Robbie Williams talks family, Ed Sheeran and battle with depression ahead of album release
ROBBIE WILLIAMS likes to talk. And when he’s on a roll there is no stopping him.
In a suite at a central London hotel, he’s jabbering ten to the dozen and I’m struggling to keep up.
He’s just flown in from LA, accompanied by his cute maltipoo dog, Wall-E, who is loyally following Robbie around the room as he chats.
The star’s on a high from Heavy Entertainment Show, his brilliant new album, which is released next month and one song in particular — Love My Life — sums up the singer’s outlook on life right now.
“Life is good,” he says sitting down in an armchair. “My wife Ayda is a beautiful person and she makes me laugh and my kids are both happy children. We are all in love.
“And that song, (which was written with Johnny McDaid from Snow Patrol), is going to be a big hit.
“There are a few songs a year that perforate the zeitgeist like Shake It Off by Taylor Swift and Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson and I’m in a place in my career now, as a 42-year-old, that if I don’t get one of those then I’m f***ed.
“In my world I have a huge ship to keep afloat, the massive ship that is my ego. I just want to carry on this party.”
While Robbie’s partying days are long behind him he says he still faces temptations with substances and also battles daily with anxiety and depression.
“I don’t want to drink and I don’t want to take coke, I’m really pleased I don’t take coke but I DO think about ecstasy,” he admits.
I admit I’m surprised to hear that the former Take That star still struggles with his demons as, today, on the outside he seems so friendly and self-assured.
“There is only a two-minute window that people see into my life,” he answers.
“Four or five if I’m on Graham Norton, making a video or on stage. That is the golden panto that is my life. You put yourself in the best light possible when you can for the short amount of time.
“It’s the Facebook life.
“But I still suffer from anxiety. As I look out at the skyline, I’m sure that at every window someone is facing their own worry and panic about their own life.”
While making Heavy Entertainment Show — his back-to-his-best 11th solo album — Robbie admits he had a confidence crisis.
“I’ve been to therapy again this year,” he tells me. “It’s a big do putting an album out, speaking to people like yourself and going on TV shows and then doing it again, country after country.
Without him I wouldn’t be sitting here today
"Even if I was the most sound person, it would be stressful. And I’m not the most sound person — I am the opposite of that.”
Worrying about failure and fearing how he’s received, Robbie says he’s just like anyone.
“I just want everyone to love me,” he admits.
“I want a successful album, a successful tour where I am loved and valued. Quite often it’s the opposite of that and hatred comes and you can’t fight against it.
He confesses that as he’s got older, he’s learned how to deal with his depression.
“It’s either low-level or high-level depression,” he says. “So I try to take care of myself the best I can. If that means resting and taking myself away for a few hours then I will.
"Depression is a lifelong thing and I know I can still work and still pull it off, even though I’ll be feeling low. So I’m as kind to myself as possible.”
There have been times he has continued to perform even when his self-esteem was at its lowest.
He says: “My level of confidence has always been chronically low, but I’ve still managed to take myself to the places I’ve been in my career.
"I’ve done gigs in front of 70,000 people and felt like sh*t and thought that this is so overwhelming that I can’t do it. So I’ve been f***ing brave and I give myself a pat on the back for that.”
On Heavy Entertainment Show Robbie has collaborations with Guy Chambers, Stuart Price, Ed Sheeran, Rufus Wainwright, The Killers and John Grant.
With David’s Song there’s also a tribute to Robbie’s much-missed manager and mentor David Enthoven who died of cancer in August.
12 years ago I would've worried about monogamy
Robbie says: “Without him I wouldn’t be sitting here today. He helped me to get sober. I kept relapsing.”
And Mixed Signals had originally been destined for The Killers: “The Killers sound is unique and I think Brandon Flowers is one of the best songwriters on the planet. I was at (producer) Stuart Price’s house and he’d just been working with Brandon and played me this song.
“He said, ‘Have a listen to this’. And all the way through it I was thinking, ‘I want this song’. And unbelievably they let me have it and didn’t have it for themselves.”
Robbie admits he has been guilty of “overthinking” albums in the past.
He says: “With this album I tried to hit the ball down the middle of the fairway. I just wanted a big sounding album.
"The aim was to get ten or 11 singles and I wrote 70-plus songs for this album which is more than I’ve ever written before.”
Pretty Woman, the track written with Ed Sheeran, came when the album’s deadline was approaching for it to be mixed and mastered.
“I was panicking and worrying more than ever,” he explains. “I was concerned that I hadn’t got enough hits. I’ve got Ed’s email and so I emailed and said, ‘Hey mate, have you got any spare hits?’ and he sent over Pretty Woman.
I loved it straight away but I thought it was missing a chorus so I added one.
