|Interviews – Neil Interview’s Robbie William’s|
Three years ago Interview magazine, which often arranges and prints conversations between people who work in similar spheres, asked Neil Tennant to interview Elton John, which he did. Earlier this year they suggested that he speak to Robbie Williams, and again he agreed. (Robbie and the Pet Shop Boys have been bumping into each other since he was in Take That.
Robbie has previously recorded a version of ‘I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind Of Thing”; Neil sung on his single ‘No Regrets” and co-produced Robbie’s contribution to the Noel Coward tribute album Twenty Century Blues.)
They talked on the telephone; Robbie in the studio just outside London, Neil at home in London. The call was recorded On a conference line in New York. In the tradition of the old later view magazine, which was started by Andy Warthog, Literally~’ is printing the text below unedited (apart from a few swear words and complete non-sequiturs), exactly as it was spoken, with all the hesitations, leaps of logic and interruptions of everyday speech.
Neil: How’re you doing?
Robbie: I’m good. You sound a million miles away. Are you in England?
Neil: I’m in Chelsea.
Robbie: Yes, I’m at Hook End recording some vocals For my album.
Neil: How’s it going, the album?
Robbie: It’s going really well. What’s this? This is an
Interview for Interview, magazine?
Neil: It’s you and me talking. For Interview magazine.
Neil Talking about life, love…
Robbie life, love and stuff. How’s your life?
Neil My life is quite nice at the moment, I feel very busy
Robbie Did you ever go through a section of your life? here you were paranoid for about ten years?
Neil [Laughs] No I don’t think I did really.
Robbie Well I’m in that now
Neil Why are you going through that?
Robbie: I think everybody’s out to get me.
Neil: Don’t be ridiculous.
Robbie: No, I do today. I think I just woke up with
A funk…But they’re not all out to get me. Are they? Auntie Neil?
Neil: No one’s out to get you Robbie, apart from Liam
Robbie: Oh yeah, he’s out to get me.
Neil: But that’s only because you’re out to get him. [Laughs]
Robbie: Yeah, what was your take on that?
Neil: Well I think it’s all a bit silly, lad dish, you know, horseplay kind of thing, myself.
Robbie: It is really, isn’t it? It’s all a bit: my dad’s bigger than your dad.
Neil: How did that all Stan?
Robbie: Well it all started…with every interview that they did, they slagged me ort; and I got offended by it, as one does. Because I’ve always been a big fan of Oasis…and I wouldn’t mind saying that when I first started out, that I wanted to be like Liam, because he was the…everything that I wanted to be at that time…so I’ve always been a big fan…and then they all started slagging me off and it was like, “what’ve I done?” And um, so I retaliated in the only way I know best which is to be thirteen about it…did you see me in the Tigger outfit?
Robbie: Did you see me in the Tigger outfit?
Neil: No, I didn’t. You know that used to be my nickname at school’?
Robbie: Used to be “Tigger”?
Neil: My nickname at primary school was Tigger Tennant.
Robbie: Was that because if flowed nicely. Or because you sore a Tigger outfit like myself?
Neil: It was just because it flowed nicely. When I save in the infant…
Robbie: [musingly], “Tigger Tennant”…
Neil: …they read out Winnie the Pooh…
Robbie:. That’s really nice, that is.
Neil: I know, I always quite liked it.
Robbie: Was it a posh primary school?
Neil: Was ii a posh school’? No. It was the state…
Robbie: Was Tigger said with great affection or sass it said with malice?
Neil: No, it was said with affection. I had no malice at school until I sent to grammar school, which saves in Newcastle.
Robbie: What did they call you there’?
Neil: They med to call me “poof’ there.
Robbie: Did they?
Neil: Not all the time.
Robbie: When was that?
Neil: This was in 1965 to ’72. And when I was there it was a Catholic school, you know, and actually it was quite a hard school…Catholicism is really a working class religion in the north anyway. So it was all mindless kids and stuff. And yeah. there was also nice people there…
Robbie: How did that make you ‘eel when they called you “pool”‘?
Neil: It used to make me feel angry. It made me think. “ah. Hut just you wait and see
Robbie: ‘Cause you dance to disco, and you don’t like rock.
Robbie: That’s ‘shy you came up with those lyrics.
Neil: It made me what I am today.
Robbie: Do you remember England winning the World cup on TV?
Neil: I can remember clearly. I snatched it on the TV, and then I did my paper round afterwards.
Robbie: Do you remember how much you’d get for your paper round?
Neil: I didn’t get very much actually. I tried to organise, as a good socialist…I tried to organise a strike of the paperboys.
Robbie’ did yon ?
Neil: We use to get paid one-and-six for evening paper rounds and for morning paper rounds, I think you got two and six and for Sundays, because all the papers were heavy like The Sunday times still is., you got three shillings I tried to organise a strike, for which of course I got sacked, and that was that really.
Robbie You try to do something good…
Neil: Did you ever do a paper round’?
Robbie: No, I didn’t. My mother always scanted me to do, to work. She had this thing, that she always wanted to bring some money into the house… cause my father led when I was three, and I think she was very angry about my dad leaving, so somebody had to be the bread winner, and it was her, and she wanted me to go out and earn the bread too. But, uh .1 never got of ‘my big fat ass and did it …but, uh it’s slave labour, being a paperboy.
