ROBBIE WILLIAMS is sitting alone in a sprawling hotel suite at Crown Towers, almost 40 stories above the Melbourne skyline. “It’s as if Scrooge McDuck in the ’80s had a hotel suite of his own,” says Williams, admiring the stunning view and the sheer size of the blank TV that reflects his silhouette. It’s 8.30 on a Thursday night. A half-eaten plate of sushi sits in front of him, alongside a giant platter of oranges.
Williams is two days out from cancelling a concert and going into self-isolation due to COVID-19. Just like the rest of us, he’ll try his best to shield himself and loved ones from an invisible, indiscriminate menace. It’s unchartered territory for everybody but it’s perhaps a particularly novel experience for Williams, a man more used to grappling with a formidable collection of internal demons – depression, anxiety, alcoholism, drugs, body dysmorphia, sex addiction and agoraphobia – that have haunted him throughout his iconic 30-year career. “I’m addicted to anything that changes the way I feel,” he says plainly. “You know, I haven’t had a drink for 20 years. I haven’t done cocaine for a long, long, long time. But I will always drift towards self-sabotage. There’s a magnetic North. And in that magnetic North is just self-destruction.”
And yet here he is, as irrepressible and irreverent as ever. One of the most successful British solo artists of all time with 12 No.1 albums and over 75 million records sold globally, Williams has either beaten or brokered a truce with most of his vices. The one exception and, indeed, the hardest one to combat, is food. But with the help of WW (formerly Weight Watchers), he’s well on the way to reaching a détente with that one, too. “I probably have to live a life that other people will find extreme,” he says, speaking slowly and deliberately. “But not extreme in a bad way. Just like, ‘Okay. A, B and C are making me feel really guilty and full of shame, where I don’t want to go out because I don’t look my best and I don’t want people to see me. So, what am I going to do to guard against feeling like that?’ I look after myself.”
This points-tallying, step-counting version of Williams is something of a revelation. He notched up 13,000 steps today playing 18 holes of golf, he tells me proudly. At first, he was mystified as to why that was 2000 fewer than the previous day before deciding it must have been a reflection of his performance. “I realised I hit it straighter today,” he laughs.
This is what happens to popstars if they get old. If you manage to survive the crucible of super fame and its chorus line of potential saboteurs – decadence, debauchery, self-denial and destruction – you’re going to be transformed. Because Lord knows, when you’ve soared as high and sunk as low as Williams has, if you do make it to the other side, you can’t help but be a better man.
MH: You’re in the best shape of your life. Can you explain to us how you got there?
RW: Well, it’s a process of elimination. Also, unfortunately, it has been a case of progress, not perfection. The progress has been millimetre by millimetre. And then it’s been a case of three steps forward, five steps back on the way to finding some sort of balance. I’m naturally inclined to do extreme things that don’t work to my benefit. You know, slimming pills, restricting what you eat, all of the above. Everything that you can possibly imagine, other than educating yourself properly.
I’ve released 13 albums. At the start, this is how it would run for me. I’d start an album, do the promo and I wouldn’t have eaten anything. So I’m thin. And by the time Christmas comes and I’m three months into it, I’m fat. Then I’d spend the next six months trying to lose the weight that I gained from the previous three months, to varying degrees of success and failure. I just got fucking sick of the cycle of mental torture, shame and guilt.
But I’m 46 and I walked through the horizon. I thought that as a 21-year-old with very low self-esteem, huge depression, no self-worth, that I would walk through the horizon and when I’d get there, everything would be fixed. I’ve come to realise that food is the last thing for me to conquer to actually feel whole and content. I wish that I would have reached this place 15 years ago, but I didn’t. But now, I am here. Today has been a very successful day with what I’ve eaten and hopefully tomorrow will be a very successful day, too.
MH: The way you’re talking about food – day by day and vicious cycles – it sounds like you could be talking about any number of substances. Would you group it with the other things that you’ve struggled with?
RW: Oh, absolutely. I’m an addict. But as a 46-year-old with four children and a wonderful wife, I now have laser-accuracy purpose. Daddy goes to work. Daddy has to be the best version of himself. My wife’s husband has to be loving and caring and not grumpy and miserable, to the best of his ability. There was a person that I always thought that I could be, but it was camouflaged and bogged down underneath so much shit that it was becoming impossible to be that person. As it happens, the person that I always thought I could be, I’m becoming. But fuck me. It’s taken its time. But it’s here now and it’s a blessing and it’s beautiful. It’s just a shame that in my prime and in my pomp, I was just completely and utterly devastated with depression and misery.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
THE GOOD FIGHT
When the going gets tough . . . the tough put others first. Here we salute some of the more selfless and courageous responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Why? Because hope and optimism are catchy. And in this time of crisis it’s worth remembering that the virus isn’t the only thing that spreads
TAKE REMOTE CONTROL
Working from home using furniture that isn’t built-for-purpose could take a toll on your body. MH editor Scott Henderson went hunting for solutions
The eye-catching star of the track has stopped running from a troubled past and is doing things her way. Get used to it
SNACK SIZED - WORKOUTS
Purpose-built for the busy man, micro workouts could make you stronger, fitter and more mobile. The best part? You can do them in self-isolation and integrate them into your working day
ENTER THE BEAST
Big, fast and ultra high-performing, Mercedes’ latest offering could make a grown man cry
KUMAIL NANJIANI CAN DO ANYTHING
TRANSFORM HIS WHOLE BODY. REIMAGINE A MARVEL HERO. REDEFINE THE ROLE OF LEADING MAN. AND (OF COURSE) MAKE US LAUGH
HOW 25 YEARS OF THE GEORGE FOREMAN GRILL CHANGED HOW MEN COOK
What happens when an ageing prizefighter, a quirky gadget and iconic ’90s marketing combine to take over the world?
Pop superstar Robbie Williams got in fighting shape while beating his mental demons into submission. Here he reveals how he pulled off perhaps the biggest transformation of them all
How To Change Your Story
For a third of my life, I lived in an endless replay of the story of how I never measured up – a loop that kept me locked in a spiral of shame and meaningless hustling. Then I got the nudge to do some fact-checking
Good Guy, Bad Drinker
When booze is involved, you might not be as charming as you think you are
WHAT ARE COGNITIVE DISTORTIONS ANYWAY?
What are cognitive distortions and why might you be interested in them?
An Elegantly DIY Williamsburg Apartment With a Vreeland-Red Wall
Taylor Angino and Kiko Sih’s place is always evolving.
ATHLEISURE LIST: Williamsburg, BK WINONA'S
Winona's launched last month in Williamsburg, BK. With a nod to this family-owned business with British roots. It has a focus on clean flavors and locally sourced ingredients.
This Moment in Time
As we move through these darker winter months let us remember that we are stronger than we think.
Legendary announcer defends DC Williams
It was hard to find anybody to defend former Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams for his ill-fated all-out blitz at the end the Jets’ recent loss to the Las Vegas Raiders.
Arranged marriage doomed to fail
WHAT WE ARE HEARING
Stat! Medical News & Info
Physical Activity at Any Intensity Linked to Lower Risk of Early Death
Letters, icons, and illustrations that speak in a hand-drawn language
March to Washington
NIKEMA WILLIAMS ISN’T AS WELL KNOWN AS STACEY ABRAMS, BUT THE WOMAN WHO WILL FILL JOHN LEWIS’ SEAT REPRESENTS A DIFFERENT—AND FORMIDABLE— KIND OF POWER.
Leo the Lion
Leonard Williams is eating through the competition and right into a new contract