Sandringham Estate August 26, 2023
by Tracey Bagshaw
The music that sets the scene before the star of the show bounds onto the stage – a vision in gold sequins – is Elvis singing “A little less conversation, a little more action”.
But that’s not a mantra Robbie Williams is living by tonight as his two-hour set is around a 50/50 mix of the two.
It’s often been asked if Williams is a tortured genius or just a bit of a twat. He wouldn’t still be doing his thing if he didn’t have bags of talent, but he’s often come across as a bit cocky and self-centred.
But tonight – the first of two shows here in two days – the songs and the swagger are interspersed with amusing, self-deprecating and often raw tales of his 33 years in showbiz. The agoraphobia, the addictions, the body dysmorphia (it’s all mirrored in his lyrics, if you care to listen)… and it’s a brutally honest summary of all the challenges he’s faced.
There are videos of early Take That, those baby-faced boys with the world at their feet – with Williams taking the piss out of the “unnecessarily complicated” dance steps and calling it a “shit video” that should never have been made.
And he answers cat-calls from the crowd by telling us that “nobody wants to see my arse now, it’s all saggy”.
Kicking off with Hey Wow Yeah Yeah Yeah and going straight into Let Me Entertain You, it’s a high-octane start that gets the place bouncing. In fact, if he were to pop off for a quick cuppa (after years of using drugs and booze as a crutch he hasn’t had an alcoholic drink for two decades) the 20-or-so thousand voices here wouldn’t miss a beat.
Coming to the front of the stage, a lot of the show involves Williams bouncing jokes off the crowd and, in stage-comedian style, he selects his stooges for the evening.
Take a bow Shirley from Hamburg and Mark and Lynn, who prove be the perfect foils for some off-the-cuff humour. Williams also singles out 78-year-old Rebecca, who is thrilled to have She’s The One sung “just for her” – as are the crowd.
The XXV tour is based on the album of the same name, marking 25 years of his solo career, which Williams describes as “leaving Take That, joining Take That, leaving Take That…”
He’s supported tonight by former bandmate Mark Owen, who also joins him on stage for The Greatest Day. And after all that turmoil with his former bandmates over the years, it’s obvious there’s affection there – with Owen, at least.
Williams keeps on rattling through the hits, and again it’s humour all the way as he stops a few bars into Could It Be Magic.
“Nobody came here to hear Could It Be Magic,” he sighs, banging straight into a cover of Don’t Look Back In Anger instead.
Ask any 10 people what their favourite Williams track is and you’ll get 10 different answers – but most people here tonight will hear their second favourite, at least.
There’s no Millennium, no Road To Mandalay, no Misunderstood. But we get Come Undone, Love My Life, Rock DJ, Feel, Supreme – a mix of old Take That favourites and solo hits that keep up the tempo right to the end.
It’s no surprise that the three-song encore ends with Angels, but those who don’t make a break for the carpark on that last note are rewarded with a final a capella medley of a recap of most of tonight’s content.
It’s brilliant stuff – and going back to that earlier question, the answer is clear.
We’ve been taken on a whirlwind trip down memory lane, and it’s brought home that for all the millions he’s earned, Williams has been through it all, with outside forces putting him on a pedestal and trying to control his life since he was still just a boy.
And who wouldn’t have buckled once or twice under such huge pressure? He’s far from being a twat – he’s undoubtedly a genius.