“Everyone’s playing catch-up with me and game’s not the same as it was…”, Robbie Williams
Robbie Williams is looking out the window of the penthouse suite of his Mayfair hotel. Central London is laid out before him in a damp, grey sprawl. “Do you ever think, ‘I wish we lived somewhere sunny’?” he asks.
Yes, sometimes, we reply. “But doesn’t it get on your nerves when it’s sunny all the time?”
Robbie looks at us as if we’re actually mad.
“God no!” he shouts. “This is depressing me. There’s been a change in the weather, it’s now going, ‘Hey, here’s winter’. Well winter can fuck off because all winter makes me want to do is hibernate and eat Twix…”
Robbie Williams has a new record out – his first solo album for three years and his first since leaving Take That (again) a year ago. This new record is called Take The Crown and Robbie believes there’s a lot riding on it.
“I want a big album,” he says. “A big, successful album. Nobody really admits to thinking like that these days, they just go, ‘Not bothered if it doesn’t sell. I’ve been there, done it’. But people who say that are lying bastards!”
So success is still just as important as it ever was?
Yeah, I want that affirmation. I still want to be big in the game because if I wasn’t then I’d have to shift my whole identity. I mean, if it didn’t happen it wouldn’t be devastating – but I’d be miffed if it wasn’t huge, but I can deal with a miffing.
In pop terms you’ve had a great innings.
Exactly. I’ve been awfully blessed with an awful lot of nice things and an unbelievable amount of luck and faith that’s come my way, so I mustn’t grumble and I can’t complain. But I would love a big album. For all the above reasons. Identity. Ego. And I really believe in it. I hope lots of people believe in it too, and if they did, it would feel nice. Full stop. And it might keep me coming back and if it doesn’t, I might take me ball away!
You might stop doing it all?
Yeah, I might go, ‘Fuck you!’ I have a romantic idea that that might happen: it probably won’t.
Because you know, in your heart, that you’ll want to come back and make an amazing album when when you’re 48?
That’s true – and it would be a very different record from the one I’d make at 38. You never know what’s going to come up, do you? You know, there’s the Circle of Life moment there for me. I might hopefully have one of those, where somebody asks me to write the music for a film. But I don’t get many offers like that, because I don’t think people actually think I write any music, that I can actually do that.
Everyone thinks you have someone who does that for you?
Yeah, well I don’t – so ask Robbie!
Do you think in 30 years we’ll think of you as a David Bowie type or as a Tony Bennett character.
Tony Bennett. David Bowie is from Mars, you know, literally from a different planet. He’s untouchable, an exotic creature. I’m not an exotic creature! I’m your everyman, sort of. I’m the next door neighbour; I’m what you would do as a pop star if you could do it, if you got up there and did it. David Bowie’s range of what he’s capable of doing far exceeds what I can do. But I’ve managed to fashion it into 60 million albums! But David Bowie is a true one-off; you couldn’t get somebody to do what he’s done. You could get somebody to do what I’ve done.
OK, let’s get specific, who do you think are the top five pop stars of all time?
Freddie Mercury. I’ve always, always loved him, but I’ve been really fucking taken aback about how fucking brilliant he was recently. Then Prince. Then John Lennon. David Bowie. Mick Jagger. But then look at Babs Streisand, she’s sold 150 million records.
Are you annoyed that she’s sold more records than you?
No! Because she’s from a time when people were proper legends, not like now. That was a time when the glamour was real.
Maybe you’re the end of the line, the last pop star?
Maybe I am [laughs]! Sorry, everyone. But then there’s Adele, she’s just done, what, 25 million? I could see her next record doing really, really well, too.
Let’s talk about music. What was playing in the house when you grew up?
Well, my first three years were spent in a pub, and so it was whatever was on the jukebox – usually Summer Nights. That was the first record on the planet that showed me I had a future in performance, because the punters would put the money in and I’d mime to the record. I’d do the whole bit.
You’d be both John and Olivia?
I suppose I would be! That wouldn’t be confusing for me at that age as I’d only be two or three. I’m sure that it was the first record that I was really in love with, without knowing that I was in love with it. And then there was Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s Monster Mash. I was scared of that song! Then the big one – Showaddywaddy. I wanted to be a Teddy Boy.
How far did you get with that dream?
I didn’t get very far! But, it went into my subconscious. They were playing at the Burslem Queen’s Theatre round the corner from the pub, and I went to see them – I saw the Banana Splits there, too, that was my first gig. I really wanted the full three-quarter length Teddy Boy jacket, but my mum wouldn’t get me one. Since then, however, that has become a staple in my fashion line, Farrell. All I’ve really worn over the last 15 years is three-quarter length jackets.
So Showaddywaddy were a huge influence?
