He’s a restless man, Mick Jagger. Having risen from his sofa to check for texts on his mobile, he sits bonelessly back down, tucks his legs underneath him, ploughs his hands up through his thick, glossy hair and then rises once more, this time to offer me a glass for my miniature bottle of Perrier – ‘We are very civilised here,’ he says in that distinctively slurring, camply over-enunciated voice. ‘Very, very civilised.’
‘Here’ is a high school in Toronto which the Rolling Stones have ‘commandeered’ for rehearsals. They are about to begin a year-long world tour, and the band members are arriving for an evening practice session. Jagger’s children are also assembling, across town. I’m not sure which ones – he has seven, by four different mothers – but this may account for his air of distraction. ‘They’ll be touching down any minute,’ he says. ‘I expect they will turn up looking rather sleepy. They love being on tour with me. Always moving. Never bored.’
The same cannot be said for Jagger himself. It is easy enough to engage him with small talk about cricket. He is a member of MCC and has been following the Ashes on his laptop – ‘That Glenn McGrath, what a bastard.’ History, too, is a subject which animates him. He is reading Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s new biography of Mao and he leans forward and widens his eyes when we discuss it.
But when we turn to his own history, his eyes flit impatiently and his body goes limp with tedium. And when I ask those questions a conscientious interviewer ought to ask – about his notorious womanising, his reputation for miserliness, his alleged snobbery – he makes the face of a man asked to fill out a long insurance form.
This is to come. For now, though, I am struck by how tired he seems. As well he might. After all, he may be a rock star, and a grand bohemian, but he is also a 62-year-old grandfather. I tell him I feel exhausted just reading his schedule. ‘Me too,’ he says with a grin.
‘I do this thing where I have to decide where we move, from A to B to C, looking at flight times, and I was so tired after doing it for an hour I had to have a lie down.’ His eyes disappear as he laughs. ‘It’s always show, go to bed, get up, fly for two hours, show. Relentless.’
When I note that his stage performance – all that strutting, shimmy-ing, flapping – has been compared to running a half-marathon every night, he corrects, ‘I think it’s closer to playing five sets of tennis.’ Does he, though, have the normal aches and pains a 62-year-old might be expected to have in the morning? ‘No, I don’t ache anywhere. But on tour you do have little injuries. Inevitably. And I do feel tired, even on my days off. Travelling is tiring, even if the way we travel is luxurious [this is said in a northern accent, for comic effect]. It is luxury, but it is relentless luxury. It is tiring having to meet people all the time and be nice to them.’
It is hard to say whether, close up, Jagger looks his age. Those famous lips are not as rubbery as once they were, and their improbable contours are now framed by pleats of skin, deep laughter lines and corrugations. But he has clear eyes, and an athletic, if wiry, frame, which exaggerates the size of his head. Clearly he has great respect for his own health – he has a personal trainer, wears earplugs on stage, tries to get a full eight hours sleep. Is this, I ask, a legacy from his father (a 93-year-old retired PE teacher)? ‘Yeah, he totally drilled it into me to look after myself from a very early age. He brainwashed me. I’m an assiduous trainer and I’ve been training since 1970, so it’s nothing new.’
Although Keith Richards goes easy on the drugs these days – he once famously said that ‘cold turkey is not so bad after you’ve done it ten or 12 times’ – he is still a hard drinker. Jagger, by contrast, forgoes alcohol when on tour and was always the most cautious member of the Stones when it came to experimentation with drugs – he is the only member of the band not to have succumbed, at one time or another, to chronic drug addiction. When I ask about this, he becomes a little defensive.
‘I had my days of that, when I was young. Maybe I stopped at the right time. Drug-taking is like smoking. Most people get to a point where they feel they have smoked enough. They say, “Yeah, I’ve done that.”‘
The start of a Stones tour is always accompanied by jokes about Zimmer frames. Does he consider such comments ageist? ‘Well, I’ve heard them all before. Not original and not paaaarticularly funny. Not fair either. If we were being wheeled on, it would be appropriate. The comedians who make these jokes would have heart attacks if they did what we do.’
(The written word, by the way, cannot convey the tone of voice in which these things are said. Jagger has an odd, nasal timbre: yodelling from a flat, back-of-the-throat growl to a high pitch in the same sentence, like an adolescent whose voice is breaking. And there is laughter behind this voice, below the surface.)
To accompany their tour, the Stones are about to release a new studio album, A Bigger Bang. The songs, as ever, are Jagger-Richards compositions. Is it fear of stopping that motivates him to go on song-writing, recording and touring; fear that he will suddenly feel old if he stops,
I mean? ‘There is something to be said for working to keep yourself going. I’m not a workaholic, but when you are in this business you have to work hard. It’s not a gentle plod.’ He tugs at his hair. ‘You do find that your friends are left out a bit, though. You have to pick up your friendships later on.’ He has to be quite ruthless in that respect? ‘Well, you just are. Your friends are somewhere else and you don’t see them. Your children suffer a bit, too.’
