Confessions Of A Success Addict
Words by Chris Heath
Photographs by Julian Broad
Just under three years ago – for a complicated, overlapping series of reasons and circumstances that would come to involve love, stage fright, addiction, facial hair, kaftans, UFOs, doughnuts and an emerging desire to explore what life is like when you’re not being a pop star – Robbie Williams more or less disappeared from public life. He had been famous since the age of 18 when he had his first top-10 single as one fifth of the boy band Take That, and had found himself relentlessly stoking that fame ever since, with remarkable success. He needed to take a break, and so he did.
Last Valentine’s Day, the day after his 35th birthday, he took his girlfriend to Brentford Football Club to see Brentford play Port Vale, the team he has supported since childhood. Port Vale lost 2-0. During the game, the crowd noticed he was there, and started singing at him.
'You’re not famous any more…’ they sang. 'You’re not famous any more.’
Being Robbie Williams, he didn’t just accept the Brentford supporters’ taunt in silence. Instead, a choir of one, he enjoyed singing back.
'I’ve got more fans than you,’ he went. 'I’ve got more fans than you…’
That was one retort.
'I’ll buy you and turn you into a Tesco.’
That was another.
Still… You’re not famous any more. It made him laugh – it was funny, not least because of its lovely false logic in recognising someone and then pointing out their lack of fame – but he was aware that, with all the time he had been away and all that had been said about him in his absence, this was now a fairly common perception.
Characteristically, he also wasn’t sure whether he was more worried that it was true, or more worried that it wasn’t.
On October 11 2009 Robbie Williams travels to the X Factor studios for his first TV performance since he slipped away from the public eye. He is to perform his new single, Bodies. He stands behind a screen as he is announced, waiting. When the song begins, the screen is supposed to split apart to reveal him, and to open up his way to the stage. So he waits. He has been nervous for months, but now he feels all right, though as he stands here he sings the theme tune from Rocky over and over to himself inside his head to give himself confidence. And he begins to worry that he can’t remember the words to the first verse.
The song’s dirty bass line starts up. The audience roars. He continues to wait for the two halves of the screen to split, as they had at rehearsals.
They don’t open.
Argentine radio interview, September 2009:
Robbie, why it took you three years to come back?
'This is how the cycle goes with Robbie Williams: release an album, be very excited about it, look healthy, be healthy, promote that album, start eating, tour the album, start going mad, end tour, have a nervous breakdown, end up in rehab… Something had to give.’
The day in November 2005 when the tickets went on sale for the last Robbie Williams tour is now in the Guinness book of records for the most tickets sold by an artist in a single day: 1.6 million. All that was left to do was the performances. This proved a struggle. 'I couldn’t get my head around why I can’t seem to enjoy or relax or not feel pressurised or not feel sick on the merry-go-round of a tour,’ he says. 'And I really don’t like it. I really don’t like it.’ Too often, his initial stage fright lasted for the whole two hours he was on stage.
As the increasingly stressful tour progressed, he released a new album, Rudebox. This is now often referred to as some kind of legendary fiasco but, though less successful than his previous albums, it sold far beyond the reach of most artists (more than two million copies), had as many fine reviews as poor ones, and contained plenty in the style and of the quality that has made him widely loved. But he barely promoted it (because he was both on tour and in a delicate state), and his core audience may have been put off by its unfriendly title and by the unexpected b-boy rap of its first single, the title track. He now talks of the album as a playful homage to the music of his youth, 'a gap year record where I had loads of fun with my mates. I was making a record that would impress a 15-year-old me…’ He loved it – 'and still do love it’ – but the venom with which it was greeted in some quarters also influenced his decision to lie low for a while.
'I felt a bit battered from the press. I just thought, I can’t be f***ing assed with this any more.’
Do you think the press were unfair?
'Well, they’d been waiting for ages to give me a good kicking, and putting the boot in here and there, but then it was like a collective, “Quick! He’s down! Jump on him! Kick him in the head! Make sure he’s gone! Do it again!… and do it again!… and do it again!… and again!” It was a moment of perceived weakness in a glittering career.’
Why do you think they were looking for a moment of weakness?
'Well, that’s what they do, isn’t it? It’s been said a million times: build ’em up and knock ’em down.’ He laughs wryly. 'They’re hardly decent enough to build them up these days.’
