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
Neil: How're you doing?
Robbie: I'm good. You sound a million miles away. Are you
Neil: I'm in Chelsea.
Robbie: Yes, I'm
at Hook End recording some vocals For my album.
How's it going, the album?
Robbie: It's going really
well. What's this? This is an
Interview for Interview,
Neil: It's you and me talking. For
about life, love...
Robbie life, love and stuff. How's
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.
Well I'm in that now
Neil Why are you going through
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.
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.
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?
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...
[musingly], "Tigger Tennant"...
Neil: ...they read out
Winnie the Pooh...
Robbie:. That’s really nice, that
Neil: I know, I always quite liked it.
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
Robbie: What did they call you there'?
Neil: They med to call me "poof' there.
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
Neil: It used to make me feel angry. It made
me think. "ah. Hut just you wait and see
you dance to disco, and you don’t like rock.
Robbie: That’s 'shy you came up with those
Neil: It made me what I am today.
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?
I didn't get very much actually. I tried to organise, as a
good socialist...I tried to organise a strike of the
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
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
Robbie: It still is. It was like, you get up and
half past five in the morning...
Neil: Uh...it's cold
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.
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
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
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.
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
Neil: Is it anything to do with your father, do
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
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
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
Neil: On a lighter note: will you ever
get over Take That?
Robbie: Will I ever get over Take
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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...
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.
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?
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]
And my hair was henna’s red.
Robbie: Henna red?
Neil: You know, it was henna’s.
Robbie: Was it long
Neil: No, it wasn't either long or short.
Robbie: What were you listening to at the time?
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,
Robbie: See, I missed out on a lot of
the cool things.Neil: They weren't necessarily
cool...Kraftwerk was cool...
Robbie: Kraftwerk was
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
Neil: Do you listen to your mother's record
Robbie: No, I found Dr Hook by myself.Neil:
Robbie: Which I'm very proud of.
Robbie: And I just bought...
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
Neil: I don't, no.
Robbie: I've never been
a big Dr Rook fan; I've got to say.
enough, the last time I spoke for Interview magazine, I
was being interviewed, this is very uncanny, by Rufus
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
Robbie: And not know
who you like, what you like, and why people are speaking
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...
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,
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.
Loudon Wainwright took it from Woody Gutbrie.
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
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...
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.
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
Robbie: I've had to give somebody fifteen
grand to go sway once...
Neil: What for?
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.
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
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
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.
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]
felt he was doing quite a successful audition. But that
song's become a standard, hasn't it?
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
Robbie: It is another modem standard.
Neil: It's not great though, is it?
isn't good to be linked with the two.
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
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:?
No, you know there's the famous book by Freud, or was it
Jung on the interpretation of dreams.
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
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
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
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
- 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
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
Neil: Rave you got a new girlfriend
Neil: But I read in the papers
that you did.
Robbie: Well there you go,
Neil: Yes, that's right.
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.
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?
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?
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
Robbie: "Being Boring".
Neil: And then "Se A
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
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.
she's everywhere. Yeah, she lives in London now
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.
fact, she lives quite near where I'm speaking to you from
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
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.
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
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
Robbie: Row do you manage that, doesn't it pick
Neil: Well we managed to stay away from it.
Robbie: How did you manage to do that?
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?
in my closet?
Robbie: You don't own a closet, do
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
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
Neil: I know, I believe.
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
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.
you still haven't answered my question. Have you got any
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
Robbie: I made all that up.
Neil: Oh good.
Robbie: Yeah. I made all that up. No, we never had any
Neil: I believed every word of that, as well. I
was just thinking, "Robbie's had a tragic life, hasn't
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
hotel do you like in New York?
Neil: The Mercer, of
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.
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.
Who did I bump into? Owned Patron was in there, Goldie
Hewn... what's his name? Seined.
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".
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
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
Neil: No I think it's probably a bit
of a myth.
Robbie: Yeah, I don't think he can afford
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
Robbie: Yeah, I do.
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
Neil: America either
happens or it doesn't really, for people.
do you get on there? Do you sell records there?
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.
read that book.
Copyright Areagraphy Ltd 2000: All
Articles have been
Taken From Literally 2000 Issue 23