Neil: It is slave labour
Robbie: It still is. It was like, you get up and half past five in the morning…
Neil: Uh…it’s cold and snowing…
Robbie: It’s cold and snowing and you get bitten by dogs…so I didn’t think I’d have any of that…I thought I’d be a pop star instead.
Neil: Well I realised all along that I wanted to be a pop star. Because I realised that I was never meant to be boring…I didn’t want to have a proper job…and I think that that’s because I had experience a bit of doing that. And I worked in a betting shop that was my next job. And I used to see all these people wasting all their money. It was just depressing actually, betting, and all the rest of it…
Robbie: I’ve just come to the realisation…and it’s that…I became a pop star because I didn’t want anybody to hurt me ever again…
Neil: Well, you went into a funny job for that,.. [Laughs]
Robbie: Yeah, I know…he’s sort of a twisted view of…you know’, I really had to rethink what I’m doing this for, because I still haven’t got a clue.
Neil: Aren’t you just doing it ’cause you love it?
Robbie: Well, I haven’t been enjoying it. But I haven’t been enjoying anything…I’ve been miserable.
Neil: When Chris and I saw you in Atlanta, and then I saw you at that show’ the other month, I had the impression you weren’t really enjoying it.
Robbie: No, but that’s not because I don’t enjoy my job, that’s just because I’m not being mc very much, and I think…you must have had that your self’s hope it’s not just me.
Neil: Well, no, I go through phases; I’ve always gone through phases, of not really paranoia but kind of a lack of confidence about it…
Neil: I never really thought, and when we went into this, I was never goanna be a singer, ’cause I never thought I could sing really…and I kind of ended up being the singer, and we we’re never going to perform live, and then we ended up…actually I quite like performing live now’…and these were huge things for me…and I can still, like, wake at night and think I shouldn’t really be doing this… Whereas I don’t feel like that about song writing or sort of stuff like that.
Robbie: Yeah, I’m having one of those days, that turns into like a few’ months, I’m having one of those months where I wake up and go, you know, I’m shit.” And then I go and search out things on the net that confirm I’m shit.
Neil: But I’ve seen shit on the net that says you’re brilliant.
Robbie: Yeah, I know…but, that’s just my head at the minute, but I’m trying, I’m trying desperately not to stay in this funk ’cause it’s horrible. But that’s where I am…
Neil: Is it anything to do with your father, do you think?
Robbie: Is it anything what?
Neil: To do with your father?
Robbie: Anything to do with my father? Nab: Yeah.
Neil: I met your mother before, a couple of times I think. I don’t know’ much about your father Do you have a relationship with him?
Robbie: It’s funny you know’…it’s funny because if I go into too much of that, would that then be a double page spread in the News Of The World next week,..?
Neil: Oh, I’m sorry, I’d already forgotten it was an interview…
Robbie: Yeah, and me…
Robbie: But, I will say I haven’t spoke to him in a year.. That’s goanna be a double page spread in the News Of The World, but I’ve already said it… Do you it now what I mean, but I’ve already said it…anyway, a’ a lighter note…
Neil: On a lighter note: will you ever get over Take That?
Robbie: Will I ever get over Take That?
Nell: Yeah, or have you got over Take That?
Robbie: Yeah, I have, I have, I got over Take That. You know, it’s that um…it all goes hack to my dad, misplaced anger…it really does, all go back…I have got over it though.
Robbie: It’s funny though, because, I was talking in the studio today and we were talking about, you know I felt really aggressive this morning, and I was calling everybody [rude names] and I said I’m goanna try not to from now on, ’cause it’s not karmic ally good…and then I went, ’cause I don’t slag people off in the press unless they slag me off, and I said apart from Gary Barlow. That I’ve got over now, anyway. And then continued to take the piss out of him for fifteen minutes. So I don’t know where that came from this morning.
Neil: Is it just like a habit, do you think?
Robbie: It’s just a habit. Old habits die-hard. What do you think about his demise?
Neil: I sort of feel a bit bad for him really. Robbie: I do. And I don’t mean that in a condescend way, I genuinely mean it.
Neil: I think he went into it with such a lot of confidence. And the whole being the new George Michael thing. And it sort of started off quite well, I sometimes think maybe he was a bit rash the way he went about things.
Robbie: I think that if you go in as the new Andrew Ridgeley, then everything else is a bonus.
Neil: [laughs] You actually said that, you know the only other person whose ever said that, is Chris Lowe.
Neil: Yes, that he was the new Andrew Ridgeley. Robbie: I wasn’t aware that he’d said that.Neil: It was years ago he said it.
Robbie: I said it to George on a plane once.Neil: Did you?
Robbie: And I said, and this was when I was in Take That, I said, you know how everybody thinks, that Gary’s the next you, well, I’m the next Andrew Ridgeley. And he turned to me and he said, “Don’t take the piss out of Andrew.”
