Let him entertain you
Fatherhood and fidelity, the future of Take That, and his tattoo wars with One Direction. Following Robbie Williams’ sellout concert at the Aviva Stadium, Guy Gillfield met him
A few months ago, backstage before the Brit Awards in London, Robbie Williams spotted One Direction’s Harry Styles down the corridor and shouted out a greeting. ‘I used to be Harry Styles,’ he murmured to me, then returned to his dressing room to rehearse a dance routine he was still learning for the song he would perform that night, his number one Candy, a song that has become his third-biggest-selling single ever.
Williams has been going to the Brit Awards for over half his life — in that time he has received a record 17 awards. Later on that evening, sitting down to talk back at his home, he says that he had just been reading the novel Kill Your Friends by John Niven. ‘He’s got a very cynical view of the record industry,’ Williams noted, ‘but it resonated with me.’ As he read the book, he also stumbled across a passage about himself, describing a young and newly sober Robbie Williams in the 1990s. ‘He says, “Now there’s a guy that’s been handed all the sevens,” Williams recounted. “Who has been handed the cards.”
‘And it really struck a chord with me. Yeah, this could have happened to anybody and it happened to me. And that I’m a lucky son of a bitch, and so is everybody else in the recording industry. Apart from Prince. And a couple more that don’t come to mind. I just look at all these people, including myself, and just think we’re all so very lucky.’
Lucky Robbie’s latest killer hand dealt him all the aces: first he finally hung up his bachelor boots and married Ayda Field, a 34-yearold American actress, then became a father for the first time when his new wife gave birth to their daughter Theodora [ Teddy] last September. And his latest tour, which includes a four-night run at Wembley Stadium, is his biggest yet. Not bad for a Take That tearaway...
So, what happened to wild Robbie? Did you ever expect at this point in your life to be married and settled down with a baby? No, I expected to be childless and wifeless. All the way through my 20s I wanted someone to be my maid and look after me, and I just wasn’t in the right place to accept anybody’s love. And then, towards the end of my 20s, I started to realise I actually quite liked this life of bed-hopping and sharing my problems with many people. I thought that’s how my life would be and I was happy with that.
Then Ayda came into my life and I loved her and I respected her and I wanted different things. So I decided to follow that path instead. I made a commitment, she made a commitment to me. I also noticed the fact that my heart was lighter, my head was lighter, and that’s not a bad thing. We’re a great couple, we’re the best of friends, and I like her. It might be a trivial thing but I do notice that a lot of people who are married or having a relationship look as though they don’t like each other. The love bit’s quite easy; it’s out of your control. The like bit’s the difficult bit.
But you still weren’t sure you wanted to be a father? It was something I had to get my head around. But it was something that Ayda wanted and I love her. And thank God I did have a kid because I’m totally in love with Teddy and it’s clichéd but it gets deeper and deeper each day. It just makes everything make sense somehow.
When you left school, what was your goal in life? To have a white Porsche Turbo Carrera with a spoiler on the back and I wanted to pick up my mate, Lee Hancock, from his house. And I wanted to get Richard Kirkham some tracksuits — he was born on the same day as me. I wanted to be a B-Boy [breakdancer] and have a Troop or British Knights tracksuit, which was the height of cool then. And that was about the height of my ambition.
Did you manage to do those things? I did send Richard a couple of tracksuits many years later but they were miniature tracksuits as a joke, and a crate of beer and some Embassy No. 10 because he bought me loads. And at one point I had a black Porsche GT. I bought loads of sports cars one day in Los Angeles. Five cars. And then I got them back to the house and they sat there on the forecourt and I felt really bad. Instantly it was, ‘What have you done? What a k***head.’ Not for the fact that I couldn’t drive; it was just a waste of money.
A lesson learned, then? The lesson was: I don’t want for much. Don’t be wasteful. I have a chef, I have 24-hour security and I have people that look after me: those are my luxuries. There’s my five cars, there’s my jewellery. Apart from that I don’t need anything.
What were your musical goals? Well, everything got fulfilled kind of quickly. I got way past anything that I could have ever dreamed about by the time I was 20, 21. Everything else was a bonus. The Take That thing was amazing, then I left and pretty instantly I went on to sell 60 million albums and perform to millions of people. So I think all my boxes got ticked very quickly. And now I’m trying to invent more boxes to go out and tick but I don’t know what they are yet.
You’ll be 40 next February — how do you feel about that? Are you worried about being ‘past it’? It’s a mixed bag of nuts, really. Right now I have a bit of trepidation. I’m in a young man’s game. Everybody seems to be a lot younger than me now in my place of work. And I’ve always been the youngest. I was the youngest in Take That — I still am.
Will you have a big party to mark it? The plan is to go all out, yes.
Looking back, how do you feel about the Take That reunion? It was a tremendous success on all counts. Personally, I got to be a friend to four other boys and they got to be a friend to me. Artistically we made a record that our fiercest critics seemed to really like, and then commercially it sold a bunch.
So can you tell us that you’ll definitely do it again? Yep. Yeah, I will. I don’t necessarily know how or when. There’s four other boys, there’s wives, there’s children. But there are more things conspiring for it to be a yes rather than a no.
Did the Take That tour change how you felt about going back on the road again? It gave me my confidence back — I was in stadiums doing a 27-minute spot by myself, and that was enough for me to realise, ‘Oh, I can still do this.’
When you gave One Direction their award at the Brits, you called them your ‘ five
showbiz brothers’. They are. I sang She’s The One with them on The X Factor, so I’ve seen various stages of their growth.
And I’ve been a member of One Direction, as it were. So I like seeing how they’re doing. Following Harry and his many romances and being slightly envious. Checking out their new tattoos and me showing them my new tattoos. I’m in the One Direction bad tattoo club. I have bad tattoos — so do they.
Who’s winning? They’re winning. They’ve got some horrendous ones.
But you see some of your young boy band
self in them? Yeah, of course. It’s hard not to. It seems as though there’s no Jason Orange and Gary Barlow there to tell them off and give them, ironically, a bit of direction. It would seem that it’s a band of Robbies and Marks. It’s going to be fascinating to see what happens. You know, it’s their journey. If they need my help, I’ll be there. But I’m sure they’ll be fine. I’m sure there’s going to be some miraculous moments and some hellish moments, but that’s life.
You stopped working with Guy Chambers after five albums when you fell out but you recently blogged that you’d written
your first new song together. I am going to do my next project with Guy. I can’t say one hundred per cent what that is yet because I’m still in the middle of this one. We’ve been in the studio and it is amazing how well we work together.
What’s the most important thing you’ve
learned since leaving Take That? Mental survival. I’m still learning it. The most important skill, I suppose, is not to self-destruct. But my 30s, apart from a little blip, have been the most successful decade, spiritually and romantically and headwise. It’s the happiest I’ve been. I suppose every decade’s a huge transition, but this time it’s been into relative peace and tranquillity and happiness and safety.
How do you feel about your current solo
stadium tour? At the start of every tour you feel as if you’ve never done it before — it’s an extreme sport. I want to have my triumphant moment in these huge places because I don’t know if I’ll want to, or if I’ll be allowed to do this again, this big. What do you think you are best at? [A very long pause, then...] I don’t know. Receiving luck?
Above (l-r): Robbie, Gary Barlow, Howard
Donald, Mark Owen and Jason
Orange on the Take That reunion
tour. Far left: Robbie with baby daughter Teddy and, opposite page, with his wife, Ayda Field