I tell him I recently watched a documentary about Hitler and was struck by the way he controlled a crowd. There were similarities with the way Jagger does it: staring at people, jutting out the chin, theatrically waving his arms in order to mesmerise. ‘Hopefully, my crowd is more benign,’ he says. ‘I’ve seen the Hitler footage and it’s all about repetition and cajoling, getting the crowd to believe these things, none of which is particularly pleasant – you know, sacrifice for the greater good of the German Volk.
“Hitler was obviously a brilliant crowd-manipulator, but he wasn’t asking them to enjoy themselves very much, as far as I can see. All I want is for the crowd to have fun. There is a three-hour sense of community to be had. As the singer, I guess I’m the catalyst for that, the point of empathy. You lead the audience, you cajole and praise and give them the songs they want. It’s pleasurable, but it’s also quite scary. Your body is running a lot of chemicals. Dopamine. Adrenaline.’
Recalling pictures of Jagger from the 1970s, wearing clinging trousers and looking like he is, as it were, pleased to see the crowd, I ask if the experience of performance is for him sexual. ‘It’s not really sexual, no. Exhilarating. It’s more like the kind of buzz that you might get from sprinting.’
It is thought that since 1989 the Stones tours have grossed £1.2 billion. Is that the motivation? ‘A tour does generate a lot of money, it’s true. But would I do it for no money? Yes, I probably would.’
When not touring, Jagger divides his time between his houses in London (Richmond), New York, the Loire Valley and Mustique. He is estimated to be worth £180 million but this is little more than guesswork. Does he even known how much he is worth? ‘Not down to the last penny but, broadly speaking, yes. People like to know how much they are worth. I mean, they make out they don’t know, because they are artists who are above all that stuff. But I think they always know.’
Jagger was still a student reading economics at the LSE when the Rolling Stones had their first taste of fame in the early 1960s. This may partly explain his formidable business acumen. But what about his reputation for parsimony? Jerry Hall, the mother of four of his children, has complained about how he insisted she take minicabs (they had a ‘friendly divorce’ and, when in London, they still share a double-winged house with connecting doors).
Jagger’s chauffeur, meanwhile, recalled how Jagger once complained about the cost of hay-fever pills in Britain – he waited to go to America to buy them instead. ‘I’m not at all stingy,’ Jagger counters when I ask about this. ‘I don’t know what that reputation is all about, really. On the other hand, no one likes to pay more for things than they are worth. My early childhood memories are of rationing and so I am frugal, and I do look down on people who waste things. I always turn the lights out. None of my American friends turn anything off. TVs run all night.’
The answer is endearing, especially given that, once upon a time, the Rolling Stones were a byword for sexual and chemical gluttony, for decadence, for depravity. There was, lest we forget, a dark side to the Stones: they flirted with devil worship; they fired their guitarist and shortly afterwards he was found dead in a pool; at one of their concerts, Hell’s Angels murdered a member of the audience.
One biographer, Albert Goldman, memorably described the band as having ‘a public image of sado-homosexual-junkie-diabolic-sarcastic-nigger-evil unprecedented in the annals of pop culture.’ Now some critics suggest that the Stones have become a parody of their former dangerous selves – and Jagger especially has become a pantomime dame, or rather knight.
This change in image was well illustrated recently by a front-page story in a broadsheet newspaper. It showed a picture of Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull emerging from court in 1969, after facing drugs charges. New files released by the Public Record Office detail how, at the time, Jagger had alleged the police had planted the drugs. I hand a copy of the paper to him. ‘Yeah, I did read that, online,’ he says. ‘Marianne in white tights.’ He reads the headline in an aristocratic voice: ‘when a knight of the realm was the dregs of society. Actually, when you read the piece, it doesn’t say the police thought I was the dregs of society, it says some of the people they interviewed in my case were the dregs.’
But he was, by common consent, a ‘threat to society’, and today he is a knight of the realm. Not only that, we now have a prime minister who, as the long-haired front man for Ugly Rumours, used to model himself on Mick Jagger. Does he find all this a bit bizarre? ‘Yeah, that is a bit freaky, but it’s what happens. I’m used to it. It’s part of getting older and having people grow up with you.’
Did he have to do much soul-searching last year before accepting his knighthood? ‘No. It was a nice thing to be offered and I don’t think it would have been good manners to decline it. I tried not to make a fuss about it. That would have been naff. No one calls me Sir Mick. I never ask them to and I don’t have it on my letter headings, unlike some people. It annoys me when people do that. Certain famous actors.’
Keith Richards went beserk. ‘I thought it was ludicrous of Mick to take one of those gongs from the establishment,’ he said, ‘when they did their best to throw us in jail. It’s a f-ing paltry honour. If he’s into that s-, he should hang on for the peerage.’ Jagger laughs when I quote this to him: ‘Just ’cause he didn’t get it himself. Pretty obvious, really.’
