That old edict of ‘too much too young’ might go a long way to explain rise and fall and eventual rise again of Robbie Williams if this new Netflix documentary series is anything to go by.
Leaving school with no qualifications he joined the band Take That when he was only 16 and, by his own admission, the baby of the group. So when the band took off it was with a success that far exceeded anyone’s expectations. And that success has continued to varying degrees throughout his adult life and consequently it’s all documented by all media formats. This four part series sees the singer wandering around in a vest and his underpants in his huge LA mansion watching the extensive footage that covered every aspect of his waking day for the best part of thirty years and its clearly and somewhat ironically in light of his addictions, a sobering experience for him. So it’s an excellent device to get him to talk openly about what he is shown, warts and all.
From the very starts that handsome cheeky chappie persona he was always going to be the stand out in the band but he is the first to admit his resentment almost from the start towards Gary Barlow who management who wanted the songwriter front and centre.
Each episode cold be labelled as rise, solo stardom, fall, rise again but it’s the second and third episodes that are best. With his enforced break from the band and the hairs breadth away from solo career catastrophe before the single Angels salvaged it before the drink drugs and ego ruined it. And yet despite the immense success he had at the peak of it all his life was never his own and the impact of his fame and lack of privacy took its toll on his mental health and there’s a tellingly candid moment when he admits that at his most famous he was also his most sad. It’s understandable. The paparazzi never left him alone in the UK and a relationship he had with Geri Halliwell he saw as a deliriously happy time for him penning the song ‘Eternity’ in gratitude for the happiness she gave him at the time only to hear that she had been tipping off the paparazzi as to whatever location they might be going. What fragile trust he had in people was almost irretrievably broken
His self-proclaimed The Ego has Landed does him no favours either notably with his songwriting partnership with Guy Chambers who co-wrote many if not all of his very best songs that made him the solo star. Williams dismissal of him seeing it as a way of setting himself free but perhaps for him more importantly as he was now in full control seems callous.
But it’s the third episode that really brings it home that despite all the success, the fame and the adoration he was at breaking point. The British press, who had helped build him up, now savaged him and there’s a defining image when the documentary shows him moments from starting a performance in Leeds where he is doing his best to keep a panic attack in check and what appears on stage is a frightened, lonely bewildered man and it is all there on his face as he does is best to hold back the tears. A superstar with everything yet nothing
Directed by Joe Pearlman whose previous pop documentaries have included the infamous ‘Bros : After the Screaming Stops’ and this latest from his hands goes behind the persona Williams wears so well yet hides a fragile man who has found a stability in his life by relocating to LA , marrying actress Ayda Field with whom they have four children. The series is solely him talking about his life as he watches it back on his laptop with his wife later speaking about their relationship and only one of his children appears as she occasionally interrupts his confessional. It would have been good to have had some input from his parents because, in fairness, where were they when it was all falling apart for their son when he was going into rehab but In a world of talentless ‘influencers’ clambering for fame it’s a sobering tale but despite all his demons you can’t help but secretly liking Robbie even if he appearance here does see him begin to morph into a latter day Morrissey.
related feature : Greatest Days – review – the Take That movie
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Here’s the Robbie Williams trailer….