London | Netflix documentary series about Robbie Williams: “Too much, too soon”

London (dpa) – Robbie Williams once became known as a member of the boy band Take That. After his departure, the British singer became one of Europe’s most popular pop stars, whose success even exceeded that of his former bandmates. But behind the facade of the superstar with the mischievous grin who thrilled tens of thousands of people in football stadiums, there was a person plagued by self-doubt and mental problems. In a new one Netflix documentary series “Robbie Williams” the 49-year-old gives a very intimate insight into his soul and private life.

“As an artist, or rather as a celebrity who gives interviews, I constantly reveal a lot about myself,” says Williams in an interview with the German Press Agency in London and grins. “That’s because I’m not smart enough not to.” The four-part series is “a continuation of what I do publicly anyway,” he says, “namely sharing far too much of myself.”

For the documentary, he had himself filmed while at home – mostly in bed – watching and commenting on several hours of archive material from the last 33 years. From early dance exercises on the garage entrance to holiday videos, recordings from photo shoots, from the studio or backstage, old interviews to concert recordings, there is a lot of exciting things to see.

Almost grew up with the camera running

The amount of footage is impressive. Since the age of 16, when he became a member of Take That, there was always a camera rolling. “I don’t know why,” says Williams himself, somewhat surprised. «I didn’t question it. It was just normal. There was no instruction from me to management that people had to film me every hour of the day.” However, he also sometimes filmed himself, apparently an outlet in difficult moments.

Williams sums up in the series that he experienced “too much, too soon” and is often self-critical. In some recordings he found it difficult to relive the moments, such as when he suffered a panic attack during a gigantic concert in front of 90,000 people in Leeds. He managed to hide his condition from the audience. But in the close-up you can see that he wasn’t feeling well. Nevertheless, he was back on stage the next evening in front of 90,000 spectators.

It is well known that this – and the constant, aggressive criticism from the British tabloid press – had a negative impact on his mental health. Williams suffered from burnout and depression, drank too much alcohol and took too many pills. Just when he met his current wife, Ayda, he suffered a relapse. “I had a feeling that maybe it would be best if I left this world,” admits Williams. Thanks to Ayda, with whom he now has four children, he got the hang of things.

Separations and breaks

The singer speaks openly about the failed relationships with colleagues Nicole Appleton from All Saints and Geri Halliwell (now Horner) from the Spice Girls. He talks about the break with his long-time musical partner Guy Chambers, with whom he reconciled. “We talked briefly about the breakup, but I don’t remember how it went,” he jokes. “We are friends.”

Chambers is not the only one with whom the superstar has had a falling out at times. Scenes in which he insults his former Take That colleagues – particularly Gary Barlow – make Williams noticeably uncomfortable. “I wish I hadn’t said that,” he admits with a pained expression. But when it comes to Take That, as is well known, there was a happy ending. “They are my brothers,” he says. “I really love her.”

The temporary return to the band was also “a vital step” in getting to where he is now. “It wasn’t clear to me at the time what impact that would have,” says Williams in the dpa interview. “I was full of anger, bitterness, anger and frustration. And I got rid of all that, it was buried.” He was also grateful to be able to “hide” on stage next to the other four band members.

One-sided view

A small drawback of the series is that apart from Robbie Williams himself and his wife Ayda, no one gets to speak, apart from old interviews. It would have been interesting and exciting to hear the perspective of Gary Barlow, Guy Chambers, Geri Halliwell or others involved who would have rounded out the bigger picture. Nevertheless, the four episodes are very entertaining and a little nostalgic, especially thanks to the countless archive recordings.

For Robbie Williams himself, the series, which starts on Netflix on Wednesday, had a “cleansing” effect, as he says. However, when asked how he is feeling mentally today, he thinks for a moment. «The last four weeks have been really good. But I don’t know why,” says the singer. “I’ll be 50 next year and I hope that I can finally put many of the things that aren’t good for me behind me.” Then Williams shows his trademark grin again. «But in order for something to change, you have to change yourself. And I’m a bit lazy when it comes to taking care of my own mental health.”

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