Everybody has that song that defined their adolescence, and Robbie Williams’ Feel, the lead single from his fifth studio album, Escapology, was mine. It encapsulates his struggles to find true love, which was a theme that struck a chord with me, despite being only a teenager, and realistically, in no real hurry to find the love of my life. (The search continues!) Particularly resonant was the line, “There’s a hole in my soul, you can see it in my face, it’s a real big place,” which at the time, I thought, summed up my melancholy perspective of myself in the world. From Feel, I latched onto the second single from Escapology, a song called Come Undone, and the line “So self aware, so full of shit” really struck home, too; you couldn’t find a better way to describe my opinion of myself. And to this day, if both songs are offered as karaoke options, you can guarantee I’ll belt them out proudly. Liking Robbie Williams was never especially cool (for reasons I couldn’t fathom), but then, being cool was never really on the table for me in my youth, so we fit like a glove, and Robbie’s oscillation between brutal self-deprecation and fake bravado made him a figure I could relate to. Whatever music he releases, I will buy. There’s that connection there, forged in my formative years.
Just as important to me as his music was Robbie’s first biography, Feel, also written with Chris Heath. You know how some people say Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye was fundamental to their adolescence? That was Robbie’s Feel for me. I savoured the unparalleled access into the thoughts of this grand entertainer. It wasn’t his struggles with alcohol and drugs that impacted me most; it was the demons that constantly resurfaced, telling him he was shit, that his success was undeserved; his insights into how be combatted immense stage fright, and both lusted after his fandom, and despited it, often simultaneously. The book affected me, pure and simple, and I still have my battered copy on my shelf. I haven’t re-read it in a while, but I’ll often skim its pages, which always reminds me of where I was at that particular juncture in my life.
Skip forward more than a decade later, and my almost-thirty-year-old-self was thrilled when Reveal, the sequel to Feel, was announced. And I’m so happy it’s just as raw and honest as its predecessor. The book goes into Robbie’s brief retirement, when his struggles with substance abuse resurfaced, and then his resurgence, with the release of his latest album The Heavy Entertainment Show. We learn about how he has dealt with fatherhood, the precarious beginnings of his relationship with his now-wife Ayda, and how he continues to fight the never-ending battle against the self-doubt that plagues him. Robbie is very self aware, and is entirely cognisant of the new landscape of pop stars, who are moulded on television shows like X-Factor, and how his place has changed, now that he’s a 42-year-old, and a veteran of the industry. His neuroses, however much they have haunted him, have moulded Robbie Williams into the grand entertainer he is, which he both despairs about, and appreciates. Reading Reveal, just like Feel, you understand Robbie is constantly battling himself, and while it would be great, perhaps, if the bad thoughts faded, he wouldn’t have achieved the success he has without those spilt personalities fighting for headspace.
This is a book that Robbie Williams fans will lap up and love. It’s incredibly entertaining, and his dedication to rebuilding his career is utterly enthralling. Oh, sure, it’s not going to win over the haters, but they won’t have plonked down the cash for Reveal in the first place. For the rest of us, the fans, the ones that matter, we’re just delighted to have Robbie back making music, and allowing us further insight into his life. Chris Heath’s book delivers a sympathetic and honest portrait that fully captures the private and public life of this singular entertainer.
Publisher: Bonnier Publishing Australia
Imprint: Echo Publishing
Publication date: September 2017
Produced in: Australia
Availability date: September 2017