June 2009, Sarm Studios, west London. Williams has a slightly eccentric attitude to recording. When he first met Trevor Horn, the producer of his new album, Reality Killed the Video Star, Horn (whose reputation was established with the sweeping 1980s soundscapes of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s biggest hits and ABC’s The Lexicon of Love) asked him what hours he likes to keep in the studio.
'Friday,’ he told Horn.
Horn assumed that this was a joke. It wasn’t.
'No, really,’ Williams explained. 'I’ll come in Friday.’ His preferred schedule: pop in for a couple of hours to hear what had been done over the previous week, and to offer his input and opinions before disappearing for another week. For the first month or so, this is exactly what he did.
This could give the impression that Williams is far less involved in, and interested in, his records than he is. The main reason he sees no need to hang around for the painstaking labour of finishing a record – aside from the fact that he has little patience for it – is that he considers that he has already done most of his work, and he has a point. While Horn’s contribution to the songs will elevate them in all kinds of magical ways, if anyone who got to know the finished album were subsequently to hear Williams’s early versions, mostly recorded in his Los Angeles bedroom over the previous three years, they might be surprised at how much they recognised – not only the basic songs but their fundamental structure and arrangements, too.
Anyway, as the recording has progressed, he has found himself spending more and more time here. Today – a Thursday – I find him sitting on a sofa in a small, smoky, windowless room listening to Matt Monro on his computer, and talking about whether he should get a tattoo of the word 'tattoo’. After a while he starts searching Spotify for cover versions of his own songs. 'Engelbert Humperdinck’s done a version of Angels,’ he announces, surprised. He plays about 15 seconds. Horn is busy in a studio upstairs, but this is where Williams and his friends – including, right now, two of his friends from Stoke, Kelvin Andrews and Danny Spencer, who wrote much of the album with him – hang out.
He looks up from the computer.
'So,’ he tells me, 'I’m going to reform. Me.’
With the original line-up?
'No,’ he says. 'Some of us have gone.’
Horn pops in and asks him to come upstairs. Today he is adding parts to Bodies. 'I want it to sound like something’s about to happen,’ he explains, and plays what he has done. Williams seems taken aback. 'It’s amazing,’ he says.
Horn says that there are still strings to be added. 'It’ll make it bigger,’ he says.
'Let’s see how big we can get it,’ Williams suggests. 'It’s like being in a wind tunnel,’ he says. 'In a good way.’ Pause. 'Not forced to be there.’
As Williams tells it, the first few weeks off tour are always 'a horrendous comedown’. It’s hard to break free from the routine: 'At eight o’clock your body switches on and goes, “HEY! EVERYBODY! LET MEEEE ENTERTAIN YOUUUUU!’ And you don’t know what to do. You’re bouncing off the walls.’ This time was worse. 'With the added, “Oh, I’ve got a dependency, as well.” And I was pretty broken, really.’
On February 13 2007 his management put out a statement saying, in full: Robbie Williams has today been admitted into a treatment centre in America for his dependency on prescription drugs. There will be no further comment on this matter.’ In many places this information was treated as some kind of self-obsessed, semi-comic publicity stunt. It was, for instance, repeated over and over – without evidence or justification – that his addiction was to Red Bull and coffee. A quote in the tabloids from his long-term bete noire, Take That’s ex-manager, Nigel Martin-Smith, encapsulated these reactions: 'He’s very theatrical. His whole life is one huge soap opera… He might be after a bit of sympathy. If I was a Robbie fan I wouldn’t be worried. He’ll go to his rehab, have a lie-down and a couple of Anadins and he’ll be fine.’
Perhaps one blessing of how he really was is that he was in no state to be reading all of this. He’d prefer to be no more specific about his problem other than it was 'a dependence on prescription medication’, but it was a serious one. (I’d visited him the previous week. He was charming and self-knowing but clearly in a terrible, worrying way.) On the day his managers intervened, they already had a plane waiting to take him to a clinic in Arizona. Before they even had a chance to tell him why they were there, he told them he knew, and that he’d go.
'And it was infuriating,’ he says, 'because I’d got in that state again, I’d got to where I’d been so many times before. And it’s embarrassing to have to go to rehab again, knowing that you’ve already been, and knowing what’s to come, and knowing the boredom that you’re going to have while you’re there, and being scared about the people that are going to be in there. Are you going to get on with anybody? Is anybody going to be your kind of nutter? Because they’re all nutters, including myself.
I think everyone thinks rehab’s this place that’s a bit like a health farm where you go and get pampered. I was in a hospital ward with four other people in single beds, and it’s horrendous in there. And there I was on this aeroplane being flown to Arizona kicking the f***ing seat in front of me so many times because I couldn’t believe I’d allowed myself to get in that position again.’