Neil: Yeah, he’s quite defensive about that…Actually funnily enough, although he wasn’t a musician and stuff, Andrew Ridgeley was incredibly important in Wham!. I mean you can see the difference between George Michael and Wham!. And the difference is Andrew Ridgeley, and he made it the whole sexy fun thing.
Robbie: Do you think?
Neil: Yeah I do…actually yeah. And I know ’cause I was sort of around a little bit. He really gave its vibe to the whole thing, and in pop music that’s often as important, or even more important than anything else that’s going on.
Robbie: Well, when I was growing up at that time, I just thought that they looked silly. But, I was really your, young.
Neil: Well, they went a bit silly with the shuttlecocks. That was a low moment.
Robbie: Did you watch the Top Ten of New Romantics the other night?
Neil: Oh of course – what a work of genius that was.
Robbie: Yeah, I know. And didn’t they all take themselves really serious?
Neil: Yeah, well people did in those days…
Robbie: Well they probably did in those days…but it isn’t time that now, like, we’re in a new century, to now go, which’s a bit silly, and we’re a bit silly?
Neil: Yeah, it is, but actually I quite admire people, who, at that time, although it’s difficult when you look back, it looks ridiculous – that’ a fine ’cause it’s pop music – at that time, people wanted to do. so create new kinds of pop music, and they were very serious about it, and they wanted to dress up…and they wanted to kind of mix Kraftwerk and the Sex Pistols.
Robbie: It was the first time that I realized that it was the new punk.
Neil: Well, it followed on from punk, you know, yeah. It was punk with a lot of make-up and a lot of synthesisers…there was a short period when it actually seemed like something new.
Robbie: Yeah, but it didn’t last very long, that period…Neil: And of course, it became the most ghastly cliché’ very quickly.
Robbie: What were you doing during that time?
Robbie: What were you dressing like?
Neil: In those days, I worked in book publishing. It was before I worked for Smash Hits. And so I was one of those people that used to wear Doctor Marten boots and one of those kind of green army surplus raincoats that Echo and the Bunnymen later wore…[laughs]
Neil: And my hair was henna’s red.
Robbie: Henna red?
Neil: You know, it was henna’s.
Robbie: Was it long hair?
Neil: No, it wasn’t either long or short.
Robbie: What were you listening to at the time?
Neil: At the time I was listening to Kraftwerk.
Neil: Things, you know, like what we called in those days, new wave music. You know, like The Jam, Elvis Costello…
Robbie: See, I missed out on a lot of the cool things.Neil: They weren’t necessarily cool…Kraftwerk was cool…
Robbie: Kraftwerk was cool.
Neil: Kraftwerk still is cool.
Robbie: I was a child of the Eighties really, and I was into hip hop. You can’t really get it together to go out and find anything when all you’ve got on the radio is the theme track to Dirty Dancing. I think that’s why I ended up in a boy band. It’s only now that I listen to The Who, Kinks, Beatles, whereas before I listened to Dr Hook, and Glenn Miller…
Neil: Do you listen to your mother’s record collection?
Robbie: No, I found Dr Hook by myself.Neil: [Loughs]
Robbie: Which I’m very proud of.
Robbie: And I just bought…
Neil: You just bought West life’s cover version of um, whatever it was they did…
Robbie: Well I do like, “On the Cover of the Rolling Stone.” Do you know that one?
Neil: Yeah I do
Robbie: And do you know that one, [sings] “Elvis he’s a hero, he’~ a movie star, and I bear that Paul McCartney drives a Rolls Royce car.” Do you know that one?
Neil: I don’t, no.
Robbie: I’ve never been a big Dr Rook fan; I’ve got to say.
Neil: Funnily enough, the last time I spoke for Interview magazine, I was being interviewed, this is very uncanny, by Rufus Wainwright.
Robbie: Were you?
Neil: Whose father is Loudon Wainwright? Robbie: Well, I was with Rufus Wainwright last week.Neil: Were you?
Robbie: Yeah I met Rufus Wainwright; I was in LA, a place where if you’re not feeling very confident, you can completely lose your identity…
Robbie: And not know who you like, what you like, and why people are speaking to you.
Robbie: And during this amazing period of isolation that I had with myself in LA. I went up into the hills to a hill party in one of the big houses. Nobody’s friendly in LA. Everybody’s really ambitious.. Kill or be killed…
Robbie: And the one person that was nice was Rums Wainwright. And I bumped into him, ’cause his father is suing me. Well this is what happened, right. He phoned, and said, we should get together and…l said, “we should get together and write a song.” And I was really up for it, and then I got scared, and he left a message at my hotel, and I didn’t call him back, so if Rums is reading this, I’m very sorry. But what happened was, I was in rehab, and I came down one morning, and there’s this guy looking out the window, and he said, “even the son of God gets it hard sometimes, especially when he goes around saying ‘I am the way’.” And then this guy pulls up in a camper van, and he was one of the counsellors, and he looked like Jesus.
And I put “Jesus in a camper van’, and said,
“Sorry to leave you, but I’ve done all I can, I suppose even the son of God gets it hard sometimes, especially when he goes around saying ‘I am the way”‘ And I said to the bloke, is that a song? And be gone yeah. And I said, who is it, and he said it’s Rufus Wainweight, I think. [Re means Loudon Wainwright.] So, then, being the honest bloke that I am, I went, “Get in touch with Rufus Wainwright’s people, and tell them, that I’ve taken this, and I’ll give them 25%, 20 or 25%, I can’t remember which one it is. Which is more than fair, right?