I also quote something Marianne Faithfull said, that Jagger is ‘a tremendous snob who always craved a knighthood’. ‘I never heard her say that about me,’ he says. ‘But I know she’d love to be a dame, more than anything else. But she’s not really dame material.’
It is telling that Jagger cannot see that his fellow heroes of the counter-culture might genuinely think it indecorous to go around accepting knighthoods. Still, we have moved on to the subject of Jagger’s women. Three in particular bestride the decades: Marianne in the 1960s, Bianca in the 1970s and Jerry in the 1980s and 1990s. When I observe that they all capitalised well on the fame they found through him, he says, ‘Yeah, they made a good fist of it, one way and another.’ Hall has said that in her 23 years with Jagger she was ‘constantly trying to forestall his affairs’.
He has said in mitigation that he thinks ‘monogamy is not for everyone’. Their marriage eventually foundered after the revelation that Jagger had fathered a child by Luciana Morad, a Brazilian model. That was three years ago and, since then, Jagger has been with L’Wren Scott, a tall, dark-haired, Los Angeles-based stylist.
I ask about the groupie years, presuming he can’t remember much about them. ‘I can remember everything,’ he says carefully. ‘But I’m not going to talk about them.’
Bill Wyman claimed he slept with 2,000 women during his time with the Stones. Does Jagger known how many he slept with? ‘Noooo, we don’t talk about things like that in The Sunday Telegraph. That’s News of the World.’ He rolls his eyes, folds his arms, stares at me.
A less vulgar question, then. How many times has he been in love? ‘Oh don’t. Don’t go there with the love question.’
The longest love affair, or relationship at least, has been with Keith Richards, has it not? ‘Well, one can have old friends,’ he says. ‘It’s nice to have old friends. Keith is certainly the oldest friend.’
They first met in the sandpit at their primary school in Kent. Charlie Watts said recently, ‘You can’t come between them. You hit an invisible wall. They don’t want anyone else in there. They are like brothers, always arguing but always getting on.’ Keith Richards, meanwhile, has said that their friendship ‘exists on the basis of a certain amount of space: I have a feeling that I’m not supposed to have any friend except him. He doesn’t have many close male friends apart from me, and he keeps me at a distance. Mick is very difficult to reach.’
When I throw these insightful quotes open to discussion, Jagger sighs. ‘First of all, Keith is not my brother. I have my own brother who I’m very close to. Keith’s like a friend and songwriting partner. He sees things differently because he’s an only child. Also, he’s an inward person, whereas I’m gregarious.’
There is a lyric on the new Stones album which sounds autobiographical to me: ‘I feel like an actor looking for a role.’ Is this the closest Jagger comes to self-revelation? ‘Well, I’m not going to tell you how many times I’ve been in love, if that’s what you mean. I don’t like to be too confessional. You have to keep something private, otherwise you’d go mad.’
It’s a dignified answer. Critics often call Jagger ‘narcissistic’. His friends say he is a ‘chameleon’. Marianne Faithfull described him as ‘a hollow, voracious entity that constantly needed to replenish itself with things, people, ideas’. How does he see himself? ‘I don’t know how I’d begin describing myself to you.’ Single-minded? ‘Yes, but without being ruthless, that word you used earlier. I have great attention to detail, without being excessive. I like to control, but I also like to delegate. I’m not given to melancholy. I have down moments, but I don’t give in to them.’
A gathering of contradictions, then. Is he contemplative? ‘Not enough. I’m not a brooder.’ He does keep a diary, he says, and when I note that Bill Wyman always claimed he was ‘the Stones’ diarist’, Jagger laughs scornfully and does another impersonation: ‘Dear diary, went out and bought a packet of fags. Came home.’
He is also a keen photographer and, touchingly, when I ask if it is hard for him to see all those photographs of his youthful, androgynous, photogenic self, he says: ‘Yes, it is, but now I see my son James as that person. Which is nice. He’s that age.’
His children, he says, are his chief pleasure in life. ‘I speak to them most days. They keep me on my toes. They broaden my interests, just as I broaden theirs. It’s a good interchange of ideas.’
I ask what values he, as a paragon of rebelliousness, is able to instil in them. ‘I don’t think they take any of that in at all. Children see you as a parent first and someone famous afterwards. I’m always telling them the codes I live by and the things society expects. But they are nowhere near as rude and rebellious as I was. As a parent I’m probably not strict enough with them. Then again, Gabriel is always saying, “There are sooo many rules.”
And I say, “There just are so many rules, and here’s another one…”‘ Jagger jumps up from the sofa. ‘Now, let me check my messages.’ He reads one out: ‘Kids just left airport. 17.30.’ He turns to me. ‘Are we nearly finished?’ Before I can answer he adds, ‘I think so.’