Robbie Williams: Maybe Irish people love me because I'm f***ing great

When Robbie Williams flew into Dublin to promote his new album and announce a summer stadium gig, Jenny Lee was there to quiz him. He talked about performing, family life, hallucinating at Bono’s house, UFOs and a new duet with Kylie Minogue

Robbie Williams pictured at a press conference at Dublin’s InterContinental last week Picture: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos
Robbie Williams pictured at a press conference at Dublin’s InterContinental last week Picture: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos Robbie Williams pictured at a press conference at Dublin’s InterContinental last week Picture: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

SITTING awaiting Robbie Williams in the surroundings of a plush Dublin hotel, my 15-year-old self was highly excited to meet the member of Take That whose name I used to scream.

Fast-forward 25 years, he may no longer make my heart flutter, but Robbie is still entertaining the masses. Only last month it was announced he was to be honoured with a Brit Icon Award for earning a special place in fans' hearts with his enduring appeal.

He kept the assembled press in Dublin's InterContinental waiting as he freshened up in his room. Today FM presenter Ian Dempsey gave him a grand introduction, concluding with the remark that he has the same amount of number one albums as Elvis Presley. Keeping up to his showman persona, Robbie burst into the room proclaiming "F**k Elvis".

Promoting his new album, The Heavy Entertainment Show, which is released today, and announcing details of the Dublin date of his accompanying European tour next summer, Robbie said he had put his all into the new record.

"It's been three years in the making, I've written 80 songs for it, whittled it down to 11. I'm really excited," said the 43-year-old.

The title of his 11th studio album is a play on words, evolving from his memories of television as a child and his aspiration's to be a star.

"When I was a kid and I would be at my grandma's in a terraced house I would be sat on the seat with a crisp sandwich and a cup of tea with too many sugars in, I used to watch shows like Morecambe and Wise, The Two Ronnies, 3, 2, 1, The Generation Game and This is Your Life.

"Towards the end of the 80s light entertainment was a negative, but to me that was heavy entertainment and I wanted to be in that box with those people, walking amongst the gods. And here I am – I want to be this generations Dusty Bin."

The album features songs co-written with Ed Sheeran, Brandon Flowers from The Killers, Grammy-winning songwriter Stuart Price as well as Robbie’s long-time collaborator Guy Chambers. Music from deceased composers Sergei Prokofiev and Serge Gainsbourg also feature on the record From Above.

Robbie described the album's title track, The Heavy Entertainment Show as “bombastic, grandiose, silly, theatrical and glorious."

The album includes trademark Robbie anthems like Bruce Lee and Party Like a Russian, as well as softer ballads like Love my Life and Marry Me, but also showcases Robbie's creative hunger to produce bold and quirky records. Pretty Women has an electro-pop feel, while Hotel Crazy, where he duets with Rufus Wainwright, offers a new sound.

Robbie also teams up with John Grant on I Don’t Want to Hurt You and revealed he has recorded a second single with Kylie Minogue. "It's called Disco Symphony. It resides in my back pocket ready for deployment at the correct time."

Does he have a dream Irish artist he would like to collaborate with?

"I'd love to do something with U2 but if they are not available Niall [Horan] will do. I think I just wrote the lyric for it."

Robbie, of course, isn't just a singer, but an entertainer and his gigs are renowned for razzamataz and humour. "I can't sing so I've got to do something," he joked, revealing that performing is in his genes.

"My dad is a comedian and singer. There was a TV series back in the 70s called Opportunity Knocks with Hugie Green and my dad won his round. My dad is my hero and I've been trying to live up to my hero's worth ever since."

Robbie has many fond memories of partying in Ireland – he described the Belfast leg of his Swings Both Ways Tour in 2014 as the "best" of the entire tour and his Phoenix Park gig in 2003 which was Ireland's biggest ever concert. However, it was a party in Bono's house which he regards as his biggest party memory on these shores.

"It was during, let's call it, my psychadelic period. I was in Bono's house and it was late and I was elsewhere and I was looking at the best painting in the world. Then Bono appeared and I told him he had the best f***ing painting I'd ever seen and he's like 'Robbie that's the window'. Stuff happens in Ireland," he laughs.

So why do the Irish love him so much?

"They seem to have taken me to their heart more than most. There is definitely a kinship – I'm half Farrell and I come from Kilkenny. But maybe it's because I'm f**king great," he proclaims.

Despite his cockiness, Robbie still possesses that element of self-doubt that has, at times, blighted his successful career.

"I'm like one of those horses who have won one or two races and then all of a sudden they won't go into the stall because something spooked them. I never know when or where that is going to be, but most nights I go on stage and have a communion with my audience which is beyond words. Then some nights it's terrifying and I'm really tired."

Speaking candidly about his struggles with drugs and mental illness, Robbie confessed: "In 2006 I went into rehab and retired – but I didn't tell anybody. I was lying to myself. I grew a beard and looked like a serial killer, hunted for UFOs and got really fat. My brain and my body turned to Swiss cheese.

"A man needs a purpose and the gift I gave to myself is that in 2009 I got on the wobbly bike again and I can't stop. I am just predisposed to do this thing and go out there and try to do it to the best of my abilities. It's in my DNA – I try to entertain, go forward and take the wife and kids with me."

The singer, who has two children with his wife, Ayda Field, is thoroughly enjoying family life. "Whereas before I was going along bumping into walls, turning up in places to sing to people and going what does this all mean. Now I'm a working dad and everything makes sense now."

:: The Heavy Entertainment Show is out now on Columbia Records. Tickets for Robbie Williams at Dublin's Aviva Stadium on June 17 go on general sale on November 11 via RobbieWilliams.com.