What would have happened if you hadn’t gone in?
'I’d be dead now.’
What would have happened?
'Overdose. Drugs do an awful lot of weird things to the chemistry of your mind and your body and your soul, and one of the things is, “Well, if I go, I’ve had a good one…” It’s that matter-of-fact. I’ve heard somebody say in AA meetings, “Don’t commit suicide; in a week and a half you’ll be killing the wrong person.” But it wasn’t a question of being even suicidal, I just wasn’t bothered – I wasn’t bothered if I killed the right person or not. You know, I’m well-versed in the psychology of addiction – I’ve been doing it a long time. First admitting it to myself when I was 19, and here I was at 32, worse than I was then.’
Do you feel like it’s further behind you, or is it something that you’re just going to have to keep thinking about?
He pauses. 'I think it’s something that I’m going to have to keep thinking about. It’s a classic thing to say: it’s never behind you.’
September 2009. Today I find Williams slightly put off his stride by a column in one of the previous weekend’s newspapers in which the writer Miranda Sawyer recounts the following story: A few years ago, a friend was enjoying a minor film hit. Robbie complimented him on his work, and then said, 'But how good is it really? Is it two nights in Knebworth good?’ Oh yes. When Robbie really tried, he could make Jordan look chilled and uncompetitive.
He readily acknowledges that he quite probably did say something of this sort – he believes the conversation in question may have been with Simon Pegg – but that the spirit in which he would have spoken has been fundamentally misunderstood. A comment like this is one of his fallback, jokey responses, far more mock-egotistical than the real thing. He tells me he remembers an occasion when a friend’s niece was showing off some gymnastic moves in the garden – 'Look at me!
I can do this!’ – and he similarly responded, deadpan, 'I did Knebworth.’
He sends Sawyer some cakes and, with them, a note that reads, 'Thanks, Miranda. Actually it’s three nights at Knebworth…’
In his time away, many things changed. One – and, by then, for him one of the least expected – was that he fell in love. In recent years he had resolved that he neither wanted nor expected to have a long-term relationship. 'I spent a lot of my twenties wanting a maid, really,’ he says. 'I thought I wanted a relationship but I just wanted somebody to fix and nurse me, and I’d take her hostage for six months. When you’re 23, 24, you want to be in a relationship because they look brilliant – you’ve heard all the songs about it and seen all the movies and it looks great. Little did I know that I was nowhere near being in a relationship.’ He says that in his late twenties he became further disillusioned with the whole idea because he saw so little he envied in those he saw around him – his friends’, and those he’d see on TV.
The way he describes it, it almost seems a miracle that his current relationship didn’t founder. He first met the actress Ayda Field through a common friend, the actor Callum Blue, two or three weeks before he went to rehab. They texted each other but he didn’t make their first date: 'I was a bit nervous and didn’t feel up to it and didn’t know whether
I could socialise and be impressive – normal me stuff.’ Eventually he invited her over and they went out to a party. 'And I sat down and started talking to her and that was it. We just got on like a house on fire. I made her laugh and she made me laugh.’ Even if he wasn’t at his best. 'I got very messy. She saw me at my worst the first night. She sort of nursed me, because she wasn’t in a bad way.’ For about two weeks they were together, but then he told her that he had to go to rehab – this was before he had actually resolved to go – and was in no shape for a relationship. ('It was kind of the perfect out,’ he reflects. 'One that I’ve used before – and then not gone.’)
A while after he returned from Arizona they got back together, but he couldn’t shake his expectation that if he liked someone this much it was only a matter of time before she revealed herself as someone completely different. And so, after three or four months, he broke up with her again. And then they bumped into each other. 'That was when I laid all the cards on the table,’ he says. 'I got rid of all the excuses not to stay.’ She listened. They’ve been together ever since. 'For me, she’s incredible. For anybody she’d be incredible, really. We don’t fall out – never have done. If there’s ever a grumpy situation, I’m the grumpy one – that I ultimately apologise for as soon as anything comes out of my mouth. Or, at least, five hours later.’
With her, he enjoyed much of his time off doing the kind of travel he’d rarely before had much appetite for – Morocco, Holland, Egypt, Mexico, the Caribbean, Arizona, the Californian desert – and spent part of last summer camping out in his Los Angeles back garden. He says that at one point they didn’t sleep inside for a few weeks, although they’d go back into the house to watch TV and he concedes that even in the tent they had air conditioning, and a computer to scour the internet. (He also spent many months satisfying the fascination with the paranormal and UFOs he’s had since childhood – explorations that would ultimately leave him more, not less, sceptical.)
