From boy band rebel to solo star, to career wobbles to rehab, Robbie Williams has always remained The Great Entertainer. Ahead of his Dublin gig this June, he talks to Alan Corr about his new album, why most pop stars are terrified right now, working with the one they call Bublé, and home life with his family in LA
These days, Robbie Williams is on “bots, barf and bath duty.” At home in LA. new arrival Theodora “Teddy” Rose has just turned the landmark age of six months and her proud father and mother, Rob’s long-term partner Ayda Field, are taking turns on the baby rearing.
“Some days I forget that I’ve got her but fortunately Ayda doesn’t,” says Mr Williams, 39, one used career in a boy band behind him and a recently reignited one as a solo star in front of him. “I can spend a couple of days and think, oh Jesus! I didn’t do bath time for the last two nights and then I’m up there and it’s oh god, I never want this to end. I’m cosmically attached to this person in a way that I’ve never been to anybody in my life. I choke up thinking about her, my throat now is choked, and there is a tear ready to come at any time . . . “
All together now, awwwwwwwww! But let's forget about nappies and naps, it's time to ask the undisputed prince of pop panto about his return to Ireland and his plans for the future.
Alan Corr: So Robbie, you’re due back in Dublin to play The Aviva in June. Does Ireland occupy a certain special place in your heart?
Robbie Williams: “Yeah absolutely. Growing up, all my mother’s side of the family all considered themselves to be Irish because they were second generation and all and having spent a lot of time over there developing a kinship at the hearth and a kinship through drink and a kinship through reality and a kinship through how the audiences have embraced me, yeah, I have a very special place in my heart that will forever be Irish. I think that everybody over there is so used to people like me saying that they’re amazing audiences, I think they’ve stopped believing it. They’ve heard it so many times, they’re like, `ah sure!’. In many, many counties I do not say they’re the best audiences. I say it in Scotland, Wales, Argentina pretty phenomenal, and there are a few places in Germany that are great too but I think Ireland is the best.”
Back in your "wild days", did you have much experience of Irish girls?
“Ehhhhhh, Yeah I did have a lot of experience of Irish girls. I did. Running through my mental rolodex of memory, I’m enjoying this trip down memory lane that I’m currently having in my brain . . . not during Take That days but during the solo days, I thought - we could all join in and have a jolly good time!”
You retuned with your new album last autumn. Now that you’re six months into the campaign do you feel that you’ve re-taken the crown?
“No not really but I think I’m due to do something about that in the summer. I don’t feel that comfortable being on TV or being interviewed any more for some reason but my natural habitat is on stage in front of an audience that want to see me and the symbiotic thing that happens when they say `we like you’ and I go `thank you, have a bit of this!’ and leave happy. Normally that happens, so I shall be gallivanting around Europe this summer trying to please my audience.”
Why don’t you feel comfortable doing the media thing anymore?
“I don’t know. Maybe I’m too long in the tooth. Maybe I’ve done it too many times but it’s a necessary evil if you want your album to do well. We’re living in a media-saturated society and the media is so desperate because there are so many outlets now with the internet and physical sales that the stories need to be more graphic and explicit and sensational, the hatred needs to be harder and I’m kinda scared to be out there at all. I’d much rather to be getting up on stage and performing to my audience but I’m also really ambitious and I want my records to do well so it’s a necessary evil.”
"I think everybody’s terrified of doing or saying anything that would instantly end their career. I’m quite happy to keep on doing things like that."
Shortly after another bland Brit Awards this year, you released a song slagging the event off for being deadly dull. Are modern pop stars as much to blame as the industry for this?
“Well I don’t 100% mean the song I put out. It’s not that I’m militant or that I staunchly believe what I said in that record. It’s all a bit of panto and all done to create a bit of a hoo-haa. I do think there’s less of the pie to go round these days and everybody’s a bit scared. Back when we were kings in the nineties and there was no piracy and people were selling records, there was more chance to being debauched and getting away with it. Now everybody has to play the media game because everybody’s terrified of the media and I think everybody’s terrified of doing or saying anything that would instantly end their career. I’m quite happy to keep on doing things like that.”
So does that mean you’ll be making another album like Rudebox?
“I’d love to but it’s a weird situation to be in – yes, I’d really like to derail my career again please! I’d really like to marginalise all of my fans again please! Rudebox has a bad reputation, it is much maligned unfortunately. It’s kind of my favourite album and it was the most fun to do. We’ll see how this swing record goes and we’ll take it from there. I would like to do something similar again but I doubt I’ll be rapping on the first single though.”
It’s no surprise that you’re doing another swing album considering that the biggest success of your career was Swing When You’re Winning in 2001 . . .
“Yeah. It sold eight million copies that album and it’s my biggest album by a long chalk but in record company terms the demographics that album opened up was from eight to 80 and I’m looking forward to doing that again. I’ve written a load of new songs for the next swing album. Yes I’m doing a swing album again, so I’ve written an awful lot of new songs and there will be covers coming up as well.”
So we keep hearing about an Adele duet. Give us an exclusive Rob!
“Oh yeah, I can absolutely give you an exclusive. She’s my mate and I’m absolutely terrified to ask her! I haven’t asked her and I won’t be asking her because the whole world wants to sing with Adele right now. Her and my wife Ayda are really good friends and I’m really good friends with Simon, her boyfriend. We’re good pals but I wouldn’t ask Adele to sing on my record. The whole world wants Adele to sing on their record. I think we’ll just leave it as a nice friendship so that story it totally made up but I can tell you who is on the album though – Mr Michael Bublé. Me and Michael on the same record, I’m so excited. We’re going to record a song I’ve written and graciously he thinks it’s a good tune too and wants to be on it and I am a big-fan girl of him. He’s quite a presence. I’m a pop star, I’ve got a `character’ and a `personality’ and all that but when he comes into the studio I stand back and just enjoy him being him.”
Robbie with Theodora Rose
Fair play to you for championing John Grant on your online radio station, Rudebox Radio
“I sent him an e mail this morning and just before this interview, I was listening to his new album Pale Green Ghosts. On the first listen I really liked it and now I keep listening to it, I keep listening to it and it’s got so many levels and he’s such a genius and people need to know about him and people need to go out and buy his new album – John Grant Pale Green Ghosts. He’s amazing. I don’t like gigs, I don’t like going to shows, I don’t like being amongst lots of people. I wouldn’t be going to anyone’s gig really although I will go to John Grant’s gig in London.”
So you're inspired by new music but how hard do you find it now to write songs?
“Well I keep managing to do it even though I keep thinking it’s maybe realistically or unrealistically getting tougher. Maybe my diary is just getting boring. Before you get married and before you settle down, you’re gallivanting around the world and there was a sexual undercurrent to everything I wrote and did. There was an awful lot of honesty and people seemed to respond an awful lot to me being lonely and writing about that and talking about that and then all of a sudden, I find myself in a place where I’m happy and content and it’s difficult to write songs about being happy and content.
“It’s a lot easier writing about being miserable but I can’t pretend to be miserable anymore so I’m kinda suffering for things to write about. I did notice that Rod Stewart gave up writing his own songs 20 years ago and he’s just started again so I’m really looking forward to hearing what he’s done. He’s got a new album coming out and I’ve always wondered why he stopped writing when he stopped writing and I think I’m beginning to understand the reason now because I’m running out of things myself.”
From listening to Rudebox Radio, you and Ayda sound like a bit of a comedy act. Teddy will be a handful in a few years . . .
“She’s an amazing person and it seems like she’s going to be funny. With me and her mum, there isn’t a chance of her not being a character. Her mother’s mental in a brilliant comedienne kind of way. Me and the wife have a good line in being horrible to each other in the most funniest way. Teddy might turn out like Saffy from Absolutely Fabulous.”
Robbie Williams plays The Aviva Stadium, Dublin on June 14