Robbie Williams review: The pop icon like you’ve never seen him before
If there’s one celebrity documentary you plan to watch this year, it’s this one.
Robbie Williams became a household name in 1990 when he joined Take That, and he has dominated television screens, Spotify Wrapped stats and the front page of newspapers ever since – but at what cost?
The new self-titled documentary set out with a mission to unfurl the pop icon, from the 16-year-old cheeky Take That band member to the entertainer he is today. And it has done just that.
Quite simply, Robbie Williams sits in front of a laptop watching never-before-seen footage of his years rising to stardom, but it is so much more than that. From tough topics such as addiction and mental health struggles, the four-part series shows audiences just who Robbie Williams is in his own words.
Filming over 45 days, the documentary is a rollercoaster, with the first episode looking back on Williams’s time in Take That and the toll it took on him being shot to fame before he was barely an adult. Viewers see Williams first deal with the fame attached to his name – something he says himself became "too much" at times.
While admitting it was "fun" being in Take That, nothing prepared him for what was to come. Told through a mixture of shots of the archived footage and Williams watching it back, you begin to see the stress the levels of fame created.
I couldn't help but feel sympathy for him when he said: "Externally, I'm sure I would've been full of bravado and trying to look as through I think I'm the man. But it was a complete dunking into the grown-up world that I wasn't ready for."
Noting how "relentless" the workload of being in a band as big as Take That was, we soon see, as Williams describes, the "wheels" coming off and his departure from the band.
As director Joe Pearlman told RadioTimes.com, there is "nothing normal" about being famous. Whether it be having 100,000 people screaming your name at you in a crowd, having the world give their opinion of you without really knowing you.
When Williams teams up with Guy Chambers and creates his first album, Life Thru a Lens, it seems everything is on track, but the singer is still battling his own demons.
It made me realise that most of us are completely naïve to the fact that celebrities are real people too, even though it can be easy to blur the lines because of their privileged lifestyle compared to ours, and this documentary gives an insight into the human Robbie Williams, rather than the entertainer we have grown up listening to over the years.
More like this
As I watch through the documentary, all in one sitting, I'm stopped in my tracks during Robbie Williams's Close Encounters tour.
As the episode begins and Robbie gets ready to watch the footage, he tells the camera: "I'm about to watch somebody having a nervous mental breakdown."
- Robbie Williams was “belittled” for discussing mental health in the '90s
- Robbie Williams doc: 'Most raw and honest portrayal of a star's life’
When Williams takes the stage at Leeds all seems well, until he comes offstage following the encore. Williams tells the cameras: "I came off for the encore and I never wanted to go back onstage ever again.
"I couldn't speak and I kept shaking and I went, 'I was going through trauma'. We got back to the hotel and everybody's world ended. I just couldn't feel anything other than guilt."
It's clear things became all too much for the singer, yet the overbearing guilt of affecting everyone else is what hangs over him.
Within the archived footage, Williams admits the fame is getting too much, something he describes as "unnatural and unreal".
The documentary makes it vividly clear how difficult it can be for someone to be thrust into stardom, especially at an age as young as 16.
As director Joe Pearlman told RadioTimes.com: "I think that that sort of says it all about celebrities doesn't it? We expect you to be happy and because you have the privilege, the money, the house, the cars and the fandom. There's nothing normal about that.
There's nothing normal 100,000 people standing in front of you screaming your name back at you. There's nothing normal about that. Nothing about that. So imagine what that does to a person.”
In the docuseries, we see a happy young lad whose life gets completely turned upside down, something not every 16-year-old can say they have experienced, and it could serve as a very big warning for those vying for fame.
The episode features an interview with Field, who describes the moment she met Williams, their subsequent split and the moment he realised she was the one.
While many people only see Field and Williams as a celebrity couple, the documentary highlights how much they are there for one another.
Once Williams left rehab in 2009, he travelled the world with Field and his friends, and realised he had found someone he felt he could be in a relationship with. They were married a year later.
"She sees the best in me and I see the best in her," Williams tells the camera.
Another touching moment in the documentary is in episode 4, where Williams looks back on his reunion with Take That.
With all feuds a thing of the past, the bandmates all reunite for a tour that many people, including Williams, will never forget.
"I felt like pop star Robbie Williams and rejoining Take That was a vitally important part of my journey to where I am now," He said.
While I wish there were more episodes of Williams's journey with Take That, director Joe Pearlman offers a valid point.
"We've been able to distil and make a really important story that doesn't feel long and that feels immersive and feels like you're really part of one's journey as you go through it. Which may have suffered slightly if it was longer if we did more," he told RadioTimes.com.
The documentary captures an entertainer who only wants to do right by his fans and those around him, all while dealing with his own demons.
Told in his own words, Williams controls the narrative of his life, which has been spoken about by millions for years. And while it's dark, a difficult watch at times, it's essential viewing to gain perspective on how fame and stardom isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Try Radio Times magazine today and get 10 issues for only £10 – subscribe now and celebrate the 60th anniversary of Doctor Who with a special issue of Radio Times. For more from the biggest stars in TV, listen to The Radio Times Podcast.