Robbie Williams is going it alone again. Andrew Dickens cornered the refreshingly self-aware pop star to talk fatherhood, fidelity and ash-covered Weetabix
Robbie Williams: two words that conjure up mixed feelings in most men. On one hand, he comes across as the kind of cocksure lothario who’d whip your girlfriend away, only to return her three days later, a shell of her former self.
On the other hand, however, he’s very much the everyman; how any of us might’ve turned out had we got the golden boy band ticket. He loves his football, his mouth is two steps ahead of his brain and he used his ‘young, rich and worshipped’ status to have a dangerous amount of fun. He’s also vulnerable and complex, as his battles with addiction and mental illness have shown. All of which makes him hugely fascinating. And that’s the reason why we sat Williams – a man with a new daughter, new solo album and new, surprisingly muscular physique – on a sofa. Then, as is our wont, we asked the 38-year-old some questions.
You’ve called your new album Take The Crown. It’s not a dig about Gary Barlow ingratiating himself with the royal family, is it?
No. I put out an album last time and I came out half-cocked. I wasn’t very confident with it. I think people can pick up on your body language. If you’re not arsed, it’s going to come across and people will pay you in kind. You’ve got to come in f*cking wanting it and I think I chose a title to impress that upon people: that I’m engaged, that I f*cking want this, that I want to compete, that I want to be in big venues doing big shows, and I would like it to be very successful, please.
So it’s more taking the crown back?
Taking the crown back or telling people to come and take it from me. Or something. It’s a bit of a kick up the backside for me to go, “Look, f*cking front this, do it f*cking properly or don’t bother.”
Can you review the album in 20 words or less?
Erm, Robbie Williams is finally back to form.
Yeah, five stars. I would say, “Robbie Williams’ most commercial album yet. Laden with hits.” I genuinely think that it is, but then I’m delusional on many, many levels and I have been wrong before.
How do you rate yourself as a singer?
I don’t really, but I don’t think it’s important to be that good at singing. I think people who are good at singing sing backing vocals for pop stars. It’s about how you project. I pulled off a whole swing show once and people bought the album, so I can sing, but I wouldn’t consider myself to be a singer.
So when they say “The X Factor is a singing contest”…
It’s not. Somebody will come on and do an audition and sing their arse off, but they can’t project and they’re boring and they’ll go nowhere.
Speaking of which, Gary Barlow worked on the new album. How did that feel?
I think I’ve had a long yearning for Gaz, a) to be my mate, b) to see what I can do in the studio, and c) to go, “Yeah, that’s good.” I think I’ve needed Gary’s approval for a long time, and I got it. I just wanted to be in the studio with him and have him go, “You’re good at this.” It was important to me.
How bad did it get between you?
I just really disliked him. I loved him and disliked him. I’m sure that in One Direction right now, there’s going to be hatred between certain members for certain things, all young and daft stuff. First time round I really loved him, needed his approval, and then for many reasons I really didn’t like him and now I love him to bits.
Is your relationship pretty easy now?
Yeah. The relationship is easy, we get on really well. I’ve written a ton of songs with him, some I’m saving for other projects, and I want to work with him and the boys again.
Were there ever any actual physical fights between rival boy bands, like the Anchorman news crews?
[Laughs] No. No there wasn’t. Only because I don’t think [there were many fighters] in Take That. If there had been one more person as feisty as me, we would have had a fight with East 17 [laughs]. And I really liked East 17. But I think there would have been a fight with them, because those lads looked rough as f*ck.
Talking of fights, have you bumped into Noel or Liam Gallagher recently?
No, I haven’t.
Did you ever make peace with them?
Not really, no. But we rented a place near Noel’s and his wife sent us a nice bunch of flowers.
That was sweet of her.
I bet she went to a nice school to do something nice like that. It was surprising.
Maybe your wives should get together first.
I think they probably will.
Has fatherhood changed the way you view the world?
I go from being “This is a miracle” to “F*ck, why the f*ck have you done this to me?” [Laughs] No, my view of the world hasn’t changed yet.
Does it make you nervous?
Sh*tting myself. I’ve been a pop star since I was 16. I haven’t ever had to do anything for myself, and now I’ve got to do stuff for someone else. I’m scared because I know I’d feel overwhelmed with guilt and shame if I wasn’t there in the way I think a father should be. I don’t know if I’m capable of it yet.
Are you going to be bothered when she starts doing the stuff that you used to do?
