The early and destructive fame with the Take That, the rebirth thanks to his wife and children, who think he is a footballer, the demons that he has not completely finished to face: from his bed, Robbie Williams comes back for us on his life of pop star.
Robbie Williams is lying shirtless on his bed. "I'm in Ibiza, on vacation," he says with a smile, tucking a pillow behind his neck. It's not every day that an international star is interviewed from his bed, even through a computer screen, but the jovial and playful character of our interviewer suggests that this is not an unusual exercise for him. However, the scene quickly turns into a remote psychotherapy session. Robbie Williams confides that he has locked himself in his room to escape the chaos of his third daughter Colette's birthday party, but also because there are things in the next room that he wants to stay away from. "I need to stay away from the cake and pizza," he delivers. Is he on a diet? The answer is sincere: "I'm a natural at indulging in anything that hurts me: I'm addicted to all sorts of things, I can't hold it in, so I have to be on my guard all the time. If I listened to myself, I would become huge, it would take a crane to lift me off the couch."
Robbie, his multiple addictions, his tendency to self-destruct: a thick chapter in the 48-year-old's story. In Reveal, his autobiography published in 2017, a particularly striking scene reveals the extent of the torments he went through: one day, after mixing cocaine and neuroleptics, he finds himself lying in a pool of blood, alone, in the bathroom. A thought crossed his mind: "I'm going to die and I don't care".
Fortunately, there is his love relationship with Ayda Field, started fifteen years ago, their marriage, their four children, then the end of excesses and addictions.
But at the base of all this, there is Robbie Williams, the youngest member of the famous boyband Take That. It will be remembered that when the group broke up in 1996, a hotline was set up in the UK to console desperate fans. Today, Robbie celebrates 25 years of solo career with XXV, a new album containing all his hits, recorded in an orchestral version with the Metropole Orkest.
Do you remember the day you decided to leave Take That to pursue a solo career?
I remember that I was destroyed. I was in the middle of a depression, the first of many, and I couldn't see any other alternative. I had to get out of a situation where I felt uncomfortable, neglected and unloved. I had become an alcoholic and drug addict. All of these things were telling me to run away.
What made you think things would get better outside the group?
In reality, I imagined that I would become the person I became after a long journey. If I had known, I might not have left so quickly.
What did you realize over time?
That it was highly unlikely that all my problems would be solved with a wave of a wand. For me, the 1990s were a mixture of different illusions, all of them very seductive. I was an impulsive person, and I liked to plan ahead.
Yes, we remember your hasty departure from Take That…
Well, I have to ask you to forgive me, don't I? (he smiles).
At the time, it was said that you had a diva's whim and that you were always arguing with Gary Barlow…
Nobody cared about me. The only one people cared about was Gary. We were like his dance troupe. If things had been different, I might not have felt the need to leave.
Are the other members of Take That still angry with you?
Take That is a family. And I'll always be the youngest, with all that implies. That is to say, I'm always the rowdy one, but the others always have some affection for me, and vice versa.
You were the most successful one afterwards.
I was very lucky.
You know that there were demonstrations when you left the group?
I was drunk all the time. I knew there were things going on, but I was experiencing nervous exhaustion. I can't remember what my state of mind was
Did fame destroy you?
That kind of fame destroyed everyone in Take That. I went to rehab, Mark went to rehab, Gary suffered from depression and at one point didn't leave his house, Jason left the band because he couldn't take it anymore, and Howard wanted to kill himself when the band split up.
"When I decided to leave the band, I was an alcoholic and a drug addict. So many things that were telling me to run away."
You were thrown into the arena when you were still teenagers. According to you, does your record company and your managers bear a responsibility in this situation?
In our management, no one had ever experienced anything like that. We are never really prepared to face a media coverage like this, with this madness. You can't know if you haven't experienced it. I wouldn't like to be a manager. I don't know what it's like today in the music industry for a 17 year old. I just know that to survive in these situations, you have to be surrounded by people with empathy.
What is the best memory of your career?
I can't say. I think the best is yet to come.
You made a big impression in 2003, when you brought a fan on stage during a concert and kissed her passionately. What was going through your mind?
There was nothing premeditated. I consider myself an entertainer first and foremost, and for me it's only natural to use whatever means I can to entertain the audience. In the 1990s, but also in the 1980s, pop stars were expected to be provocative. The public admired them because through them they could experience something out of the ordinary.
This is no longer the case today?
Today, if I kissed a fan with my tongue like I did back then, I would be immediately blacklisted. It was a spontaneous gesture, quite cute and a bit ridiculous. Now, you can't be provocative, you can't go against the grain, there's no more madness. It's just a matter of conforming to the great mass of insipid and colorless thoughts that invade us.
In your new song Lost, you sing "I lost my place in life"? When did this happen to you?
It happens every time we don't listen to what's good in ourselves, and we give in to reckless behavior. In my case, my weaknesses were hedonism and drugs. But that's part of the complexity of being human.
His oldest daughter Theodora enters the room (and frame) dressed as a princess and asks him, "Daddy, shall we cut the cake without you?" Robbie Williams replies that he is working, and she leaves. He apologizes for the interruption.
Have you found your place in life thanks to your children?
Yes, I have found a meaning, a reason to live, a motivation to be functional. I love our lifestyle, my job, and the opportunities I have.
"Whenever we see a woman on TV, my wife Ayda tells me that I slept with her – and it's true! Luckily she has a sense of humor.
How would you describe your daily life today?
I am a family man. With Ayda and the children, we do a lot of things together, we travel a lot, we never stop moving. In my family, no one before me had the chance to live in this way, in luxury and abundance. We have lots of friends to spend time with. It's the good life.
Are you still friends with Elton John?
I haven't seen him in a while, but yes, he's a person I'll always have a lot of affection for. He helped me, well, he tried to help me, a long time ago.
In what way?
He sent me to rehab, but I wasn't ready yet.
Have you reconciled with yourself?
I've taken some steps forward. If my self-hatred used to be a 10 on a 10 scale, I would say it's only a 3 now. It is no longer what governs my life, even though I still feel uncomfortable at times.
You have been with Ayda for fifteen years.
I am very lucky, because I couldn't have found a better match. Ayda is so smart, friendly and sweet. She has taste, empathy and humor. She makes me laugh, I like her. I am proud of her. I've been with a lot of women, but none of them come close to the one I married.
How many women have you been with?
I've never kept count. Let's say about a hundred.
Among them, there are some celebrities.
Ayda says that every time we turn on the TV, there's a woman I've slept with. And the worst part is that it's true. Luckily she has a great sense of humor. She's not interested in what happened before we met.
How are you enjoying your role as a father today?
It's wonderful. I love it, it's as if the universe is saying to me: here is a dimension of life that you didn't know about and that you have the chance to discover. Isn't it fantastic that you chose to try?
How will you explain your past to your children?
This world moves so fast that when they are teenagers, my story won't be that different from the people they know. They will have hedonists among their friends like their father before them. I hope they escape the clutches of addiction, that's my prayer. But I don't think they'll be interested in that lifestyle.
What makes you think so?
First of all, my children have a father and a mother. Parents who love each other very much, who give them love, tenderness and empathy.
They know their father is a pop star?
My son Charlton thinks I'm a footballer.
Why do you think that?
I don't know. But yesterday he told someone that I play for Manchester United. The eldest is fascinated by the fact that I am a star. She wants to be a singer.
Would you like her to follow the same path?
Yes, it's a wonderful profession, as long as you see it as a profession. It's much better than working in an office.