Neil: Yeah, yeah.
Robbie: Yeah, which is actually more than he should be getting. So I’m thinking, I’m going along me merry way, and I’m thinking it’s all fixed and it’s all done. And then like two years later, I hear that …Loudon Wainwright…Woody Gutbrie, is it?
Neil: That’s right, yep.
Robbie: I think his estate is suing me, because my people, whoever they be that sort out the plagiarism didn’t get it OK’d in fact.
Neil: ‘Cause Loudon Wainwright took it from Woody Gutbrie.
Robbie: Yeah, so now I don’t think it was Loudon Wainwright that wrote it anyway, I think it was Woody Gushne that wrote it…so now it looks as though I’ve gone off and nicked something and pretended it’s mine, which I never have done, and I’m being sued. Rut that’s part of life’s rich tapestry.
Neil: It’s rock and roll basically, isn’t it? Robbie: It’s only rock n’ roll.
Neil: So is your new album a new direction? Robbie: Is my new album a new direction?Neil: As we used to say in the Seventies. Robbie: Rave you ever nicked anything off people that’ve gone, “hang on, that’s mine”?Neil: No, we’ve had this weird case that went on for nine years, that finished two weeks ago, where this guy who’d been in a band that never made a record, that claimed that we’d ripped off “Let’s make lots of money…” from a song that he’d performed in a load of clubs in New Cross in 1983…
Robbie: I remember that…what happened?
Neil: And he got Legal Aid four times for this…and ub, what happened was at the end that the whole thing fell apart because Chris and I had never heard the song…he thought he’d invented the chord change: C minor, E flat, B flat…that’s what he thought he’d invented. And he heard, you know they used, the B-side of “Opportunities”, which has the same chord changes. Chris and I did a musical exercise: we wrote two songs with the same chord change, and they used that, it’s called “In The Night” for The Clothes Show in the UK, in this TV show, and he heard it on that, and he thought, that’s my song, and he thought he’d write it.
Robbie: So he had delusions of adequacy?
Neil: Yeah, he did, I’m afraid. And what you’re meant to do, is just give him some money to go away, but Chris and I being Chris and I relentlessly refused to do anything like that, and anyway, for nine years, we now have a legal bill of about thirty thousand quid,
Robbie: Because you didn’t give him five grand to go away…
Neil: But it’s the principle.
Robbie: I’ve had to give somebody fifteen grand to go sway once…
Neil: What for?
Robbie: Well I got pissed in Dublin, got in one of my famous benders, got on a ferry, and went to Ireland by myself. And ended up in a pub, and became best friends immediately with this person called Raymond. Loads of mad ginger hair, big lad, we took lots of F’s and drank lots of pints of Guinness, in fact, I drank twenty-three pints of Guinness in one day, which was my all-time record.
Neil: I’m amazed you survived.
Robbie: Yeah, and me. I didn’t have to eat. And Raymond and me, I said, “I’ve got this idea for this song, it’s called ‘Angels Instead’, ‘I’m Loving Angels Instead’.” So I got together, wrote something with him and it was a pile of shit. But the lyrics were aright, and they were the lyrics to “Angels” and I came back and wrote it with Guy, then he decides, that Raymond, said, he wrote that song with me, and this is how mad Raymond was. When I left Ireland to go back to Stoke on-Trent, Raymond worked with mentally ill people in France, and he hitchhiked from France to Stoke-on Trent, getting beaten up twice on the way, once in Derby, once in Stoke-on-Trent, and turned up on my door at half past eleven, saying, “I thought you’d be pleased to see me.” But that’s what you get for drinking twenty-three pints of Guinness.
Neil: I bet you were delighted.
Robbie: You see, where you’re clever is: Anything that you borrow, they’ve been dead humoured years.Neil: Yeah, we just borrow the odd classical thing. Robbie: Which is always handy.
Neil: Which is always handy. Although on our last album, we did a song based on Raymond, and I thought he was in copyright, and we phoned at the publishers and they said no, it’s not in copyright. Robbie: Fantastic.
Neil: So we were auditioning for our musical last week, and a guy came in, and his audition piece was “Angels”.
Robbie: Did he do it justice?
Neil: Be did it rather well actually, we all sat there, and I thought he did it really well.
Robbie: Was he charismatic? Did you feel as though he was singing it to you, in your home? Like I do? [They both laugh]
Neil: I felt he was doing quite a successful audition. But that song’s become a standard, hasn’t it?
Robbie: Yeah, well…
Nell: I felt a bit jealous because I was listening to it, I thought, “bloody Robbie’s written a standard”. I was mentally flicking through our back catalogue and thinking, I don’t think we’ve written, like, a kind of song you could sing down the pub. You know what I mean – a real Shirley Basely thing.
Robbie: It is.. .1 read something the other day, where it said, which I’m very proud of: it’s the most played song at funerals. Which I thought was an amazing touch. I’m from Stoke-on-Trent and I’ve written this song that people play at their funerals, and I find that amazing, I find that very touching. And then underneath it, it said, second only to “My Heart Will Go On” by Celina Dion, which killed it dead for me.