To accompany his new lifestyle out of the public eye, he grew an impressive beard. Only after he’d finally shaved did one of his friends tell him, 'It made you look like you eat people.’ He also put on weight, eating the doughnuts and cakes he forbade himself as a pop star, and started wearing kaftans: 'Cashmere kaftans from Morocco. I was Obi-Wan Kenobi most nights.’
Dutch TV interview, September 2009:
Are you also thinking about family? Children?
'Yup. Talk about it a lot.’
I just had a child. One year.
'Did you think you weren’t going to have one?’
'Me too. How old are you?’
'32? It’s about time I knocked one out, really, isn’t it? I’m 36.’ He pauses. 'Am I 36?’
'35,’ corrects a voice off camera.
'I’m 35? Oh. Thank God…’
For the best part of two years, he set aside being Robbie Williams though he never stopped writing and recording music. 'It’s what I do in my spare time,’ he says. It was the desire for England that returned before the desire to be a pop star. After he had given Field a virtual tour of where he was from – Stoke-on-Trent and its hinterland – on Google Earth, last November they sneaked into the country so that he could show her for real. They visited family, and family graves, even turning up on the doorstep of the house where he lived from the age of three to 18. 'An Asian family lives there now, and they were really, really lovely. I went in and saw the box room that was my bedroom, and I was, “Yeah, I definitely, definitely prefer tiny bedrooms.” Big bedrooms I can’t sleep in.’ (Williams will sometimes start out in the grand master bedroom of a big house, but he will inevitably gravitate to something far smaller.)
It was on this trip that another spark was rekindled. One day, driving down the M4, they were listening to the radio and he was surprised at the thought that lodged in his head. 'Mmmm,’ the thought ran, 'I want to be on that again.’
He also decided to move back, and bought a large house in Wiltshire, a property once owned by Katherine Parr. I go to stay for a couple of days in early June. It’s beautiful in the ways of a classic English country estate – rolling lawns, woods, a walled garden, an idyllic pond – but already shows signs of subtle customisation. On a lawn near the house is a yurt. Through the woods a racetrack has been created by a team of 15 Marines for Williams and friends to ride around on the souped-up go-karts called Rage buggies.
Today the photographer Julian Broad has been taking Williams’s first new photos. He has slimmed down, mostly by being what he refers to as 'a food ninja’ – not eating most of what he likes – and he’ll say that one further reason to return to the public eye is because he knew it would make him shape up. He found today’s experience good, but strange. 'It’s weird. I really don’t think I’m famous any more.’
In the wake of Rudebox’s rough reception, he remembers feeling both affronted and, for a time, relieved. 'It was like, OK, that’s that ride over. Thank God for that.’ The relief has faded. The hurt has not. 'It’s knocked my confidence, which was always fragile, anyway. Up until I put it right I’ll feel that way.’
There are several very different albums he could release from the songs he recorded for pleasure while he was away, some of them almost defiantly odd, but in the end he chose the songs he loved which he also thought could right anything that was wrong. 'I’m mainstream,’ he says, unapologetically, 'and I have pretty chart-tastic tastes. I don’t often veer away from a big melodic song with big words for big stadiums.’
September 2009. In a penthouse suite at London’s Soho Hotel, Williams sits in a chair, sips a coffee, asks for an internet password (he will soon be exchanging emails with Rio Ferdinand), flicks through GQ magazine, and prepares to be made up for a day of worldwide media interviews.
'You going to shave first?’ asks Gina, who has been doing his make-up for many years.
'No, I’m not going to shave,’ he says.
'Are you sure?’ she asks.
'Yes,’ he says, firmly.
She nods. 'Rob’s making decisions for himself,’ she notes.
'It’s only taken 20 years,’ he murmurs.
In these press encounters some questions get asked, and answered, over and over and over, but there is always an element of unpredictability. As Williams will himself announce, he often has no filter when he does interviews. An example comes today in an interview for Australian TV, which closes with some questions written in by viewers.
'Here we go!’ says the presenter. 'From Ryan in Queensland: what’s the weirdest thing a fan has ever said to you?’
