If documentaries on early 2000s British icons are your thing, Netflix is really hammering that quick-release dopamine button right now. Just a month on from the release of Beckham, their hit documentary covering the life, love and goals of the former England star, the streaming giant has returned with what is essentially the pop star equivalent: Robbie Williams.
The Nineties/Noughties chart topper has settled in with his own documentary crew to pore over hours of footage of his early fame and dissect what it was that he was feeling at the time. For unknown reasons, he is almost always dressed in a tank top and a pair of pants, sat in bed, while doing this.
As the trouserless Robbie watches footage of his younger self, his reflections reveal unknown truths: he was paranoid, he loathed Gary Barlow from very early on, he suffered mental breakdowns, he slept with his drug dealer just hours before meeting his current wife and he dumped Geri Haliwell out of a fear she was calling the paparazzi on him.
Here are the nine biggest revelations from the Robbie Williams Netflix documentary:
1. He was jealous of Gary Barlow from the beginning
While Williams's past hatred of Take That and feud with Gary Barlow is well documented, this documentary reveals that Robbie felt resentful of Gary from the very start. "There was an assurancy about Gaz and his ability, mixed with a coldness," Williams recalls of his Take That days in the early 1990s, "and it seemed like there was one person being managed in Take That and that was Gary Barlow. It was all geared around him. And as a young person, I would've been jealous of that. I suppose a lot of me resented him."
Later in the first episode, he can be seen ridiculing Take That in old footage from a solo gig of his. "There's somebody booing me down here that actually likes Gary Barlow," Robbie says to the crowd, before adding: "He's not selling any more records now girls. Let's face it, he's dead!"
2. Robbie's substance abuse is part of the reason he left Take That
Even while a member of Take That, which he joined when he was just 16 years old, Robbie was engaging in reckless behaviour with drugs and alcohol. "I'm gonna get some booze!" he can be seen shouting in old footage of the band, to which Gary Barlow responds, "Oh don't, you've started this bastard now."
Speaking to the documentary producers, Robbie says: "I was ingesting everything I could get my hands on. Ecstasy, cocaine, drinking - I'm literally drinking a bottle of vodka a night before going into rehearsals. So that's happening... that's happening every night."
But it was his trip to Glastonbury, where can be seen talking to reporters with a missing tooth, that really worried management. "I was told, 'This is not how you behave in a boy band,'" Williams recalls. "This sense that I wasn't ready or capable to fulfill the role that was being asked of me was palpable.
"One day I went in to rehearsals and then at lunch time they said, 'Rob we need to have a band meeting.' I said to the boys I just couldn't be there anymore." They posed the idea of continuing as a four piece, Robbie agreed, and so his initial days with Take That came to an end.
3. Angels saved Robbie Williams's career
After going solo, Robbie took a long time to get his solo career together, largely because he was deep in the throes of drug addiction before eventually agreeing to rehab in late 1997. "Figuratively speaking, my career was falling off a cliff," Williams remembers. "And I'd had quite a few goes with singles, that wouldn't be allowed to happen now. And a memo goes round the record company: I am about to be dropped. It looks like that's it for the Williams boy."
Not quite, though. "In my back pocket, I had something special," says Williams. That special something was December 1997 smash hit Angels, which became Williams's best-selling single, the 34th best selling single of the 1990s, and was later voted "Best Song of the past 25 years" at the 2005 Brit awards.
4. He proposed to Nicole Appleton of All Saints out of the blue
At one point, the documentary introduces one of Williams's well known exes - Nicole Appleton, one fourth of popular 1990s band All Saints. She and Williams strike up a whirlwind, nine-month-long romance, during which Williams is filmed proposing to her on his tour bus whilst wearing a t-shirt with the slogan "Do you fancy me?" emblazoned on the front.
"I guess that I’m trying to convince myself that I’m the kind of person that is ready for that kinda commitment,” present-day Williams reflects on his proposal. "I know I'm not," he says, "I couldn't look after myself. I was in no fit state to offer myself as a partner." The pair's relationship ended a few months later.
5. Williams dumped Geri Halliwell after a comment from the paparazzi
In August 2000, Williams embarks on a trip to the South of France with his writing partner Guy Chambers, Chambers' wife Emma, and Geri Halliwell aka Ginger Spice. The pair are besotted with each other, and Williams reflects that this period, which is shown during episode two of the documentary, is the first time he's truly happy out all of the clips he's watched. Sadly, the relationship wasn't built to last.
The pair's joint fame meant paparazzi hounded them constantly, making Williams paranoid and distrustful. “Wherever we went the paparazzi were there before we got there”, he recalls, saying that "private moments because public property." At one point, a paparazzo told Williams that they were there because Geri called them, which led him to call it quits with her.
"Now I don't think that's true for one second, but at the time I did believe it," he says. "It just goes to show what being in the spotlight can do to your psyche when you can't trust anybody."
6. He used to take steroid injections to give him the energy to perform
In the period before his nervous breakdown and eventual relapse, Williams starts using steroids during his massive 2006 global tour to give him enough energy to perform. The then-32-year-old reflects on his ageing physique, saying: "I think it's wear and tear from the Take That days. We used to give our knees some punishment and I used to think at the back of my mind, 'I'll pay for that when I am older' and then I used to think at the same time, 'I'll never be older', but now I am older and my knee is fucked, my groin has gone and my back occasionally flares up."
Present day Robbie agrees, saying: "Pretty quick into the tour you are fucked, things that happen in the body are a result of what is happening in the mind and I think that it's all stopping working just because of how I'm thinking."
He asks a doctor for steroids and, despite protestation from his team, has them injected multiple times during his tour before performing. During one injection, he tells the camera: "I love drugs."
7. He was sleeping with his drug dealer before meeting his current wife
Shortly after the 1996 tour, Williams relapses and starts abusing prescription medications. "[I was] addicted to prescribed speed, OxyContin, Adderall, Vicodin, morphine, you know, the greatest hits," he recalls of this period. His friends then set him up with Days of Our Lives actress, Ayda Field, but Williams was less than ready for a relationship.
"[Ayda] came to my house after being at a party [and] I'd just seen off my dealer that I was sleeping with at the time," he divulges.
8. Williams and Ayda Field broke up so he could get sober
When Williams and Field first met that night, they went back to the party Field was initially at and started to hit it off, until Williams disappeared into the bathroom to do cocaine and didn't return for a long time. Speaking to the documentary crew, Field remembers: "So I'm like, 'I'm gonna get out, and see what's happened.' There he is, pacing, he's thrown up and he's clucking, I was like 'We gotta go.'"
Despite her help, Williams couldn't get sober while in a relationship, and had to call things off while embarked on another trip to rehab. After he got out, the pair reunited, and are now happily married with four children.
9. Take That gave him the confidence to perform again
After the 1996 mega-tour that led to Williams's mental breakdown and relapse, he became terrified of performing and struggled to be on stage at all. It wasn't until he reunited with Take That in 2010 that he felt able to perform again. "When I'm in Take That, there's four other bodies next to you displacing the responsibility of the eyes on you," he says. "[It] propelled me back in, helped me to hide in public, to be camouflaged but seen. Great Britain was ours that summer."