Wednesday 13 December 2017

Robbie's ready, so let him entertain you

Robbie Williams has long since got his act together, spiritually and artistically, as the once-troubled star releases his new album and prepares for a world tour

Robbie Williams is back to his best with a new album and world tour
Robbie Williams is back to his best with a new album and world tour
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Gentle as a lamb, Robbie Williams sings of a young man's troubled relatives in Motherf***er thus: "Your uncle sells drugs/Your cousin is a cutter/Your grandma is a fluffer/Your grandad's in the gutter."

Lifted from his rather good new album, and his 11th studio long-player, The Heavy Entertainment Show, the aforesaid song owes a debt to Oscar Wilde as much as it does to The Jeremy Kyle Show-ish, British tabloid culture from which his lyrical concerns sprang. And from which Mr Williams legged it to sunny Los Angeles to escape.

In truth, Robbie (who looks, as The New Yorker once said, like a young Sean Connery gone to seed) was going to La La Land to escape from himself more than anything. It doesn't seem that long ago that he was in therapy for depression for a whole variety of reasons...

Where to begin? With his father, a holiday entertainer, who walked out on him when he was two years of age? Or with the fact that, as a kid, young Robbie would be shuffled from his mother in Stoke-on-Trent for three weeks every summer to whatever holiday camp his dad was playing at the time? And then there were the other factors. Where to begin indeed? The deep-seated angst he felt about his success? The agonising he put himself through because of his fame? His famous girlfriends (Nicole from All Saints, Geri from The Spice Girls, etc)? Or the years of self-reproach over the vast amounts of money swimming around his bank account, or even the guilty self-condemnation he felt swimming around his own swimming pool.

When Robbie left Take That, and became a very successful and very rich solo artist, he went out and bought himself a Ferrari. Then when the guilt really got in on him, Robbie returned the Ferrari. Undriven.

It is no wonder he became an insecure multi-millionaire mega-star, who would tell British Vogue in 2000 of the aftermath of playing to 70,000 people at Slane Castle in 1999: "Back at the hotel in Dublin there was a party going on and I remember walking around but not being there. My whole soul was somewhere else and this shell was walking around the bar."

The deepening despair was coloured as much by the dysfunction of his childhood whirring around his psyche as the Class A drugs careering through his pop-star mainline. To understand that the latter is not exaggeration, this is what Robbie replied to The Face in 1998 when asked, if there was a gram of coke on the table now, how he would feel: "I'd have to leave the room. Most definitely. Or else that would be it. I f***ing hate coke. It makes you do anything to get it and you end up in horrible situations with horrible people."

The good news is that Robbie Williams, who plays Dublin's Aviva Stadium on June 17 next year as part of The Heavy Entertainment Show world tour, appears to have long-since got his act together.

When I interviewed the star in 2013 for the Sunday Independent's LIFE magazine, he said that, courtesy of his wife Ayda and their young daughter Theodora, life was better than it ever had been. He didn't quite use the word redemption but he might as well have.

"I am very, very happy. And Ayda has an awful lot to do with it," he said. "I can't take anything away from what her partnership has given to me. I get the feeling Theodora is going to be some sort of entertainer, or a comedian of some sort".

To go back to his new album, The Heavy Entertainment Show, Robbie sings at one point: "I love my life/I am free." Long may it continue, and may Robbie get to become, to paraphrase one of his best songs, old before he dies.

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