Nell: [laughs] Although, another modem standard.
Robbie: It is another modem standard.
Neil: It’s not great though, is it?
Robbie: It isn’t good to be linked with the two.
Nell: “Angels”, can you remember writing that, apart from when you dunk twenty-three pints of Guinness?
Robbie: Can I remember writing it? Yeah I can. I can remember writing it with Guy at his house in his attic, and it was like the second day of meeting Guy and writing with him, and we finished it, and he went to bed ’cause he was very ill, and I had to walk from, where’s that bridge, where everybody jumps off to commit suicide in Nl7??
Neil: Oh yeah, Archway.
Robbie: Archway. I had to walk back from Archway to Notting Hill because there was no taxi, so I walked for two miles in the snow. And I got in this cab, and I said, “Play this, mate, I’m Rabbit Williams, play this.” And he played it and he went, “That’s number one, that is.” And I went home, and the next day I hailed a cab, and it was the same man again. Now whether that’s interesting or useful, I do not know. But that’s the story.
Neil: It’s a coincidence. I remember you coming into the Grouch Club when you were in your down-the-dumper phase when your album had first come out, and we were talking about your album only going to number fifteen or something, and you said, “butt think I’ve written the Christmas number one.” And I remember thinking, “well, you know, he’s got a lot of confidence.” And actually it wasn’t the Christmas number one, but it’s amazing how it all turned around with that one song.
Robbie: Can I tell you what is another coincidence that’s happened this week which will mean nothing to American readers, butt had a dream the other night and Little and Large were in my dream, and even in my dream I was thinking, “What arc you doing in my dream? This is a dream and you’re a comedy duo from the early Eighties and I don’t even think about you, so what are you doing in my dream?” The next day, Sid Little phoned me.
Neil: Wow [laughs]
Robbie: Isn’t that amazing? I mean, it’s amazing enough that Sid Little phoned me, but the night before to have a dream about him…Do you know anything about dreamt, Neil:?
Neil: No, you know there’s the famous book by Freud, or was it Jung on the interpretation of dreams.
Robbie: There’s this whole train of thought that they’re all messages and it’s your subconscious trying to speak to you or people from other worlds – spiritual worlds -trying to get to you and give you messages. Well, since the Sid Little incident, I’ve gone, before I go to bed, I always say a prayer, and in my prayer each night I’m going, like, “I’m ready for your messages, whatever you want to tell me…” and last night, Tone Loc killed somebody and buried him in my garage in my first house that I ever lived in. What the hell does that mean9
Neil: I think we need a Freudian to go through that one.
Robbie: Does that mean I fancy me mum?Neil: I think it means the garage was a very important place for you.
Robbie: I’ve had these…do you grind your teeth?
Neil: Do you know what, I was at the dentists last week, and he told me I’ve started to grind my teeth?
Robbie: It’s a twentieth century thing.
Neil: It’s a millennial thing.
Robbie: I haven’t done any drugs or drank for eight months, and I went to the dentist on Friday, and she gave me, and she’s like a fucking pusher, she gave me gas and air…
Neil: Oh yeah…
Robbie: When I went under, I was…ahhhh…it was wonderful; I was definitely goanna go out and score as soon as I got out of having me teeth fixed. And I was under for two minutes and it felt like five seconds… ’cause the only time I’ve done smack I’ve been sick on it, and I thought this is what smack’s like when you get it right. But I got off me chair and went out, and I couldn’t even talk or walk, so fortunately I’m still sober.
Neil: A friend of mine has given up,
last year gave up drinking and drugs, and he said to me recently that he’d realised he’d given up his social life with it, therefore he had to recreate a whole social life because he doesn’t want to hang around with those people or they don’t want to hang around with him even. Have you found that?
Robbie: Yeah, well what happened to me was, I drank and took drugs because it made me socially acceptable
– I could talk to people, I could converse, I was funny and I was charming, and witty and all of these things, and so then I nailed drugs for quite a short period of time when you consider…when you put it against anybody else’s. And then all of a sudden, the drugs, for like a year and a half stopped me being witty, stopped me talking, and but I carried on to nail them nevertheless.
And I what I’ve found is, now, is I’m socially inept, I’m socially inept, and I get scared of talking to people, and I realised that that’s why I took drugs in the first place. And so what I’m finding is, at the moment, is, I’m rather dull, and I’ve got nothing to say, which is worrying, bull think it’s just a phase that I’m going through. But I do have to get a new social life together, because, you know, it’s like, I still go down the Groucho, but I stay on the first floor, and I don’t go to the snooker room. My personal rehab when I came out of rehab the first time, was if I didn’t go back to Browns then my life would be fine. But I didn’t go back to Browns but I still started nailing lots of drugs again. But t do have to construct a new way of thinking, a new way of life, because the one I had led me to being miserable, so…
Neil: Rave you got a new girlfriend now?
Neil: But I read in the papers that you did.
Robbie: Well there you go, Neil:…Tania.
Neil: Yes, that’s right.
