Robbie was the only one in Take That. A year or so ago they had a rather poignant documentary about the band deciding to reunite and tour and wondering, the other four that is, whether Robbie was on for it. Of course he wasn't, but they were hoping against hope, half believing that he'd join them in their reunion hotel. So the film moves from their encampment to Robbie at home, everybody being seriously emotional. Robbie said he'd only ever wanted their difficult-seeming manager to love him. He went on to say that Gary Barlow, who he'd been unflattering about for years, was talented and deserving. But the hard reality was that Robbie Williams never budged from Notting Hill. He was the only member to have made the Great World, and he wasn't going back. The others had nice enough places. Barlow had a big provincial spread somewhere Northern. There was something Grade II listed-looking in the Lake District and a West Country beach house. They had all done tolerably well but it sounded as if they weren't set up for life. But Robbie had a huge EMI contract worth £80m they said, one of those 10-ton new Rolls-Royces and a place with the cosmocrats in W11.
Robbie Williams always played it both ways, being authentic with Oasis and mainstream pop elsewhere, being interesting, "vulnerable", fat and thin in interviews, but completely triumphalist on stage. Swaggery and pimp-rolling but at the same time completely Olde Englishy camp, he worked on many levels, had lots of sub-texts and reference points for cultural studies types, RW's a favourite thesis subject and kept more people interested than his output might warrant. Somehow he'd Hoovered up London in the late 1990s becoming a metropolitan, getting to scale, learning what you had to do. Which meant being anthemic, an international stadium act, but being able to flex it with moments of 1940s pastiche, with videos that looked more like Frankie Goes To Hollywood than, say, Radiohead. Even the dull middle-class audience that loves dull middle-class acts like Coldplay could never completely dismiss him, could never deny the CD in the rack or singing along to "Angels". Now it's difficult to imagine what it's like for Robbie, though I suspect it feels like coasting, he's in a T-Mobile commercial. It's an ad that looks as if it's made to run wherever he's got a High Recognition factor.