“If the world was actually fair I wouldn’t be a pop star, I would be in Stoke-On-Trent in some pub right now talking about how I used to sing when I was a kid. So thank God the world isn’t fair.”
Feel is the most intimate and revealing book on Robbie to date. Following a magazine interview with Robbie by friend and music journalist Chris Heath, the pair began to make plans for a new, no holds barred biography. Together, they felt they could produce the most sincere account of Robbie's extraordinary life so far...
Chris joined Robbie's entourage in August 2002 as the final songs of the Escapology album were being recorded in Los Angeles. For more than 18 months he lived his life by Robbie's side, with access all areas, through good days and bad.
Feel touches on a host of intimate thoughts and revelations from Robbie's on-going battle with the tabloids and his demons with Take That to tales of life in LA and a behind-the-scenes reportage of those mind-blowing Knebworth shows!
Delving deep and spanning all aspects of Robbie's life throughout this period, Feel is sometimes more honest than perhaps is wise...!
His brief friendship with Oasis began towards the end of his time with Take That. Originally, he was more friendly with Noel, though that soon changed. ‘I went from Noel's mate, or hanging around with Noel and him ringing me up and knocking on my hotel door - "Come on Top Of The Pops with us" - to him keeping his distance and me being mates with Liam.'
For a while it felt great. ‘Liam and I just used to do shitloads of Charlie and sing Sgt Pepper to each other in the kitchen. But Liam was really fucking paranoid about everything, and I suppose I was just another person that he'd be paranoid about, even though we were mates. It's dreadful sad for him.
‘He was the biggest icon in the world at the time, and he was definitely going through it, and I could see him going through it. It was just sad to watch him not trust anybody, and not be able to. You get your core group of the best leeches in London and they latched on to him.' He sighs. ‘A really sad time, actually, because I was fucked up. I didn't know how not to do cocaine on Tuesday at five o'clock in the afternoon. I just lost the ability to say no."
Westlife three in a bed
We join the book with Rob sat in a hotel bar for coffee with Chris Briggs, Pompey, his other British bodyguard Gary Marshall, and Chris Heath. "Westlife are staying here. Yesterday evening Rob had coffee here too. Westlife weren't around, so he took two of their fans up to their room and slept with them.
'At the same time?' inquires Chris.
'Yeah,' he says.
I ask whether it was nice.
'It was,' he says, 'except one of them was on her period, so she got semi-naked, then left, and she couldn't kiss, and the other one instantly got guilty after it all - ‘I'm not normally like this.' She got instant guilt. ‘Don't think that I am...a slapper.' She was genuinely feeling...'
'Shame?' prompts Chris.
'Yeah,' he says. He says they're the kind of fans who follow the Westlife van on the motorway from Birmingham to London. They were slagging Westlife off to him for not speaking to them enough. 'And I was fighting Westlife's corner,' he says. '"Well, it's like this..."'
There's something really brilliantly bonkers about sleeping with their fans and then defending them, I say.
'It is, isn't it?' he says."
The book also gives an insight into Robbie's first love (and maybe even his last). At the Sutton Trust Community Centre in Stoke, Rob had just filmed his acceptance speech for a forthcoming local awards ceremony in which he was to be given the award of ‘The Person Who Has Raised The Profile of Stoke The Most During The Year', when he is asked if he knows someone called Margaret...
"'Rachel's mum,' the person prompts.
'Oh,' says Rob. 'Rachel.' He nods. A moment later he turns round to me and says, 'She was my first love.'
'So is Rachel courting then, Mum?' he asks his mother once we're in the car.
'She's still with that young man,' says Jan.
Of the girls he knew before he left Stoke, Rachel Gilson was the one he thinks most sweetly of. 'She was first, you know: "I'd ride six miles on my mountain bike to come and see you." Which I did,' he says. She taught him how to play two chords on the guitar - C major and A major - and how to play the beginning of Prince's 'The Cross', a song he'd never heard. They'd play tennis and hang out at her house... One of his songs, 'Win Some, Lose Some', is largely about her. He joined Take That, and she started modelling in Manchester and somehow they drifted apart. Sometimes he still wonders. 'I'm still very fond of Rachel. I think there's still like a, we can possibly still get it on, kind of thing,' he says. 'She loves me,' he insists. He smiles. 'She's just the sweetest, unassuming, nice-natured, good-hearted, prettiest thing in Stoke-on-Trent.' With a boyfriend, I remind him. 'Yeah,' he says, mock dismissively. 'She doesn't love him as much as me.'"