I think it’s going to be very difficult for her to get into trouble with me. “So you bunked off school? F*cking great, well done. Don’t get caught next time.”
She might react the other way and say, “Screw you, I’m doing my homework.”
Yeah, but I’d be disappointed. Mind you though, my missus was a right swot. Very much of the square variety. She’s incredibly smart.
Has marriage changed you?
Yeah, I suppose it has. I’m more relaxed, I’m calm, happier. And then you think, “I really want to f*ck that up by doing something really stupid.” But I’ve always been a saboteur of my own life, so there’s never going to be a happy medium, I don’t think. I love my wife, I love our life – I feel a song coming on.
Has being faithful ever proved difficult?
It’s a hundred times easier when you don’t drink, and I don’t drink. If I drank, we’d literally be f*cked. If I drank, I could not keep it in my trousers at all. You know like on anniversaries women expect you to get them flowers and things? I think every f*cking night you haven’t stuck your c*ck in someone else, you should be given a gold ring.
How do you spurn approaches?
I always have my wife with me. Always.
That’s a very good way of doing it.
Always. I haven’t missed playing around, but I’m still a guy. This will be an on-going project. Feels unnatural, you know, but so far so good.
Do you have any remaining vices?
Yeah. At the minute my addiction is working out. I’m [obsessed] with weights and cardiovascular and my wife’s worried. I’m going on YouTube and figuring out how to do interval training better, but I’m also addicted to Minstrels and prawn cocktail crisps, which offsets the good I’m doing. So that and the old smack [laughs]. No, there’s nothing going on at the minute. I’ve really cleaned up my act for the baby. I’ve stopped smoking. I was smoking three packs a day. I want to give the baby at least a good year with a responsible parent. She’ll know me as a f*ck-up, but at least the first year, I was there. I’ll video it so she can see it later.
You had problems with depression and addiction. Do you think there’s still a way to go with public attitudes towards mental illness?
Definitely in Britain. We’ve very much got a stiff upper lip and think that therapy is for freaks, which it is [laughs], but we’re all freaks. We do a very good line in sweeping things under the carpet in Britain, and then one day a glass of orange juice gets spilt and somebody stabs someone. I think there’s a misconception that depression is about something. Depression just is. You don’t get the flu because somebody said something bad about you.
Do you still get dips?
Not really, but I’m on medication that’s sort of like, if the wife hurts herself in any way, I find it difficult to empathise. I’m like, “Oh, that’s a shame.” I know what I should be feeling and I act appropriately, but inside I’m thinking, “I wish I felt this empathy but I don’t.”
Sociopaths do that – act appropriately without the empathy.
[Laughs] It’d be nice to know if I actually am a sociopath or it’s the meds. I hope I’m not a sociopath. That’d be horrendous. But, mind you, I probably wouldn’t be bothered either way.
When did you hit rock bottom?
Many times during my twenties and for a short period during my thirties. In my twenties I was like, “This is f*cking horrendous,” but I didn’t think I was going to die. The short period in my thirties I thought, “I’m just about to die and I don’t care.” In fact, it would have been a relief. But that’s where your f*cking head goes when you’re taking loads of things you shouldn’t be taking. The only person I knew that understood anything about it was Elton John. In my bedroom, when I lived in Maida Vale, there’d be 10 bowls of empty Weetabix with cigarettes in them. After a big bender, it’d be [does phone hand gesture] “Elton”. How weird is that, when the only person you know that can help you is Elton John? [Laughs]
Do you have any regrets from those years?
Yes. I regret that it was all over so fast. I regret the fact that I was 19 when I realised that I was out of control. I regret the fact that I wasn’t 29 or 30 when it happened and I’d splodged my way around the world in some sort of alcoholic drug stupor. I spent most of my twenties sober.
What’s the most frustrating thing about your public image?
That’s something that worries and frustrates you in your twenties. By your late thirties, it’s not. I’ve seen interviews done when I was in my early twenties recently and I think, “That’s why the majority of people think I’m a tw*t.” I understand that, but I’m writing the script for me and I’m not that clever. Rightly or wrongly, I feel as though it’s my duty to entertain, whether I’m in an interview or on a TV show being interviewed, definitely on stage. I’m not smart enough to do it and not look like a tw*t. So I’m committed. I’m committing to tw*tdom. That’s it now for me. It seems to have worked in the past. I’m going to see if I can make it work in the future.
The single Candy is out on 29 Oct, and album Take The Crown is out on 5 Nov. See his clothing line Farrell at Farrell.com