Self-loathing and vis­it­ing Bono while on drugs

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Front Page - Re­veal: Rob­bie Wil­liams by Chris Heath is out now, pub­lished by Blink, priced €12.99

SELF-HA­TRED. That’s the trait Rob­bie Wil­liams most de­plores in him­self. The pop star loved by mil­lions upon mil­lions of fans around the world proves in a long con­ver­sa­tion that he is a com­plex and — by his own ad­mis­sion — prodi­giously “f **** ed up” ge­nius. A tor­tured soul danc­ing be­tween the shad­ows of his mind in his adopted home of sunny Los An­ge­les.

Hugely in­se­cure as well as hugely wealthy (more than 77m record sales world­wide), Rob­bie has never seemed par­tic­u­larly con­tent or at ease at any point in his life or his ca­reer. Not that, per­haps, Rob­bie could be happy in his one-time cho­sen ca­reer as su­per­model-shag­ging, drug-hoover­ing, multi-mil­lion­aire pop star. This is be­cause, as Rafael Behr put it in The Guardian in 2004, that “all the drink and the drugs and the women were re­ally a des­per­ate cry for help by a de­pressed vic­tim of the cyn­i­cal, ex­ploita­tive fame in­dus­try”.

To his credit, like our own Sinead O’Con­nor, Rob­bie has been talk­ing about de­pres­sion and men­tal health for a long time now, cer­tainly when pop stars were a lot less can­did about such emo­tional and psy­cho­log­i­cal in­ner-truths.

Rob­bie said re­cently that he was ei­ther thin and de­pressed or fat and ashamed. Which is he now?

“I’m a mix­ture of both. One of the bet­ter days in my life was go­ing to a doc­tor and ex­plain­ing to him how I feel about my weight and how I look. And he told me that I was dys­mor­phic. That I had body dys­mor­phia. I was like, ‘Well, that’s won­der­ful news. So it doesn’t ex­ist then!’,” he says mean­ing his loathing of his body.

“It was kind of a weird thing to be ex­cited about. But, yeah. it is an on­go­ing thing. It is part of my — I’ve got an ego. I’m a pop star. I want to look good. And a lot of the time, I don’t. And I have a pen­chant for sugar and things that are bad for me. And I am con­stantly fight­ing it. I’m find­ing — and it may not be true be­cause a lot of the things that I tell my­self aren’t true — that I am ei­ther eat­ing like a monk and deny­ing my­self and I’m de­pressed be­cause of it; or I’m in­dulging and I’m de­pressed be­cause I’m fat.” What does his wife say to him? “She has kind of got the same thing, too,” he says of Amer­i­can ac­tress Ayda Field. “She has kind of got the same thing go­ing on. The pres­sure to look good. . . “

I ask if it is al­most like sado­masochism for him, that he seems to en­joy the pain at some deep psy­cho­log­i­cal level? “Maybe I do. Maybe the pain is a com­fort­able place for me to be in. And I need to work on that too. But it seems to be a truth in my life that has gone into my head as, ‘It is ei­ther this or it’s that.’ Maybe there is a mid­dle road. I have yet to find it.”

Is he wor­ried his ‘ism’ is so linked to his cre­ativ­ity that if he lost his ‘ism’ he would in turn lose his cre­ativ­ity? “No. I wish I could ex­trap­o­late on that. But no,” he says. “I don’t think that what­ever par­tic­u­lar ‘ism’ that I have is go­ing to leave any time soon. So I don’t have to worry about not hav­ing the sado­masochis­tic spark, what­ever that is. I think that is some­thing that is now with me for the rest of my life. Maybe that is not true, ei­ther. But I don’t have to worry about hav­ing the en­ergy to be who I am and do my job, be­cause bits that are re­ally f **** ed up are mine; and I have to deal with them.” Which bits are re­ally f ***ed up? “Just the space be­tween my ears! And the lan­guage that I speak to my­self. The space be­tween my ears is the bit that is f **** ed up. I think in neg­a­tive pat­terns. I doubt my­self.” Is he try­ing to break the pat­terns? “Yeah, but you know, it’s slowly, slowly catchy mon­key. It’s hap­pen­ing a lot slower than I would like. . .”