There's so many things I would have done differently. I wouldn't play Millennium again
“Ed’s where the baton is right now for the hallowed ground of hit after hit. He writes 70-plus songs for an album as I’m sure Taylor Swift does so I thought, ‘Ok I’d better get a shift on and put a shift in’.
“I think it’s my best album. It knows what it wants to be . . . whereas in the past I’d been experimenting and dipping in and out of everything. This is Robbie the entertainer and I’m very excited.”
Comeback single Party Like A Russian came after a comment by songwriting partner Guy Chambers.
Robbie says: “We thought it was a great idea and he put it together with the Sergei Prokofiev Romeo And Juliet sample, which I know as the theme for The Apprentice.”
Robbie and Guy famously fell out for a number of years after collaborating on Robbie’s first five solo albums — which were all number ones.
Reunited in 2012, Robbie says they buried the hatchet after Guy “realised my worth”.
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He adds: “I’ve always loved Guy, he is my musical brother but I think the success of our first albums ran away with him a little bit. And it annoyed me. I wasn’t getting enough recognition, which was important to me then.
“When our musical relationship broke up I discussed it with him. Well, it wasn’t a discussion. It was me shouting and pointing my finger at him while he cowered in a corner. But now Guy knows what I bring to the table and we have love and respect for each other.”
Robbie says he’s done a lot of growing up since he became a husband and father and that wife Ayda keeps him in check.
He says: “We have a common purpose, which is to be respectful to each other. But 12 years ago I would’ve been really worried about being monogamous and worried that I was going to f*** this up.
“But we are totally in love and incredibly happy.
Where were you when we were getting high? Well, I was there
“I do think sex is much like chocolate, coke and booze. If you have one drink you want thousands. If you have one line you want more. If you have sex outside of your marriage then you want sex all the time. But we are happy.”
Robbie admits he did keep a huge secret from his wife of six years recently. He says, smiling: “I started smoking again. I stopped for four years and then started, and thought it was going to last just a couple of days, so I didn’t tell Ayda.
“But after two weeks I was waking up early, standing outside smoking then taking my T-shirt off to stop myself from smelling.
“Now I’m back on 20 a day and as guilty as I felt about not telling Ayda, it did feel fantastic to be a naughty child again.”
Robbie beams when he talks about son Charlton, two this month, and four-year-old daughter Theodora. “Charlie loves running around but isn’t saying much yet while Teddy has a huge personality and is into Frozen.
“And we are trying for a third baby but no luck yet. We have to count our blessings for the children we have but we are definitely trying to make the family bigger.”
Robbie says when he tours he will take his family on the road but on the topic of his old Take That bandmates, he says he’s not sure when he will return.
There's an eternal bond that will go on until we all die
“I’m agoraphobic so I’m a lone wolf — which sounds appealing but isn’t. I do have an email relationship with the boys but a friendship? There’s an eternal bond that will go on until we all pass away but I’m not friends with anybody apart from the wife and the kids.”
I ask if Robbie has seen the new film Supersonic (reviewed on previous page) which covers Oasis’s wild early days and when Robbie famously left Take That in 1995, and was photographed partying with Liam and Noel Gallagher at Glastonbury.
“If it’s on a flight then I will watch it. That was a f***ing amazing time. High-octane stuff.
“Where were you while we were getting high? Well I was there — but I pushed it way too far. Things like that show everyone having an ace time but not the hangover.
"So yeah, I’d watch it on a plane but not if it reminded me of the hangover as I’ve been trying to get sober ever since.
“Liam was the voice of our generation and the soundtrack to our lives and the music industry needs a Liam.”
I ask Robbie what he thinks of Liam as a solo star as his debut album is coming next year. Could Robbie, Liam and Noel be battling it out for Best Male at a Brit Awards night?
“For competitiveness I don’t think I’ve got anything to worry about,” he smiles. “But if Liam gets the right songs, in 12 months time he could push my competitive nature and I could be p***ed off.
"Right now I just want him to make a really great album. The world misses him and I hope it is brilliant.”
So is there anything Robbie would change if he could turn back time?
“Yep, tons,” he answers. “When people say they have no regrets they don’t know what the f*** they’re talking about.
“There’s so many things I would’ve done differently. Like Millennium. It’s one of my greatest hits but I wouldn’t play that song again if it was up to me.
“Millennium? What the f*** does that mean? On my last tour I added the beat of Jay-Z’s 99 Problems, just to make it more interesting for me to perform. But it’s not about me. I’m not there to be entertained. I’m here to entertain. That’s my job.”
ROBBIE WILLIAMS – HEAVY ENTERTAINMENT SHOW ★★★★
1. Heavy Entertainment Show
2. Party Like A Russian
3. Mixed Signals
4. Love My Life
6. Bruce Lee
8. David’s Song
9. Pretty Woman
10. Hotel Crazy
Heavy Entertainment Show is out November 4
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