Throughout a stellar career, nobody has been more misunderstood than Gary Barlow.
When he first found fame, he was perceived as too arrogant. Then, after a spectacular slump and amazing recovery, he adopted a modesty that underrates his lifetime achievements. Now Gary redresses the balance by revealing the real man, the romances that shaped his life and the passion for music that drives him.
A singer and virtuoso keyboard player who performed in working men’s clubs from the age of thirteen, the young Gary Barlow had written more than a hundred songs while still at school. He would go on to achieve phenomenal success as the musical force behind Take That, the most popular boy band of all time.
But an eagerly anticipated solo career flopped and Gary became depressed and overweight, while the triumphs of Robbie Williams, were a constant reminder of his failure.
In 2006 Take That returned bigger than ever and their huge success was followed by an emotional reunion between Gary and Robbie that was cemented when they put aside past hurts to write and perform new songs together.
Now recognised as one of the greatest songwriters and musicians the UK has ever produced, Gary is among the best-known faces on television, returning as head judge on The X Factor in 2013. Featuring original interviews with many people who have never spoken before, Gary is a celebration of a complex and unique talent.
“Gary’s Farewell: Halton Royal British Legion Club, Runcorn, 25 June 1989
It may have been his last night at the club but some things never change. At 8p.m. sharp, Gary Barlow strode on to the stage and played the national anthem. Everyone stood up respectfully as they always did. Some of them sang. Then it was eyes down for three-quarters of an hour of bingo with popular compère Chris Harrison calling the numbers. Every few minutes there were excited shouts of ‘line’ or ‘house’ when one of the members had won. Their numbers had to be checked out loud before a new game could start and eyes were firmly down again.
There was a big crowd in and all the tables were taken because Gary was playing solo for the first time in the four years he had been the resident organist at the club. Backstage in his dressing room he had made last checks so that everything would run smoothly. He had prepared all the backing tracks in his bedroom at the family bungalow in Frodsham and had rehearsed patiently and methodically until he knew all the material inside out, especially the running order. He didn’t suffer from nerves, or at least he didn’t let them show. Chris recalls, ‘I’ve never seen any nerves. I have got to say that was one thing that amazed me about him.’
When he had started playing at the club, aged fourteen, Gary wasn’t too bothered about style. He used to wear bits of his navy school uniform on stage. For this big night, however, he looked like a fully fledged eighties pop star – a cross between Nik Kershaw and Simon Le Bon – in a bright white shirt with large black stars splattered all over it, black baggy trousers and a fashionable eighties mullet. He was a non-smoker then, and looked fit and healthy and not like a teenager who spent most of his time playing smoky clubs or shut away in his bedroom.
From the very first minute of the opening number, Michael Jackson’s ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’, two of Gary’s qualities were obvious: first, he had a very clear vocal style with just a light vibrato; secondly, he had natural rhythm and moved easily around the stage with some fancy footwork. He may not have had had the dance training of his future bandmates in Take That but he clearly didn’t have the two left feet hinted at by the pop columns. This wasn’t an ordinary performance: it was a one-man tour de force.”