A big influence on Farrell. Yeah! I think they actually were, all jokes aside. Farrell by Showaddywaddy. And I can’t forget Darts and Manhattan Transfer?
What was the first record you went out and bought?
The first record I had bought for me was Electro 1 on the Street Sounds label, my sister bought it for me. That and Pink Floyd’s The Wall, but I never listened to that, just the Electro album. I couldn’t get enough of it. I felt like there was like messages being sent from Brooklyn, New York, and they were being picked up in fucking Stoke on Trent, Tunstall, by six-year-old me. This was the time where there was lino being pulled up and we were all going breakdancing. That was my first musical movement, of which I have been blessed to enjoy quite a few. There was a time I had a parka, too. I was at the very tail end of Mod. We’ve had the pleasure of quite a few great musical movements in Britain. And now there’s none. It all kind of ended in 1995, or 1996.
What do you think was the last great musical movement we had in the UK?
Britpop and jungle and there’s not been anything else since. And that was 17 years ago! Fuck! We’re going to die soon, you know? We’ve already had at least half our time. We’ve had our best years. That really occurs to you when you have kids, you think, ‘Oh Christ, I’ve got to do the right thing!’ And I was quite resentful of having to do the right thing at first, but now it’s cool, now I want to be my baby daughter’s mate.
Are you willing to crack the whip as well?
Yeah, but in the back of my mind, I’m thinking, “She won’t get one over on me”.
Oh, OK! Well, there’s a whole pie chart of different emotions that you feel, isn’t there? There’s that first wave of princess miracle ecstasy, then there’s the, ‘Shit, what the fuck do I do with this baby now?’ And she’s only three and a half weeks old!
Who does she look more like?
Me. She looks like me. She’s got her Mummy’s lips, which are great; she looks as though, her eyes are blue at the moment, but they’ll be turning green, I think. And she looks as though she’s got her Daddy’s nose. As long as she gets Mummy’s smarts. And memory. She’ll be cool. And Mummy’s funny, she’s a funny lady, so yeah. I just want a kind, well-mannered person. That’s all I ask for, really.
What music gets you going in the morning?
I actually think – and this is where Spotify comes in – that I need a get up and go playlist. And I need my get up and go playlist because I am in full pop star mode, whilst in full pop star mode, you have to go running most days to not be fat. At the minute though, I am like some mental person, checking in to have a look at what Candy’s doing on YouTube every two minutes. There were 3.6 million people in the first two and a half weeks – that’s good, right? So, and then I read the comments, because I’m a mentalist and I hate myself…
You read all of them?
Yeah! You’re making a face like you think it’s lunacy, but while you see crazy people, I see friends of mine! Really good friends.
We always like that song Killing Me from the first album, what can you tell us about that?
[Sings:] ‘Words cut deep when you’re defenceless, cos they’re killing me. Killing me softly…’ I think that was probably the best tune off my first album. ‘I want my picture back…’ The story is, there was a guy among this group of people that I was hanging out with at the time. These were like my student mates and one of them was the ringleader and he decided that he didn’t like me. But the trouble was I was a big fan of his, as a person. I mean, these people were my peers.
And he’d taken against you?
Yes, and that queered my patch with all my other friends. He would tell them all I was a big head and I was this and that and I really wasn’t! I was just enthusiastic and young. I was actually fucking devastated by it all. So, to try to make sense of it al, I recorded my first ever song, which had no backing track to it, but it was just lyrics, and I posted this tape to him. And part of that song, which goes [sings]: “Ah, you paint my picture black, the joke’s on me and I don’t wanna laugh, remember the good times, won’t you bring them back someday, somehow”…” ended up in Killing Me. This all originates from three or four years before that first album, and it was aimed directly at that cunty friend of mine that was jealous. Then, of course, I finished it off at the most depressed time in my life.
What five records could you not exist without?
OK, the White Album, Behaviour by the Pet Shop Boys, Electro 1. Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, Welcome to the Beautiful South. And then A Night At The Opera, Day at the Races, Jazz and News of the World! You know, the same guy who gave me all his Queen records to tape then gave me the Stone Roses. I didn’t get that at all. I didn’t understand it. I do now, but then, aged 15, it was either hip hop or Queen.
Do you think the perfect song exists?
Yeah. Bohemian Rhapsody. I think that might be the greatest record ever made. Bohemian Rhapsody is a piece of absolute genius, don’t you think? It’s like where the fuck did he get that from, out of his arse? I don’t know. Wichita Linesman is one of my favourite songs ever, and I don’t know why, because I’ve never been a linesman for the County, I don’t really know what one is, but I still love that tune, it breaks my heart. But if you’re looking for the perfect song, well, Singing in the Rain’s pretty cool.