Robbie: You know what happened.. . with Tania is my manager’s step-daughter, and the out-and-out truth is we were really good mates that slept together and now we’re just really good mates. But it’s the first grown-up relationship I’ve ever had, and the first honest one I’ve ever had.
Neil: So you don’t feel your previous relationships were very adult at all?
Robbie: No, they weren’t adult, and they were completely wrong.
Neil: Now, I’ve been told by Interview to ask you this question – they’ll cut that bit out – do you have any pets? Because you’ve just been photographed by Bruce Weber with a load of dogs.
Robbie: Do I have any pets?
Robbie: Why do you think they’ll cut that bit out?
Neil: Oh, well I hope they do, ’cause they’ll want it to sound like I’ve just instinctually come up with this question quite by coincidence to do with dogs taken by Bruce Weber. Incidentally isn’t Bruce Weber nice?
Robbie: Bruce Weber’s lovely. And I thought, you know, you get this image of fashion that’s Pret-APorter, the film. And you think that everybody’s going to be a snob and you become very judgmental about people before you’ve even met them, which you think you don’t do, but you do. And I thought that that was what’s going to happen with Bruce…I was a bit scared cause I knew that he was this colossal photographer that’s shot the famous and the good, and I thought he was goanna be nasty. But he was lovely.
Neil: He’s a gorgeous person. We’ve done two videos with him.
Robbie: “Being Boring”.
Neil: And then “Se A Vida F”.
Robbie: Was that him as well?
Neil: Yeah he did the one in the water theme park. Yeah, he’s great.
Robbie: Who came up with the idea for “Being Boring”?
Neil: Him. Chris and I had some very complicated idea, and Bruce Weber said ~uts on very convincing American accent], “No, I think we should do it in a house in Long Island, get all these kids, just have a party and film it.” And we said, “Urn, yeah, OK. Fine.”
Robbie: It did look beautiful and the thing is about those things where you get kids in to have a party, it can always look as though it’s really naff. Like if you get a house party with Janet Jackson, I don’t want to slag anybody off ’cause I’ll probably go to America and get shot. But it always looks very contrived. That one didn’t.
Neil: You know why it wasn’t contrived, because firstly he’s brilliant at casting, and he got all these great looking kids of all different kinds of looks, not just traditionally good looking people. And also we did it in one day in this house and had two film crews. And it was fun. It was fun, the whole thing was really enjoyable.
Robbie: Was it expensive?
Neil: At that point, it was the most expensive video we’d ever made.
Robbie: Which was?
Neil: Well, this was 1990. It was about 150,000 quid.
Robbie: Right, and what was the most expensive video that year completely?
Neil: Oh’ well, Madonna probably made “Vogue” that year. For three trillion quid.
Robbie: Madonna’s moved into London.
Neil: Madonna, she’s everywhere. Yeah, she lives in London now apparently.
Robbie: She lives in London, and it’s her social scene now by the looks of it.
Neil: Oh yeah, Madonna is London now.
Robbie: Madonna is London.
Neil: Apparently she talks with an English accent.
Robbie: Well, that’s all good and groovy.
Neil: In fact, she lives quite near where I’m speaking to you from right now.
Robbie: In Chelsea?
Neil: Chelsea or South Ken or somewhere, I don’t know. I’ve not seen her in Marks and Spencer’s yet.
Robbie: It’s very interesting to see her come over.
Neil: Yeah, well I think it’s ’cause she’s met that guy and she wants, I don’t know…
Robbie: It’s quite a remarkable move, though, with somebody with her stature and the attention that she gets, it’s like: why would you want to come live in London?
Neil: Well, actually the amazing thing is she manages to live here without actually getting that much attention.
Robbie: Well, she’s all over the place. You say that she
Doesn’t get that much attention but there’s pictures of her coming out of the baby clinic.
Neil: I don’t actually read these papers, so yeah; I probably just haven’t seen them.
Robbie: No, I try my best not to, but I always look. I always say I don’t read the papers, and when I’m feeling good, I never do, but when I’m feeling bad about myself, and I want somebody to go, yeah, you are a dickhead, then I read the papers, which is wrong.
Neil: One of those things, when you’re abroad…like Chris and I were just in Berlin recording, and you don’t see the English papers and it’s great, and then suddenly you’re walking past the news stand and it’s got The Daily Mail…
Robbie: Do you pick them up?
Neil: Well, I did yeah, and it had some amazingly homophobic headline about Section 28. Robbie: The Daily Mail is homophobic, racist.. And is “easiest” a word?
Neil: Well, it will do anyway…
Robbie: It is now…
Neil: It just depresses you, you think this small-minded world that people live in, or you know when you’ve been away and you get on the plane, British Airways, and they hand you a Daily Mail, and it’s just got all this gossip about Anthea Turner or someone and it just all seems like this incredibly parochial pond with, you know, people swooshing around in this pathetic gossip.
Robbie: Well, it is. It’s a village, this country, compared with America. I went to America and I spent two weeks in LA, and even though I lost my identity, I hated the people, I still want to go and live there. …Nobody came and talked to me, which was bad, but it was great at the same time. And then you come home and everybody knows everybody’s business.