Robbie goes deep into the two people that clearly caused him much of the pain of his late teens. One of these men: Gary Barlow. He reveals a list of Gary's eccentricities and cheapnesses:
"'How Gary used to charge Take That a thousand pounds a week for the use of his keyboard on tour... how he bought a Mercedes 250 and had Mercedes 500 stickers put on it... how he wouldn't always indicate when driving and explained it was a deliberate strategy to save the battery... how he would never drop Rob off at his house, opting to drop him off at the Trust House Forte service station on the M6 instead... and when you went round his house he'd have his own special coffee and an economy-size tub of Nescafe for visitors..."
The list goes on... Rob also talks about the rap he wrote on Take That's third single 'Once You've Tasted Love'.
"'I was just so chuffed that something I said was put on a song,' Rob remembers, 'and I didn't have a clue you could actually get paid for something like that' - Gary came up to him and told him that if he wanted 5 per cent of the publishing for the song, Gary would take off the rap instead 'because it doesn't enhance it'. 'That,' says Rob, 'was the end of wanting to write in Take That.' (Well, not quite...)"
Rob details many plans and big ideas he's had in his life, none more extravagant than a will he once drafted with special instructions for his parents:
"At the beginning of December he goes up to Stoke by helicopter again, and has an early Christmas dinner at his sister's house with both his mother and father, the first day in 25 years they have all sat down together like that. Maybe he sometimes imagines this is how they could actually be. He once drafted a will - 'It was,' he explains, 'in my "distancing myself from you because you might stop me taking cocaine" phase' - which said that if anything happened to him, his parents had to spend a week together in the Arctic in a tent before they got the money. 'I think I've seen too many films,' he says. 'I thought it was sweet and funny. Didn't make my mum laugh, though.'
FHM sexiest list
...and what book about Robbie Williams would be complete without the impressive list of celebrity conquests.
"'I did look in the FHM Top 100 women list once,' he says, 'and there were 15 of them.' Did that make you feel good or bad? 'At the time it actually made me feel bad. Now it's just funny. It was like Pokemon with me at one point. You've gotta catch 'em all.'"
"In all, Heath spent more than a year observing the pop star and his bewildering celebrity life at exceptionally close quarters, and his book is perceptive, sympathetic and sometimes shocking. It is also - because Williams is a genuinely amusing man - wonderfully funny."
The Sunday Telegraph, September 2004
"At a full 422 pages (and barely one of them passing without something that would adorn any self-respecting tabloid front page), Feel is the most lustrous and scrupulously observed anatomy of the full madness of top-flight 21st century celebrity existence that it has ever been my deep joy to read."
Independent on Sunday, September 2004
"This revealing biography is the definitive guide to the star”
“An intimate look into an extraordinary life…ou feel Robbie might be sitting next to you in your living room having a nice cup of tea”
Richard And Judy In Daily Express
“Astonishingly self-critical, often brutally so….This is not just a cohesive and witty account of the life of a star, but also a guide to our obsession with fame and celebrity, illustrating with shocking clarity the ‘madness and distortion’ it brings”
“An oft-enthralling polemic about fame as well as a biography of Williams”
“The most lustrous and scrupulously observed anatomy of the full-madness of top-flight 21st century celebrity existence that it has even been my deep joy to read…Finishing Feel is like waking from a dream and leaves the reader with the same mixture of regret and relief that generally accompanies a return to full consciousness."
Independent On Sunday
“A phenomenal piece of journalism”
“An unforgettable insight into what it’s actually like – hour by hour – to be Robbie Williams – but it also gives an overwhelming sense of how wonderful it is not to be robbie. Heath writes about the pitfalls of celebrity with perception, grace, tenderness and finesse, and this fascinating biography is an essential christmas gift option”
Nicola Barker In The Saturday Telegraph
“Actually really, really good”
Sunday Times Style
“Perceptive, sympathetic and sometimes shocking. It is also - because Williams is a genuinely amusing man - wonderfully funny”
“Heath’s wise, weary take on pop celebrity resonates way beyond its subject”