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Robbie Williams: ‘Never been better’

The fame that 'destroyed him'. The rebirth thanks to his wife and children, who think 'I am a footballer'. And certain demons that he still carries around. The former Take That retraces, from his bed, a life as a pop star.

Robbie Williams is lying on his bed shirtless. 'I'm in Ibiza on holiday,' he says with a smile shining brightly from the video call shot as he places a pillow behind his head. It's not every day that you get to interview global pop stars lying on a mattress, one wonders if this is the norm with Robbie, always so relaxed, so eccentric, so comfortable in the role of the slap-faced histrionic. But the scene soon turns into a kind of remote psychotherapy session, with him explaining that he has locked himself in his room not only to escape the chaos of Colette's birthday party, his third-born daughter turning four, but also because there are things he is better off staying away from at all times. 'I try not to go near the cake and pizza,' he says. Is he on a diet? The answer is surprising in its sincerity: 'My nature drives me to indulge in what is bad for me, I develop addictions to everything, I can never contain myself. I must therefore always be on the alert because if I allow myself to be the person my head and mind want me to be, I would become enormous. To such an extent that it would take a crane to get me out of the chair".

Robbie and addiction, Robbie and self-destruction: a full-bodied chapter in the story of this 48-year-old boy. In Reveal, a 2017 autobiography, there is an episode that says a lot about his demons and the need to exorcise them by making the private public: it tells of him lying in a pool of blood, alone in the bathroom, after mixing cocaine with an anti-psychotic, thinking, 'I'm dying and I don't care. Robbie and Ayda (Field) is instead the chapter that marks the rebirth: the love that began fifteen years ago, the marriage, the four children, the end of addictions and excesses. Robbie and Take That is the part that encapsulates a cornerstone of 1990s pop culture, which has also become legendary because of its abandonment: those who were there may remember that, in 1996, a helpline was set up in the UK to support fans desperate for the band's break-up. Today, Robbie celebrates 25 years of his solo career with XXV, the new album containing all his hits in an orchestral version recorded with the Metropole Orkest.

Does he remember the moment he decided to leave Take That to go solo?

"I remember feeling shattered. I was in the middle of a nervous breakdown, the first of a long series, and I couldn't see any alternative. I had to leave a situation where I felt dramatically unsafe, uncared for, unloved, unappreciated. I had just become an alcoholic and a drug addict. All elements that told me I was in danger and had to escape'.

What made you think that outside the band it would be better?
"I actually thought I would immediately become the person I am now. But if I had known what I know today, I wouldn't have left so soon."

And what does he know today?
"That it was highly unlikely to resolve everything like that, with that gesture. For me, the nineties were a mix of different illusions, all of them exciting. I was also very impulsive and liked to gamble on the future'.

I remember when he left Take That…
"Then I apologise (smiles, ed)".

Back in the day it was said that she wanted to be a prima donna and that she often argued with Gary Barlow.
"No one was looking out for me. There was only one person who was considered, and that was Gary. The others were just his dancers. If things had been different I wouldn't have needed to leave."

Do the other Take That people still resent her?
"Look, Take That is a family and I will always be the younger brother, with all that that means. And that is that I will always be the troublesome, troublesome element, but the others will always love me and so will I."

You are the one who has been most successful.
"I've been very lucky."

Did you know that in 1995 there was a demonstration in Milan's Piazza Duomo to protest against your abandonment?
'Not really, I was drunk all the time. I knew things were happening, but I was in the middle of a nervous breakdown, I barely remember how I was'.

Did fame destroy her?
"That kind of fame destroyed all of Take That. I was in rehab, Mark was in rehab, Gary suffered from depression and at one point wouldn't leave the house, Jason left the band because he couldn't take it anymore, Howard wanted to commit suicide when the band broke up."

Were you kids sent off the deep end? Did you feel the record company and management had some responsibility?
"No one in our management had ever dealt with a phenomenon like Take That. No one is ever really prepared to handle that level of fame and madness, you only learn that by living it. I would never want to be someone doing that job and I don't know what the industry is like for a 17 year old today, I just know that to survive in that situation you have to be around people with empathy."

What is the best memory of the career?
"I can't say, I feel the best is yet to come".

One of the most famous public moments is when in 2003 he brought a fan on stage during a concert and kissed her passionately. How did that come to her mind?
"It all happened in the moment, it wasn't premeditated. You see, more than anything else I consider myself an entertainer, it comes naturally to me to use anything to entertain others. In the nineties, as in the eighties, pop stars had to provoke and be controversial, people looked up to them and experienced something out of the ordinary through them'.

Is that no longer the case?
"Now I would be written off if I tongue-kissed a fan like that. A spontaneous gesture, a little sweet, a little ridiculous, without shadows. No, you can no longer be provocative, against the tide, the spark is gone, you just have to conform to the great mass of insipid, colourless thoughts that invade us'.

Today, in his new song Lost, he sings: I lost my place in life. When did this happen?
"In all those moments when we don't listen to our better nature to indulge in reckless behaviour, in my case it was hedonism and drugs. But it's all part of the rich tapestry of life'.

Entering the room, and in the frame a little girl dressed as a princess with a face fresh from
child make-up: it is Theodora, the eldest daughter. "Daddy, shall we cut the cake without you?" she asks him. Robbie Williams answers her that he is working and she comes out. "I'm so sorry," she says.

With children and family, has she found her place in life again?
'Yes, I have found meaning, a reason to live, a reason to function. I really like where I am and the lifestyle I have, my work and the opportunities it gives me."

What is your lifestyle like today?
"I am a family man, with Ayda and the children we are always very busy, we travel a lot, we move all the time. In my family, no one before me had the opportunity to live like this, in luxury and prosperity. We have many friends and acquaintances to spend time with. It is a very good life'.

Is he still friends with Elton John?
"I haven't seen him in a while, but yes, he is someone I will always love very much. Many years ago he helped me or at least tried to."

In what way?
"He had sent me to rehab, but I wasn't ready yet".

Does he love himself today?
"I would say that I have made progress. If before the self-hatred was ten out of ten, today it's at three. It is no longer the thing that governs my life. I still feel a little uncomfortable, but better than before."

And he has been together with Ayda for 15 years.
"I am lucky because I am with the best person I could be with, Ayda is so intelligent, nice, kind, has good taste, empathy, makes me laugh, I like her physically, I am proud of her. I have known so many women and none of them can hold a candle to my wife'.

How many women have you been with?
"I have never kept count, let's say more than a hundred.

Among them many were famous.
"Ayda says that every time we turn on the TV there is a woman I have slept with, and it is true. Luckily she has a great sense of humour, what happened before we met doesn't interest her'.

And how is he finding the role of dad today?
'It's beautiful. I love it so much, I feel like the universe is saying to me: here is a level of life you didn't know existed and now that you can experience it, isn't it great that you chose to do it?"

How will he explain his past to his children?
"I think that in this fast paced world, when they are teenagers my story will not sound so different from the people they will know, they will be in contact with hedonistic millionaires similar to how I was. I hope they will escape the tentacles of addiction, I pray for that. But I also think they probably won't want to live like that.

What makes him think that?
"My children have a father and a mother, first of all. A father and a mother who love each other very much. A father and mother who give them love, kindness and empathy."

Do they know their dad is a pop star?
"My son Charlton (seven years old, ed) thinks I'm a footballer".

"I don't know why, he told someone yesterday that I play for Manchester United. My eldest on the other hand is fascinated that I am a pop star. She wants to be a singer."

Would she like it if she followed in his footsteps?
"Yes, it's a beautiful job, if you just see it as a job, it's better than being in the office."



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