Neil: I know it feels a bit claustrophobic sometimes I think. That’s kind of how I felt when I was coming back, yeah…But then we’ve never really been, you know, in the Eighties when we were really doing the business, we always sort of stayed away from that sort of thing.
Robbie: Row do you manage that, doesn’t it pick you?
Neil: Well we managed to stay away from it.
Robbie: How did you manage to do that?
Neil: Well, we were lucky…
Robbie: Am I regarded as someone who goes and courts it?
Neil: No, you came up in a boy band, and a boy band is about publicity, isn’t it?
Neil: Whereas Chris and I were lucky in that when “West End Girls” came out, it was a hit ’cause they played it on the radio, and people liked it and they bought it. And so we had a hit, and no one knew who we were. And we sort of kept it like that. You know that we didn’t…we didn’t use to go to parties, you know, big media parties…we didn’t do anything like that really until the Nineties.
Robbie: Does that mean then, that there are no skeletons in your closet?
Neil: Skeletons in my closet?
Robbie: You don’t own a closet, do you?
Neil: There are millions of them, and several closets. Yeah, well, we all have skeletons in our closets.
Robbie: Why did they not go for you? They went for me because I was in a boy hand that was about publicity, then left, and became fat and took lots of drugs and that was very interesting
Neil: My theory is, that it’s all shout sex. With us, we were never marketed as a sex hand. For very good reasons. Although actually Chris used to always he in just 17, [laughs] whereas you came up in Take That, and a boy hand is 60% is about sex, so you’ve got that focus on sex anyway.
Robbie: The girls that I’ve slept with do have a habit of turning up on Sunday in the papers.
Neil: I know, I believe.
Robbie: Yeah, hut that’s all stopped you tee now because my new way of life and my new regime, I can keep my penis in my pants.
Neil: But do you enjoy that? [Laughs] Is that the right place for your penis, Robbie?
Robbie: Well, I am enjoying it actually because you get to that place where you’ve slept with everyone, and you know it doesn’t work for you.
Neil: Did you go through a phase of massive promiscuity, whatever the word is?
Robbie: Did I go through a phase of sleeping with everyone?
Robbie: Yeah, I did. I did, which was what I thought I was supposed to do, and what I was able to do because it was given to me on a plate…when you’re growing up like I was, and you go: girls, fancy girls, want girls, need girls, I want these girls to like me, insecure, like me. And then you become a pop star, and they go, “yeah, we do like you and we want to sleep with you,” and you go, “alright then, well sleep with me.” And then you sleep with them and sleep with them and sleep with them and sleep with them, and then you get a reputation for being a tart, which I did, and it doesn’t make you happy. So what I’m doing now is – I’ve come up with a new plan, which is: talk to them.
Neil: Talk to them, don’t sleep with them.
Robbie: Talk to them, find out what they’re saying, listen to them, and interact. Interact. And I’m finding this all useful.
Neil: Well, that’s nice.
Neil: Anyway, you still haven’t answered my question. Have you got any pets? [Laughs]
Robbie: Have I got any pets?
Neil: When you were growing up, did you have a dog?
Robbie: Yeah, I did, I had a dog called Trixie, and she
Was my sister’s dog, and she hated me, Trixie. I think she got, like, distemper or something, whatever that is, and she wouldn’t let me upstairs, and I think she hated me cause when I was a kid, I used to play with her, and I used to forget that she was on my lap and I used to stand up and she used to bang her head. And also I used to play with her like a rugby ball, and I used to throw her across the room, onto the sofa. Which is something that you do as an eight-year-old – I know it’s really wrong now. And she grew up hating me, and she wouldn’t let me upstairs, and she bit the end of my finger off And it was really sad ’cause we took her for a walk, and she started to internal bleed, and fell into a canal and died.
Neil: Oh, my goodness.
Robbie: I made all that up.
Neil: Oh good.
Robbie: Yeah. I made all that up. No, we never had any pets.
Neil: I believed every word of that, as well. I was just thinking, “Robbie’s had a tragic life, hasn’t he.”
Robbie: I got you there didn’t I? No, but what I did do when I cleaned up, and I thought, now’s the time for something to give me unconditional love and I will give it unconditional love back, and I thought, well that’s a dog, isn’t it, that’s a dog.
Neil: It’s definitely a dog.
Robbie: And I thought, now do I want.. .1 can’t have a small dog, ’cause small dogs make you look as though you’re not hard. So, I thought I’d have a big dog. So what I did was I chose two of the biggest dogs in the world. And I got two Great Danes. I went up, from London to Stoke-on-Trent, which is 600 mile round trip, and bought two Great Danes: Missy and Buster. And I’m moving from my house into a new house that I can’t be in until Christmas. My house now doesn’t have a garden. So these two dogs lived in my kitchen. And even at eight weeks old, they’re the size of Labradors, and they do human size turns. And they did twelve human-size turds the first night and my kitchen stunk. The next day, I woke, and they’d done another twelve – always twelve – human-size shits. By that time I knew I was defeated and it was a pointless exercise. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to cope with it. I couldn’t even cope with waking up and greeting the day and taking part in it.
