Monday 23 October 2017

Owen goals

Girls and booze may be the rock star dream, but they nearly cost Take That’s Mark Owen his career, peace of mind and family, hears Ed Power

Mark Owen.
Mark Owen.

The perpetually boyish, sad-eyed  one from Take That, Mark Owen  was the last pop star on the planet  you'd have put down as a love  rat. But in 2010 he confessed to a  string of extracurricular liaisons that would  have made Tiger Woods blush. In a tear  streaked, tabloid-mediated tell-all, he admitted  to cheating on girlfriend — now wife —  Emma Ferguson with somewhere in the  region of 10 (10!) women, including, it soon  emerged, a long-term flame he initially met  on the platform at Preston train station.

 For those who cared, the shock waves were  of tsunami proportions. On stage and off, Owen  had always appeared fragile as a daisy, as enthusiastically  naive as a week-old puppy. He was the  first Take That member to have a shot at recording  an artistically ambitious solo album, 1996's  folky, psychedelic, not terrible Green Man. 

When the solo stuff failed to pan out, he triumphed  in Celebrity Big Brother, largely on  account of his innate decent sod-ness. He just  didn't seem like that sort of celeb. 

“I don’t know how many girls there were in  all. Maybe 10,” he said at the time. “I have been  living with the guilt. It has always been there —  you carry it around with you. It held me back  in my relationship with Emma. I wouldn’t have  done any of this if I had my time again. I am  halfway through my life now and this, in a  way, is a lesson. You’ve got to learn and that’s  what I am going to do.” 

Three years on, the scandal, having failed to  derail Take That's comeback, has died down.  Clearly, though, it is still on Owen's mind — or  at least on the minds of the people overseeing  his media dealings. 

Shortly before our chinwag — to promote  Owen's entirely agreeable new record The Art  of Doing Nothing — we receive a terse email  informing us that personal questions “will not  be entertained”. 

Your heart sinks. Is this going to be one of  those conversations where you have to go all Paxman on the interviewee in order to get  them to cough up something interesting? 

Owen, thank goodness, is a delight. Speaking  in a Manchester accent so pronounced you  could stand a spoon in it, he acknowledges  mistakes were made in his personal life and  insists he has became a reformed man since  starting work on the Art of Doing Nothing. 

He has kicked his ruinous boozing (arguably  too late — years of excess have robbed him of  his cherubic glow and accentuated the careworn  aspect that always haunted his looks) and  patched matters up with Emma, with whom he  has three kids. He doesn't sing about his love turmoil  on the new record — not because he does  not consider it fertile territory but because he  is ashamed of what he did. 

“It's not the stuff I want to write about,” he  says, crisply yet without irritation. “I'm not  proud of it. It's not as if I'm going to go and write about my ‘shit' now. It's not a facet of my life that  I take pride in. I think maybe I've asked some  questions about myself and life. 

“Maybe there is some . . . well, I think it's in  [the new album] yes.” 

He reached a point where he realised he was  in danger of throwing it all away.  “I've turned 40, stopped the  drinking. I've went to rehab.  “I have had personal  problems with my family  that I had to work  through . . . You realise  things as you get to a  certain point in life. 

“I'm blessed with  three amazing children  and a wonderful wife  (pictured with Mark  right). They are so, so  important to me. I want to  look after them and give them a  good start in life. I want to look after  my lady and try to be a good dad and husband.” 

There were some dark days following Take  That's 1996 split. Owen could sing and, as  Green Man proved, was a decent writer. However,  unless your name contained the words  ‘Robbie' and ‘Williams', through the late 1990s  and early 2000s the career prospects of a Take  That alum were not bright. As flop LP followed  flop LP, Owen made the ultimate plea for attention  by appearing in the 2002 season of Celebrity  Big Brother. This, more than his tumultuous  love life, seems to be the real sore topic. 

“I forget I even did it,” he says.

“Until someone reminds me. And I think  ‘oh shit, I did that a long time ago'. It is all part  of the journey I guess. Most of the time I don't  even think about it.”  

Owen enjoyed making the Art of Doing  Nothing, even if he is uncertain  whether it's any good or not. When  Day & Night tells him it's a extremely enjoyable  pop record, he doesn't know what to do  with the compliment. 

Despite selling 50 million records with Take  That and having a creative hand in many of their  biggest hits — to say nothing of being a sex symbol  of 20 years’ standing — he is quite unsure  of himself. 

“I don't think I'm the most confident,” he says.  “I can't explain why but I'm not. I'm talking  about life in general, not just with the band. I'm  not the best sales person of myself.”  In Take That, he can get away with being the  shy one, he says. It's a little harder when his  name is up in lights. 

“In the group, we've got people like Gaz  (Gary Barlow). He is a confident person and he  brings that with him. 

“If I do something, I am hoping everyone will  like it rather than believing they will.”

If Take That can be regarded as the original  1990s boyband, Boyzone were surely their  greatest rivals. Did Owen and company feel any  sense of competition with the Dubliners who,  it may be argued, posed the biggest threat to  their pop hegemony? 

“I didn't view them as competitors,” he says.  “We met them several times. They were always  nice. They were a big act and and did well. “Ultimately, their success didn't intrude too  much. We were busy with what we were doing.”  The record company person wants us to  wrap the interview. Of course, it would be  remiss to speak to a member of Take That and  not canvas an opinion on their heirs apparent  One Direction. When he sees Harry, Niall  etc bestriding the world, is Owen  swept back to his early days of hairless,  open-shirted fame? 

“I watch them travelling  around and it definitely brings  memories of the fun we had.  “For me, it was a fantastic  couple of years. At the time it  was a blur. In the middle of  the excitement, you don't see  it. We've met One Direction.  They seem like nice lads. 

“Hopefully, they will have a  fantastic time. I hope they look  after one another. In this business,  that's the most important thing.” 

The Art of Doing Nothing is released today, see  review page 17. Mark plays Olympia on June 19

Online Editors

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment