So the Strictly performance with Gary was a bit of a moment.
It was good, weren’t it?
You sound surprised that it was good. Is it a surprise for you when things go right?
Um… No, but there was just a lot of warmth from the audience to be honest with you and, you know, rarely do you come off from doing a bit of promo where you feel like you’ve just done an hour and a half gig. There was something special about it. Came off, felt good. Felt like my old self again. It was cool.
There was a point, just while the music was starting, and you were looking out to the crowd and there was a bit of a look in your eye. And you often have that look in your eye at moments like that. It looks a bit like panic. Was it?
Yes. Panic. We did it twice – I’d forgotten the words the first time.
Oh dear. Again?
I had actually got 90% of them right. But you know, people just remember that 10% don’t they.
‘You kill one person’…
Well yes. ‘You stick your dick in one arse, you’re gay.’ So you’re right, you spotted it. It was panic.
Did you see Joe McElderry doing 'No Regrets' on The X Factor last year?
I can’t remember.
Basically it was amazing. What is the Toys R Us line in ‘Shame’ about?
It was in another song that I'd written to be honest with you and I just thought it was a good line. The song was about a girl I was in love with when I was 16 and — sliding doors moment — your life changes and you go down different paths and she became who she became and I became who I became. The line in the other song was about somebody spraying ‘knobhead’ on my poster in the back of Toys R Us. I lost the song, can’t find it anywhere. But when me and Gaz came to light, it was lodged in my subconscious somewhere and I thought it was a good line so I put it in.
It is a good line.
Thank you. I enjoyed singing it, I think it’s a good line.
The Robbie, Gary and Take That story has been going for twenty years but now you’re back with Take That it seems that there’s almost nowhere left for the story to go. You know how Only Fools And Horses was built around the idea that ‘this time next year we’ll be millionaires’, and they did become millionaires and it just didn’t work? [With hindsight a better example of this is when Roseanne won the Lottery but you get the point] Well. If it wasn’t for the boys, I would probably be doing nothing because I quite enjoy doing nothing now. It does feel like the end of one of the last chapters in the book and I do feel a bit spent to be honest with you. I’m loving what’s to come, obviously, and I’m very excited being back with the boys, our album sounds amazing, I’m excited to do the tour and all that business… But I’m kind of still at a loose end figuring out what I want to do when I grow up.
The idea that you’re talking about the final chapter of the book and feeling spent seems like you might be heading towards some kind of last last hurrah.
Just like Cher.
A bit like Cher, yes. Listening through your greatest hits album obviously throws up a lot of the stages that you’ve been through but it also seems to conjure memories of how you’ve been received by others – it felt like at the start everyone wanted you to succeed, and you did, and it was briefly amazing, but that a lot of the last ten years have been about people wanted you, almost willing you to fail.
That’s always been the case, that’s always been the case. It’s always been the case for me anyway.
Possibly, but it feels more acute now, it’s feels like the process has accelerated now. Being a pop music fan, or a supposed fan, seems now to have become a blood sport in which small but significantly large groups of people, seem to hound artists down until they're just left there in a bloody pulp. And with you, particularly, people are far more interested in you when you’re failing.
It’s been sped up with the advent of the internet and with newspapers going from having celebrities on page 7 thing having the celebrity thing [on the front page]. I think since communication have sped up, there have been a lot more avenues for people to be negative. You know, I don’t know whether to stay on the merry-go-round to wait for it to come back [to how it was before] or just pop off and go home.
But what do you feel that you need to do? It sounds like you feel like you don’t need to do anything at the moment. But the best pop stars have an urge to do something. Do you have an urge anymore?
Not at all, you know. Not at all. There is no… There’s no real burning or drive or ambition. You know, I’ll probably be a leap year artist from now on.
Some of ‘Reality Killed The Video Star’ was good, but as an entire album it did feel there was a kind of lack of attention. Perhaps from you or perhaps from the people around you, but mainly from you. Rudebox clearly felt like you had a thing that you wanted to do and you were desperate to it and excited about doing it. That urge again. But then when they heard it, obviously, everyone went ‘this is shit, fuck off’. So is that why with your last album it felt a bit like going through the motions?
Well it kind of was going through the motions, because as you know I was all hyped up about doing Rubebox and going down that road and then everybody went, “no”. But I didn’t want to do another ‘Come Undone’, or another ‘Angels’, or another ‘Road To Mandalay’ — you do find yourself sort of in the boggy marsh of then thinking ‘well I don’t quite fancy doing that any more’. And because everyone had gone, ‘no’, I went, ‘well, ok, I can’t be arsed either’. And you know, I did find myself capitulating and going, ‘well do they want THIS then’. It’s like this idea of knowing your audience – and knowing that my audience didn’t like ‘Rudebox’ left me thinking, ‘well, er, I don’t know what to do now’.
Some people really liked ‘Rudebox’. It was a Popjustice favourite.
I got a lot of people saying, ‘oh, it was critically and commercially a flop’, but critically I got more sort of thumbs up than I ever did for any other of my albums. So it’s all a bit confusing.
The best bit of the ‘Rudebox’ album is the ‘The 80s’ and ‘The 90s’ sequence at the end. If you were to expand it to a trilogy, what would ‘The 00s’ be about?
I don’t know, I'd have to sit down and map it out. The 2000s? It’s hard to know. I don’t think we know what the 2000s was or is — we only found out about the 80s when we left it. The 90s did its thing but it compared with the 80s it was a bit of a whimper. The decade we’ve just been through I think is a diluted version of the 90s. Or maybe I’m just getting older? I think the 80s were a lot of fun. I think that even though people were taking themselves very seriously, they did it with a sense of whimsy and brashness and a sense of being alive. These days everyone takes themselves seriously and they have to kind of dilute themselves into a corner cos they kind of listen to too many albums, read too many magazines are basically painting by numbers. Did you watch the new A‑Team film?
I watched it on the plane coming over the other night.
It kind of, erm, nearly there but not quite.
‘Nearly there but not quite’ is a bit like saying ‘I got 90% of my lyrics right’.
Yes. It’s always going to be that other 10%.
There follows a sequence in which Robbie makes the quite unsubtle decision to start interviewing Popjustice about ‘life in general’. Since the subsequent chat, pleasant as it was, is clearly of little interest to The Internet, we’ve taken it out, but by the end of it we’ve got onto the topic of what Robbie describes as ‘a golden moment’ – that time in life when everything’s amazing and you’re firing on all cylinders and going out a lot and basically having an amazing time, or at least you think you are until later on when you calm down a bit and get a better idea of what it’s all about. From what we can make out Robbie seems to identify his golden moment as being at about the age of twenty. And then we say something like…
…and you only really calmed down about three years ago, when you were 33…
33 wasn’t a golden moment. When you’re 20, you don’t know that you medicate yourself. By the time you’re 33, if you relapse into some of that same old behaviour, it isn’t a golden moment. It’s just fucking illness.
Are you still ill?
No, not right now, no, I’m on good form. I’m an older guy. I feel healthy, I’ve been training, I’m looking after myself, I get up early. I look after the dogs. I’m happy.