Two birthday cakes, apparently both vegan, one bearing a large “RW”, adorn the table where Robbie Williams is to give a media conference in Auckland on the day of his 44th birthday. For at least 20 minutes before he appears, the gathered media are treated to a video featuring concert clips, and comments from other performers extolling Robbie’s virtues. It all seems in keeping as we wait for the performer who once released an album called The Ego Has Landed. MC Mikey Havoc gilds this lily with references to a super duper duper star who is to bless us with his presence.
Then a young woman sings Happy Birthday in Maori, and there he is, looking fit and relaxed and as at ease in front of the media as you would expect from a man who started performing at the age of 16.
And what do you get from the pop artist who is frequently referenced as Britain’s biggest selling solo pop artist? Does that ego present itself as cheeky and endearing, or does it verge to the brash and arrogant? Check out Crave’s link to a video of the media conference and judge for yourself, but I found Robbie Williams to be engaging, self deprecating and genuinely funny. Now that he’s not as popular as he once was, he says, he plays indoor arenas, a boon in times of bad weather. Hard not to like the bloke.
Yes, he says, he’s the same as any artist. He wants to be liked and accepted. But the way to do that, by what we see today, is not to give bland answers that won’t ruffle any feathers, but to be candid. So he openly (albeit briefly) refers to his early hedonistic self destructive ways, and his answer to a question about his sexuality, and the period when many speculated he might be gay, is perhaps the highlight. Sure, it’s an answer he’s probably given many times before, but it has an authenticity about it. He says where he grew up, “gay” was often a derogatory term. This was in the midst of a male environment where you wore one of two types of shoes, either boots to kick with, or trainers to run away from the kicking. But when he and his Take That mates started performing, their first gigs were in gay clubs. Here, men were non threatening and friendly. No he wasn’t gay, but if he is a popular artist among the gay community, you can see why.
Williams dallies with the media, playing along with them where required, although (justifiably) he calls out what appears to be a stunt gone wrong from one local radio station. He gives his pick for the next National Party leader – this being the day the current leader announced his retirement – and hugs another questioner who tells a story of how years earlier she was apparently let down by members of the Take That band.
Robbie Williams says he wants to keep on performing for as long as he can. Now fuelled by better health, thanks to “veganism and yoganism”, this is his fifth visit to New Zealand. Today you still see a glint in his eye, reflecting the buzz that comes from being in front of cameras. You wouldn’t want to bet against him coming back here for a sixth tour.