Robbie Williams is on a diet he's found easy to follow. He calls it his "not eating anything you like" diet. "No cake, no crisps, no chocolate," he said this week. "Surprisingly easier than I thought it would be. Well, easy when you've got a record coming out and you don't want to look like the Michelin Man." It's been three years since Williams' last album, Rudebox, was released. At the time, it failed to match the enormous success of the star's previous releases (EMI has refused to provide sales figures for it).
In his downtime, Williams moved to Los Angeles, put on weight, grew a beard, dated the model Ayda Field, told the world about his bipolarity, made a documentary about UFOs, went into rehab to fight an addiction to prescription medication and got a suntan. But now, we are told, his period of rest is officially over. On October 12, he will release the new single Bodies, to be followed by his new album, Reality Killed the Video Star, on November 9. After that, he will tour.
Given that in his career to date Williams has sold 55 million CDs, set records for ticket sales and won more Brit Awards than any artist, this news has been met with rejoicing by an ailing UK music industry. "A new Robbie Williams album is very welcome," says Paul Williams, the editor of the industry magazine Music Week. "Robbie is one of the most successful artists of the last decade or more." It's also a little surprising. In January 2008, Williams went "on strike" against his record company, EMI (which is owned by the investor Guy Hands), and refused to produce another album, saying he was being treated unfairly. Now it seems they have patched up their differences. So why did Williams spend so long away and why is he coming back now?
"He was exhausted - emotionally, spiritually, physically," says the songwriter and journalist Adrian Deevoy, who wrote songs with Williams for his 2002 CD Escapology (the album sold seven million copies). "The amount of pressure on him to deliver can be almost too much for a mere human to take. He needed to rest and figure out what was happening in his life outside of the entertainment business. "Plus, those UFOs aren't going to find themselves."
It's nothing to do with the vast success of the recent Take That comeback, which produced a hit album, Circus, and the fastest selling tour in history? Perhaps Williams, 35, was still feeling competitive with his former band mates? "I think relations between Take That and Robbie Williams are cordial," Paul Williams says. "I have interviewed Gary Barlow a few times in the last year and he always speaks warmly of him."
"I don't think Robbie needs to compete," Deevoy adds. "I think he wants to make a great record. I was talking to a friend last night and he asked why Robbie was making a comeback now and he seemed surprised by the response: 'It's what he does.'" Williams worked with his old songwriting partner Guy Chambers as well as the producer Trevor Horn, who famously sang the hit Video Killed the Radio Star referenced on the title of Williams' forthcoming album. According to Deevoy, the choice of producer is inspired.