Rob­bie and I are talk­ing be­cause he is pro­mot­ing Re­veal, the of­fi­cial Rob­bie Wil­liams bi­og­ra­phy by his col­lab­o­ra­tor Chris Heath (who in 2004 also worked with Rob­bie on the sim­i­larly re­veal­ing tome Feel). In Re­veal, we learn Rob­bie was high as a kite on drugs when he went on his first date in 2006 with Ayda, the woman who would even­tu­ally be­come his wife and the mother of his two young chil­dren, daugh­ter Teddy Rose and son Charl­ton Valen­tine.

Rob­bie, be­ing Rob­bie, ended up at a party in a Jacuzzi “cluck­ing like a chicken” on Class A drugs. In­stead of giv­ing him his P45, Ayda moved into his Los An­ge­les man­sion and nursed him back to a san­ity of sorts and be­came, says Rob­bie, his saviour.

Is it true that on the night be­fore he went on that fate­ful date with his fu­ture wife, that he had sex with a woman who was his then-drug dealer at his pop­star home in Bel Air? “Yes, I did. Yeah!” How does he end up shag­ging the drug dealer? Is it like get­ting the drugs on tick? “Oh, no. I def­i­nitely paid for it. Not the sex. But I def­i­nitely paid for the pills. And it wasn’t re­ally the drug dealer,” Rob­bie help­fully clarifies, “it was the drug dealer’s friend that brought me the pills.”

Did he tell Ayda the fol­low­ing night?

“Did I tell Ayda that I’ve just shagged my drug dealer? No, I didn’t tell her that. She only found out when she read the book.”

Asked how Ayda would de­scribe him, Rob­bie says it would de­pend on the day. “She is to­tally and ut­terly in love with me,” he says of the woman he mar­ried at his Bev­erly Hills pad in Au­gust 2010. “She re­ally likes me. She sees the best of me. She can see the per­son that I am de­spite me telling my­self that I’m not. But she is very sim­i­lar to me. She is racked with self-doubt. Racked with anx­i­ety. Neu­rotic. All of the above.”

“We are both crazy,” he adds, “and our crazy dove­tails.”

Your mar­riage sounds like a mod­ern Carry On movie meets Curb Your En­thu­si­asm. “Lis­ten, peo­ple think to them­selves that they have a re­ally in­ter­est­ing re­al­ity TV show. Peo­ple think: we should do that be­cause our fam­ily is men­tal. This fam­ily is for real. It would be re­al­ity tele­vi­sion gold.”

What do his kids think of him? Do they ever say to him, “Oh dad, c’mon!”?

“They are not old enough to be, ‘Oh dad, c’mon’ yet,” Rob­bie an­swers. “That’s not part of their pat­tern of think­ing. Ted is five. Char­lie is three. I take them every­where I go and to work when I can.

“It is in­ter­est­ing how com­fort­able and at home they are — par­tic­u­larly Ted be­cause she can talk the most. She is at home watch­ing a sta­dium of peo­ple re­spond to her fa­ther, and how nor­mal she thinks that is. That is in­ter­est­ing.”

“And also,” he con­tin­ues, “I did [ITV pro­gramme on which Ayda is a pan­el­list] Loose Women the other day. I took Teddy with me, and by the dress­ing room there was 50 women who have come to see me, and she was look­ing out the win­dow and say­ing to me: ‘Dad, why are they there?’ ‘They have come to see me.’ ‘Why?’ ‘They like me, babe.’”

“Then,” Rob­bie con­tin­ues, “she thought for a sec­ond and went ‘Oh’, turned on her heels and was off to think about princesses or what­ever. But it is in­ter­est­ing to see her see this world as nor­mal. She hasn’t got a con­cept of what fame means.”

Would he still have done this, if he had known what fame would do to him?

“I’d ab­so­lutely do it, of course. I had a ticket to the Willy Wonka Choco­late Fac­tory and now I own the choco­late fac­tory. The choco­late fac­tory might be a pain in the arse a lot of the time but it is a lot of fun too.

“Fame, for me, is like the feel­ing you get it is your birth­day and the cake comes out and eight or nine peo­ple sing Happy Birth­day to you ei­ther at your house or in a restau­rant. And you know how un­com­fort­able that is? And you just want them to fin­ish the song? That feel­ing is how fame feels. You know, peo­ple are well-mean­ing, they are wish­ing you the best, but can you not sing and can the song fin­ish! That’s what fame feels like.

“Suc­cess is an­other thing. Suc­cess is re­ally ad­dic­tive. Re­ally po­tent. And a lot of fun. It is a night­mare to think that you are go­ing to lose it. So I would say that I am ad­dicted to suc­cess, but not re­ally ad­dicted to fame.”