So, I went back to Stoke-on-Trent and gave the dogs back. And there was a girl there and she was eight, and she knew who I was and she was over-affectionate towards me the first time that I went up to get the dogs – she clung on to my leg – and she said, “Robbie, I love you, I love you, we love you, we love you, we love you.” And then the next time I went back up, she’d obviously been talking to her parents, or heard them talking, and she grabbed my leg, and looked up at me, as I’m bringing these dogs back feeling deflated and beaten, and she said, [assumes a taunting whisper] “You couldn’t handle it, could ya? You
couldn’t handle it.” And then the big dog, the mother dog walked in, and she went, “Wow, if you couldn’t handle the little ones, you wouldn’t be able to handle the big ones, would you?” [Tape change]
Neil: . . .You’ve got to think about your song writing. If you go and live in America or abroad, you get divorced from your culture. If you look at people who do that, they often, some people, like David Bowie, can make it work for them, but a lot of people get really divorced from their culture. You know, like Rod Stewart or someone like that in the Seventies. Someone like Elton’s always lived here. And I think there’s a real strength in that, really.
Robbie: There is that, but I went out last week, and I worked with Glen Ballard, and I’m finding it really difficult to write or be creative or do anything here, without pulling my teeth out. And as soon as I got to LA I came up straight away, banged a song in an hour and it’s a great song.
Neil: I mean, you wouldn’t want to live in LA.
Neil: You could go mad. There’s nothing to do.
Robbie: Yeah, but where is there anything to do, anyway?
Neil: Well, there’s a lot to do in London, there’s a lot to do in New York, and there’s a lot to do in Paris.
Robbie: You see, I do love Paris, but…New York has got the same weather as England…
Neil: Well a bit more extreme.
Robbie: I get scared in New York, I will admit, I’m scared in New York. It’s a big fast place.
Neil: It’s not as scary as it used to be.
Robbie: No, since Giuliani got in.
Neil: I remember the first time I went to New York, it was to do something for Smash Hits in ’82, 1 was absolutely terrified. I couldn’t wait to get on the plane.
Neil: It was really scary then. But it was exciting.
Robbie: If you lived in America, where would you live?
Neil: I would live in New York. I would live in Soho, New York.
Robbie: Which hotel do you like in New York?
Neil: The Mercer, of course.
Robbie: Yeah, me too. Do you ever sit in the Mercer and see who’s coming in?
Neil: I sit in the lobby and have tea, have a cup of tea. Read one of those magazines they have there.
Robbie: I have tea in the lobby and watch Calvin Klein come in and out.
Neil: Calvin Klein comes in…
Robbie: It’s like a very highbrow version of He/lo! Magazine as you sit there.
Neil: I humped into Bryan Adams in the lift.
Robbie: Who did I bump into? Owned Patron was in there, Goldie Hewn… what’s his name? Seined.
Neil: Marilyn Manson’s meant to live in the
Robbie: Now Marilyn Manson came up to me at a gig, and he really loves “Angels”. My song “Angels”.
Neil: Well you know, these heavy metal guys, you’d be surprised what they like because everyone assumes all they do is listen to incredibly heavy rock music. It’s like when we met Axl Rose, he said, “Oh man, why didn’t you do ‘Being Boring’?” And I was astonished that Axl Rose even knew who we were.
Robbie: Didn’t he say something really nice about you lot just recently?
Neil: Not that I’m aware of; hut he was very nice shout us a few years ago when we met him. And he made this point that a lot of guys in heavy rock bands, it’s not necessarily what they listen to. Urn…so there’s Marilyn Manson sitting in his penthouse at the Merrier listening to “Angels”.
Robbie: You know, but I don’t think he does live there. I don’t think he’s got a penthouse there.
Neil: No I think it’s probably a bit of a myth.
Robbie: Yeah, I don’t think he can afford one yet.
Neil: I wouldn’t know about that. Has he not sold a lot of records?
Robbie: I think he must have.
Neil: So when you’re in New York, do you get recognised on the street?
Robbie: Yeah, I do.
Neil: ‘Cause you’re on MTV a lot aren’t you?
Robbie: Yeah, I get recognised in New York but never in LA. And they always say, if they do see me in LA, “you’re that millennium man.” And I’ve had “Angels” released there and nobody knows about that song.
Neil: Well, when we were there, it was on the telly all the time.
Robbie: Well it didn’t…nobody took it to their heart…do you know what I mean? Nobody bought it. But you know I’ve always been really really ‘confident about everything I’ve done. Apart from America. I’ve no confidence that I’ll break America.
Neil: I think the thing about America is, they often advise people you’ve really got to work and you’ve got to tour and all the rest of it. And actually it’s possible for people to…I think America either happens or it doesn’t.
Neil: America either happens or it doesn’t really, for people.
Robbie: Row do you get on there? Do you sell records there?
Neil: Well, you know in the Eighties we used to. But then, “West End Girls” was number one in America and Chris and I did absolutely nothing…you know we went there, and the record was number three and then it went number one. And so we were very lucky and we were very spoilt by that. We’ve had a career in reverse in America.
Robbie: I’ve read that book.
Copyright Areagraphy Ltd 2000: All Articles have been
Taken From Literally 2000 Issue 23