"I hate fame. It's not all it's cracked up to be. I think I'm going mad. I just want to find a nice woman and settle down. I don't know why people buy my records." Another day, another Robbie revelation. It would be difficult to find a more contradictory, vain, egotistical pop star than Robbie Williams. It would also be difficult to find a more brilliant showman and one whose refreshingly honest personality seems to have drawn him to the bosom of the nation as the country's top pop star.
When the former fat dancer from Take That (c. Noel Gallagher) decided to quit Britain's best selling boyband in 1995 little was given for his chances of solo stardom. Our Stoke-on-Trent born hero had always played the cheeky chappie role to perfection within the band but solo success was quite a different matter. And anyway, everyone's money was on Take That songwriter Gary Barlow to crack solo stardom. Up until then only George Michael had successfully made the transition from teen pop pin-up to mature solo artist and Robbie announced his intentions to go down the same route with his debut single, 1996's George Michael cover, Freedom '96. Sandbagged by legal hassles, a booze addiction and a fast food intake that would have made Michelle McManus blush, Robbie still managed to reach No.2 in the charts, beaten to the top by the Spice Girls' debut, Wannabe.
Following a spell in a detox clinic, Robbie emerged seemingly wiser and definitely slimmer, blinking into the sunshine and walking straight into a recording studio to lay down his debut album, Life Thru A Lens, written together with his sideman, songwriter Guy Chambers.
The comparative critical failure of the album's first few singles didn't bode well even though they were chart hits. Old Before I Die was greeted with cries of "sub-Oasis rock" while the quirky latin rock of South Of The border and the psychedelic Beatles-esque haze of Lazy Days didn't fill the critics with glee.