Which songs is he most proud of?“Feel. That’s the first song that comes to mind,” he says. “Yeah, Feel,” he laughs. “That one.”

Any oth­ers? “There’s been so many, and there’s been so many al­bum tracks that I’m re­ally fond of but just noth­ing is com­ing to mind right now.”

Is he writ­ing songs now for the next al­bum?

“I’m al­ways, al­ways writ­ing for the next al­bum. But this time, I’m not. I’m 43. I’ve writ­ten 12 al­bums of my own. I’ve done promo for 15 al­bums; 16 al­bums with Take That. I’m kind of run­ning out of en­ergy to be both­ered. Maybe that will re­turn at some point.”

I won­der again about his body image at the mo­ment.

“I’m kind of thin-fat,” he con­tin­ues. “That’s where I am now. I’m on the bor­der of thin, but I’m also in a town called fat.

“This hap­pens to co­in­cide with a won­der­ful bout of body dys­mor­phia. So I think I’m fat­ter than I ac­tu­ally am. So when I’m ac­tu­ally fat, you can imag­ine how fat I think I am. So that’s where I’m at.” Does he ac­tu­ally think he’s ugly? “Er ... yes.” So, no mat­ter how many beau­ti­ful women he has slept with or dated, it means noth­ing to his self-es­teem?

“Yes. I have an ‘ism’ that won’t lis­ten to me or won’t see that, de­spite the ev­i­dence of my whole en­tire life. That’s me. I’m sure there are other peo­ple out there who feel the same way, and have the same predica­ment that I’ve had and that I’ve found my­self in my life. But it is not the thing that is a com­plete com­pos­ite of who I am.

“There are dif­fer­ent bits of me, too, that are quite happy with what I’ve done. But, yeah, I don’t like look­ing at my­self. I don’t like watch­ing my­self. It’s like hav­ing a tele­phone and hav­ing to lis­ten to your own voice back on it.”

I ask: If I could sit down with graphs and show Rob­bie all the beau­ti­ful women he’s been with, all the mil­lions of al­bums he’s sold, etc, would that help him any?

“No,” he says. “That’s just not how it goes. My ‘ism’ is my ‘ism’.

“And like I said, de­spite the ev­i­dence, the force is strong with me. The force is re­ally strong and, you know, it is a shame. It is as sad as it sounds. But there are other days when I feel great.”

Did the neg­a­tive force he talks of weaken when Rob­bie be­came a fa­ther?

“It kind of stops you think­ing wholly about your­self and makes you con­cen­trate the senses, sharpen the senses to worry about other things. That’s a bless­ing.” What is he like as a fa­ther? “I’m pretty good. Then I’m pretty crap. Like every dad. I’m full of love.

“Then I get pissed off and I can’t be ar­sed,” he says, “and then I can be to­tally ar­sed; and then a lot of the time I feel like I’m star­ing at the uni­verse and the uni­verse is beam­ing back its love at me, and other times I’m re­ally frus­trated and they re­ally piss me off be­cause they’re be­ing d***heads. I sup­pose like every other par­ent!”

“I do promo and I go to work. I don’t have to think about the state of my head and be­cause I am will­ing to talk about what goes on for me — re­ally what goes on for me — I find my­self hav­ing to jus­tify things that I’ve said in other in­ter­views. So I do a lot of in­ter­views and when I fin­ish them, I think: ‘Oh, yeah. I’m go­ing to have to think how f ***ed up I am for the next three days at least.’

“I do go home, live in the sun­shine and have a nice life too, but it is not un­til I get ques­tioned about what I’ve said that I have to ad­dress what is go­ing on in my own mind.”

Does it bother him hav­ing to ad­dress what is go­ing on in his mind?

“No, be­cause I like show­busi­ness and it is part of the game. I used to think back in the day, in the peak glory years, that I would tell my truth be­cause the me­dia would tell so many lies about me. I used to think that it was most im­por­tant that, warts and all, that I told ev­ery­body what was go­ing on. Or at least there is a voice out there that is mine, that is au­then­tic,” he says.

“And now that me­dia spot­light doesn’t shine on me as brightly. So there is no need to be as hon­est.”

He adds a tad ridicu­lously: “There is not that many lies about me be­cause not that many peo­ple are writ­ing about me any more.”

“It is less in­tense. Ei­ther which, I want to en­ter­tain. And I have found if I speak my truth, peo­ple find that in­ter­est­ing.