'“You’ve given me herpes,”’ Williams answers immediately. (There is an explosion of stifled spluttering from everyone in the room – cameramen, technicians, record company personnel.) 'Which is weird,’ he continues, 'because I actually hadn’t. She sent me a text. She was a mentalist.’ He looks around the room. 'Shall I not tell this story? Anyway, that’s what she said. I hadn’t. I was clean as a whistle. Whoo-hoo! So there you go…’
Later, MTV asks him to tell the camera what it takes to make Robbie Williams.
'OK,’ he says. 'A little bit of neurosis, a little bit of a music collection, some weird times in your youth, becoming famous really too early, and a big mouth.’
Then they ask him to give them something. He suggests a piece of his hair; the interviewer promises that he won’t put it on eBay.
'I don’t care,’ Williams says. 'Clone it. It can do the promo.’
In 2002 Williams fell out with Guy Chambers, with whom he’d written most of his hits up until that point. After Rudebox’s stuttering reception there seemed to be some expectation that maybe now they would get together. In fact they had mended their bridges a while back – they’ve even recorded together again (a version of the Kinks’ Lola, released on a Radio 1 compilation) though no one noticed. They also tried a little writing, working on something Chambers had already begun with another songwriter, a song called The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. (That other songwriter, remarkably, was Gary Barlow, so that a weird kind of virtual Take That reunion actually took place some time ago.) But there are no plans to release it, and their new collaboration did not go any further.
'I love Guy, I do,’ Williams says. 'But I find him difficult to work with. I’ve moved on. I think ultimately we will write an album again, but right now I wouldn’t feel fulfilled by it. I look forward to that day, but I can’t see it being in the next five years.’
Though he declares that he hopes to find a way round his stage fright, and to tour again eventually, Williams has decided that he would be foolish to schedule any concerts of the kind that have so traumatised him in the near future. Still, early one afternoon in September I meet him in some rehearsal studios in south London. He is preparing both for appearances on TV and a one-off small show at the London Roundhouse as part of the BBC’s Electric Proms. When he walks in, his band are sitting on sofas rehearsing an acoustic version of Bodies he has never heard; he joins in, mid-song. 'That’s good,’ he says. 'What’s it for?’
He tells me that at the weekend he had a crisis of confidence. He had been feeling buoyant at the overwhelmingly positive worldwide reaction to Bodies – he has been genuinely unsure whether the world was at all interested in having him back – and then on Saturday afternoon something inside him changed. 'I just crumpled,’ he says. He explains that when he feels like this, he is impervious to good news. 'I refuse to listen. And I’ll carry on worrying, because that’s what I do… I’m like an Olympic worrier. I take it too far.’
This is the second time he has rehearsed. Last time he just ran through the new album. He does the same again today, then turns to the band and says, 'Shall we do some old stuff?’ He begins with Come Undone, then Feel: the first time he has sung these songs – anywhere – since 2006. Then his most famous song. 'Angels, man, let’s do it,’ he says. 'Let’s get that shit out. Top Trumps.’
This is a song that carries within in it more of his worldview than people may realise. One day, when he and I are discussing the perception that he had lost his marbles and become obsessed by spooky weirdness, he points out, 'I believed that stuff when I wrote Angels – that’s why I wrote Angels. Angels isn’t about anybody, it’s about the thoughts that loved ones that have passed on come back and take care of you.’ Today, during the instrumental build-up near the song’s end, his right arm starts rising up to encourage a non-existent crowd, as though it knows of doing nothing else at that moment. It’s a bit like one of those movie scenes where the comic book character gets back their superpower.
One of the favoured media narratives while Williams has been away has been one in which he is supposed to have been devastated by the conjunction of a terrible dip in his fortunes and the triumphant rebirth of Take That. Not even just the media. During his Australian tour, Williams was staying in the same hotel as Elton John, and one day a note was sent to Williams’s room. It said this: 'Take That – number one album, number one single. Funny how things work out – Elton.’
'And I read that,’ he says, 'and I thought, “What a bizarre way to think about things… you live in a world that I don’t live in.”’
In fact he and his former bandmates had been growing closer again for some time. When Take That came to LA to record last year Williams arranged to meet up with them at their hotel. This wasn’t their first meeting, but this time mutual grievances were finally aired, and – particularly between Williams and Gary Barlow – salved. 'After that meeting we were best mates. I got him, he got me. There’s me from Stoke and him from Frodsham. It was f***ing lovely… I’m so glad that we sorted it out, because I could still be going around pontificating about a man who doesn’t exist any more.’
