Robbie Williams’ new Netflix documentary was met with instant approval from the entertainer, according to director Joe Pearlman.
The series tells the definitive story of the former Take That star’s rise to fame – and all the ups, downs, and media scrutiny in between – offering unprecedented access to the Rock DJ singer through archive material and new interviews.
“I heard that Robbie had this archive of what was said to be 30,000 hours of his life, sitting in a warehouse near Heathrow,” says the filmmaker, who came on board for the project shortly after completing work on Lewis Capaldi’s ‘How I’m Feeling Now’, in RETROPOP’s December issue. “It had never been touched, never been digitised, never been put on a computer, most of it unlabeled. So the opportunity when that kind of thing comes up for a filmmaker is like, ‘Oh, my God!’”
Captured for no particular purpose, the footage exists thanks to those around Robbie during the early stages of his solo career. “His late manager, David Enthoven, was a huge believer in archiving everything; I think he took a lot of photos and, according to his team, it started early on that ‘everything should be filmed, this might be an opportunity’,” adds Joe. “Then when Guy Chambers came on the scene, he saw something special and wanted to record it all, so a huge amount of what you see – certainly in episodes one and two – is shot by Guy.”
Work on the show began last October, shortly after Robbie had released his reworked 25th anniversary retrospective, ‘XXV’, with a tour taking place across the globe into 2023.
It was during that run of shows that Joe joined Robbie on the road, getting to know the man behind the music to truly understand his story. “I think I had an overview and a basic idea of Rob’s life – he’s a very public person – but equally, I didn’t know the details,” he reflects. “I think everyone knows that he’s had struggles with addiction and mental health problems, which he’s talked openly about, but I didn’t feel like he ever really dug deep into it publicly. It always felt like there was more. For me, every film and every show I go into is about character – and who’s a better character than Robbie Williams?”
Despite his phenomenal success, Robbie battled addiction and substance abuse in the late 1990s and early 2000s, with the struggles taking a toll on his personal and professional life, leading to erratic behaviour and a 2007 stint in rehab, after taking speed, acid, heroin, cocaine and “heart-stopping” amounts of prescription drugs, according to reports at the time.
Amidst his struggles with addiction, the Let Me Entertain You singer also grappled with mental health issues, which he’s candidly discussed in a bid to help reduce the stigma and encourage others to seek help and support.
When Joe presented the episodes to Robbie, he was unsure how he’d react. “It’s incredibly intense and you don’t know what’s going to trigger people – even though you spend a lot of time getting to know these people, you still don’t fully know if your interpreted truth is going to be their truth,” says Joe. “But luckily with Rob he got it. He said to us, ‘This is the first time where I don’t feel like I have to explain myself, because there it is. That’s what happened to me.’ For a documentary filmmaker, I feel incredibly proud to be able to do that. To make something greater than just entertainment, that’s important for everyone.”
‘Robbie Williams’ is streaming now on Netflix.
Read the full interview in the December 2023 edition of RETROPOP, out now. Order yours or subscribe via our Online Store, use our Store Finder to locate your nearest stockist, or get Digital Copies delivered direct to your devices.