“And I of­ten say that me do­ing my job is like a bar fight and you grab what­ever you have got as a tool to help you win that fight. And if one of those tools is me be­ing hon­est and speak­ing my mind about how f***ked up I am, then it is a good tool to have.” Is he chang­ing? “Yeah. I am. You know, I think 43 years of me talk­ing to my­self with a neg­a­tive voice isn’t go­ing to change over night. But I do bibs and bobs to make sure that things are chang­ing.

“I have started to do yoga. I have started to do pi­lates. I was med­i­tat­ing. I say a prayer in the morn­ing. I say a prayer in the evening.

“I take ac­tions to have a bit of a bet­ter life. My life out­wardly is ab­so­lutely in­cred­i­ble, noth­ing to com­plain about. But the life in­side my head is where it all hap­pens.”

Rob­bie re­cently said that “this job is re­ally bad for my head; it is go­ing to kill me”. Why doesn’t he stop and do some­thing else for a cou­ple of years? He could do a John Len­non and dis­ap­pear for a few years. . .

“I did that in 2006. I re­tired. But that quote you quoted me is from this year when I was re­ally f ***ing ill. So, at the best of times, for me to cope with my life, I’ve got to be a 100 per cent fit. Then if I am not 100 per cent fit, which is what hap­pened this year, then stuff is dif­fi­cult. I re­tired in 2006.” What was re­tire­ment like? “Well — I got re­ally f ***ing bored. My head started to turn into Swiss cheese. What I found was: a man needs a pur­pose. This man needs a pur­pose. I was just kind of wast­ing away. Men­tally, I went to seed. So I knew that I had to come back. So I did come back.

“I’m find­ing that my ca­reer is like a Ru­bik’s cube. I’ve just got to try every com­bi­na­tion be­fore I give up and re­alise that I’m never go­ing to get the colours to go the way I want them to go.”

Does any­one re­ally get the colours to go the way they want them to go?

“No. I don’t think so. But it is fun try­ing, right? I can only speak about what’s go­ing on in­side my head and how I think and how I feel.”

In re­al­ity, when you get him away from his head, Rob­bie Wil­liams is ex­tremely funny. He once fa­mously said: “I am the only man who can say he’s been in Take That and at least two mem­bers of the Spice Girls.”

When his child was born, he de­scribed see­ing it as like watch­ing his favourite pub burn down. “And af­ter the sec­ond child, it plea­sures me to say that it has opened up an off-li­cense around the back!” he laughs.

When was the last time he had a drink? “Eigh­teen years ago.” When was the last time he had co­caine or E or any­thing like that?

“There was a slight re­lapse but I won’t place the time in peo­ple’s heads. But it was over a decade ago.”

Rob­bie has, how­ever, a great drugs story. “I was in Bono’s house years and years ago and I was look­ing at an amaz­ing paint­ing. I man­aged to get hold of some mush­rooms be­fore I went there. So I wasn’t re­ally of the planet at the time.

“But the great and good of the world were there and I just felt like a fish out of wa­ter. Pri­mar­ily be­cause I was on magic mush­rooms! I’m in love with Bono. I love him. And I am wan­der­ing around his house and I stop and I look, and I re­alise Bono has pur­chased the most beau­ti­ful paint­ing that has ever ex­isted, the most beau­ti­ful paint­ing known to man.

“And there I am stand­ing, star­ing at it. In my head, I’m think­ing: ‘Of course Bono is go­ing to have the most beau­ti­ful paint­ing in the world. He de­serves it and so he should have it.’ And at that mo­ment, Bono ap­peared. And I said to him, ‘Bono — this is the most beau­ti­ful paint­ing that I have ever, ever seen.’ And Bono said to me: ‘Rob­bie, that’s the win­dow.’”

What­ever about Bono, what is Rob­bie do­ing for Christ­mas?

“I’m go­ing to be with the kids, with the fam­ily. Ayda is go­ing to spend lots of money. We are go­ing to have a house that is go­ing to look like the [Black­pool] Il­lu­mi­na­tions. I am go­ing to wan­der around the house en­joy­ing Christ­mas but wor­ry­ing about the elec­tric­ity bill.”

‘I’m kind of thin-fat. I’m on the bor­der of thin, but I’m also in a town called fat’

Rob­bie is grate­ful his wife Ayda Field ‘sees the best’ in him and un­der­stands his in­se­cu­ri­ties

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