He invited them up to his house the following night. That afternoon he went to the tattoo parlour and had the Take That symbol – two mirror image Ts inside a circle – tattooed on to the outside of his right wrist. 'I was thinking that it was a part of my life that had great sadness to it that had done a 180 and become something beautiful and really lovely.’ When they arrived at the house, he proudly showed them what he had done. I hear him tell several versions of what happened next: 'They all just went, “What’ve you done that for?” and then didn’t mention it again.’ 'They looked at me like I was a dick.’ 'And they all just went, “You’re mental.”’
'I’m sure they thought it was a mixture of brilliant and daft,’ he tells me. 'As I do, too.’
Following Williams’s appearance on The X Factor there was a mini media storm. Thrown off his stride by the screens failing to open – he could be seen on TV trying to force them apart – he seemed to compensate by making every aspect of his performance bigger: more the performance of someone doing an encore in a stadium than a new single on a TV show. When pumped up like this, his facial expressions can become exaggerated, his eyes super wide. Many of those who commented on YouTube took it upon themselves to decide that something was very wrong, and – fanned by the media – this quickly got out of hand. The suggestion seemed to be that, at best, he had been wheeled out on stage in an unfit state by conniving puppeteers, and that at worst he had clearly relapsed on drugs.
I was with him all that day. This – in its almost banal practicality – is what actually happens:
At the London flat where he and Field stay when he is in town, he eats some lunch – ribs from a Sainsbury’s bag then some chicken breast dipped in salad cream. Mid-afternoon, a van takes us to the studio in Wembley where The X Factor is filmed. He watches Alexandra Burke rehearse then chats with her and Dermot O’Leary. In the dressing-room he reads one of the tabloids while singing Bodies to himself – then, bizarrely, morphs it into Elton John’s Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.
He’s told me that he’s been horribly nervous about this performance all week. 'This is the first sighting of Robbie Williams doing the Robbie Williams thing,’ he points out. Performing simply isn’t feeling very natural right now. He’s even beginning to wonder whether it’s because his performances were driven by sex, and that now he has a girlfriend the need has receded, but he doesn’t really believe that. 'I wish I had some kind of answer,’ he says, 'just so I knew what it was.’
But today he feels calmer. He goes to the stage to rehearse. The first time through he just feels his way; by the second he has worked out what he is doing; and by the third and final run-through he seems to know what his plan is. (Each time, the screen splits as it should.) Afterwards he goes to have a chat with Simon Cowell, then sits in the dressing-room and talks about future home renovations. (His latest plan is to base himself in LA once more.) He picks at a plate of sushi and discusses clothing options for the show. He shaves, and nicks himself, then sits down, shirtless, and makes some phone calls, inviting people to a quiz night he’s holding at the flat the next evening, then walks around, smoking, drinking coffee, half-watching Family Fortunes, then he goes into the corridor and chats with some of the X Factor contestants. Back in the dressing-room, he changes his socks. The atmosphere is calm and friendly. When he’s just about ready to leave for the stage, Field kisses him on the cheek – his make-up has to be quickly retouched.
Afterwards, he comes back, beaming.
'You were so chuffed!’ Field says.
'I was, wasn’t I?’ he says. 'It felt really cool.’
When he gets home, he writes a blog on his website detailing the day’s adventures. 'It all felt so electric… Like three years of anxiety leaving my body. So happy right now…’
Only after that did the whirlwind whip up.
One day I find myself discussing with Williams the way his cumulative actions betray a kind of desperate mania to be both famous and not famous. He knows this, of course. 'Less famous, more successful,’ he qualifies. 'It’s success, not fame, that is quite addictive. I’m addicted to a lot of things and, as it happens, success is one of them. For the time being.’
He knows how it frustrates people that he finds all this so complex. Sometimes he thinks he should just shut up about it, but if he is going to talk at all he also feels a compulsion to try and be honest about what is really going on. And this is him. So he may always be an Olympic worrier; he may always veer between finding his chosen role uncomfortably strange and uncomfortably easy; he may forever ricochet back and forth between thinking too little and thinking too much. Though now that he has glimpsed the view away from this life – now that he can truly imagine a life that is not centred on it – perhaps he can begin to discover whether that makes him value all this more, or value it less.
The odd storm provoked by his return to performance surges in the following week and then, as such storms about nothing much that really matters usually do, it recedes. The following Sunday Bodies sells the most copies in one week of any Robbie Williams single for nine years. And for at least one of the questions he asked himself during his long self-imposed exile he has an answer.
Copyright: Telegraph Group Ltd