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March 7, 2010

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Robbie Williams by Chris Heath

If the world was actually fair I wouldn’t be a pop star. I would be in Stoke-on-Trent in some pub right now talking about how I used to sing when I was a kid. So thank God the world isn’t fair.

Robbie Williams

This I picked up expecting the familiar format of a biography, a chronological look starting with Williams’ childhood, teenage years, etc., but this is interesting in that it takes more of a documentary-style approach. We pick up the story with Mr. Williams already in full swing, so to speak. There are of course plenty of snapshots of the past, but always to reinforce a point.

We start, then, in the present day – bearing in mind the book was published in 2004. It offers an interesting insight into Robbie Williams’ attitude towards fame – he is crippled by it -, towards live performance – which he dreads, despite playing the showman and the resounding success of Knebworth – and reveals the true story behind his apparently desperate bid to make it in the US.

What is surprising to hear is just how much Robbie despises live performance – he cites touring as one of the main reasons for tipping him over the edge after a period of sobriety. His rehearsals are revealed to be half-hearted, clowning around as if playing to a live audience and repeatedly forgetting the lyrics. But then he puts all his fears to one side for shownight and genuinely puts on an act. He insists there are two very distinct sides to his character – the real Robbie, and the Robbie we see on stage, who is an actor putting on a performance and who in reality bears little resemblance to his true person. Remember his “I’m rich beyond my wildest dreams” outburst after signing a new record deal – this was Robbie the actor, being ironic, he insists.

Mr. Williams also questions the press’s reaction to his apparent failure to break into the market Stateside. This also was a half-hearted attempt on Robbie’s part, he was never really that bothered, he says. Continually pestered by the paparazzi and the fans in the UK, why on earth, he asks, would he want to recreate such a hellish existence in the US where he enjoys relative anonymity and where he goes to seeks refuge from public life? He has a point.

The book also touches on relationships with Guy Chambers, Gary Barlow and the former manager of Take That, Nigel Martin-Smith, who, Robbie  says, made his life hell during the Take That years. It also devotes a lot of time to his relationship and songwriting partnership post-Chambers with Stephen “Tin Tin” Duffy.

A fascinating snapshot of Robbie Williams’ roller coaster life, full of anecdotes and insights and which breaks tradition with the chronological format of the biography. Perhaps just one for the fans, though.

James’ out-of-five star rating: ***

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