince you that Peaches Geldof was something from a bad dream.
"Keeping family and business separate is good," says Sumner, who has flat out refused to contemplate duetting with her dad. "It's a much healthier way to live your life in any situation."
As she is no doubt aware, celebrity children don't always have a good track record when it comes to growing up to be healthy, rounded adults. For every Stella McCartney, the fashion designer who just happens to be daughter of Beatle Paul, there has been a Sean Lennon, apparently doomed to live out his life in his father's shadow. Calum Best, Nicole Richie, Lisa Marie Presley, Kimberly Stewart (fast-living daughter of Rod) -- where, what, would they be without their parents?
It is a trap that Coco is determined not to fall into. Having started writing songs at age 14, she has taken an uphill route to a record deal. Early in her career, she played open mic nights in London where nobody knew, or cared, who she was. There were tough evenings, she says, when people weren't listening and all she wanted was to go home and cry. But she could never quite bring herself to give up and, bit by bit, she started to build a following.
"I tried to be who I am. It is easier if you are honest and are yourself and don't attempt to pass yourself off as something else. If you try to change yourself to please people, you won't succeed."
In some ways, Coco's relationship with Sting is the same as that between any daughter and father. When rumours that she was dating Doherty started to swirl around the London scene, Sting was first to call. Was she really going out with a junkie, he demanded to know? "My dad phoned up asking me whether it was true or not," she revealed.
Given their pampered upbringings, many of us will struggle to feel much sympathy for the plight of celebrity children. After all, should Coco's musical ambitions fail to pan out, it's not as if she's going to have trouble paying the rent. On the other hand, it's fair to say inverse snobbery -- and old-fashioned jealousy -- forms part of our response, too. Coco, for one, suspects that things might have been easier for her if she didn't have a famous dad.
"This is about me. It's not about him," she says. "I grew up in the countryside, so I was quite separate from the music side of his life. It was very quiet and there wasn't a lot going on."
Perhaps that's why she moved to Sweden last year, hooking-up with nordic diva Robyn. In the UK, laughing at Sting and Trudie is practically a national pastime. In Stockholm, however, the fact that Coco was the daughter of a famous rock star was greeted with a collective yawn. "They are brutally honest there and nobody really cared."
Whereas, in the UK her background is presumably a stumbling block? "To a certain extent. Look, I'm not going to be rude about my people of England. But I do think there's a lot of passive aggression."
As the daughter of a global celeb, Coco has learned that even the normal vicissitudes of life must unfold in a media glare. Last year, she took ill on a night out in Los Angeles. She fell, fractured her skull and was rushed to hospital for an MRI scan, after which doctors advised her to give up alcohol. Suspecting (wrongly) she was epileptic, they prescribed her with drugs, resulting in a "weird" out-of-body experience which yielded one of the catchiest songs on her forthcoming LP, In Spirit Golden.
"I had no idea what happened," she said in a recent interview. "When I was in the ambulance I said, 'I don't need hospital, just get me home.' We were on our way home and my friend called the house and my dad picked up the phone and freaked out, saying, 'Seriously, take her to hospital. Now.'"
Has anyone ever accused her of being a rich kid for whom music is merely a hobby? Coco squirms. "I haven't ever had anyone say that to my face, that would be horrible. But, you know, the grass is always greener on the other side. So who knows if where I came from would make any difference."
I Blame Coco's debut single Caeser (featuring Robyn) is released today