Robbie Williams celebrated the arrival of 2022 by rolling back the years in an exclusive gala performance.
The British pop star was in vintage form with a crowd-pleasing show at Dubai’s Atlantis, The Palm, that should set the tone for the year for the artist.
The former Take That singer will celebrate the 25th anniversary of his solo career in 2022.
Stepping on stage just before 11pm and clad in a gold sequinned jacket, Williams delivered an almost chronological greatest hits set.
Beginning with the triumphant Let Me Entertain You, from 1997 debut album Life Thru A Lens, the singer aged 47 belted out a catalogue of hits representing the evolution of British pop music over the past 25 years.
Come Undone soared on the back of powerful guitars recalling the Britpop era, while the somewhat kitschy Rock DJ and Kids aged surprisingly well, courtesy of those stadium-ready choruses.
“This is my first gig two years,” Williams told the crowd. “I am trying to remind myself who I am and what I do.”
However, the reality of the present did manage to crash through the nostalgic set.
Perhaps for the first time in his career, Williams had to ask the crowd to follow social distancing measures by moving away from the front of the stage.
“This is the reality of the day with Covid and we have to be safe,” he said. “As you know, there is nothing I like more than having a big gap between me and the people.”
The distance aside, tracks such as the heartwarming Feel, She’s The One and Better Man managed to envelop the crowd and served as an exhilarating prelude to the New Year’s Eve countdown and fireworks.
Next up is the big screen
Speaking to The National before the show, Williams said an encore Dubai appearance is planned for later in the year.
“Sadly, this time, I’m only here for about 36 hours,” he said.
“I will be back a few times this year though. I have big plans in Dubai.”
While not revealing what they are, it will encompass what is set to be a busy year for Williams.
The coming biopic Better Man will begin production in Australia this year.
The film will feature Williams and many of his career-defining songs.
“I’m going to be in Melbourne later this year filming the movie, with [Australian filmmaker] Michael Gracey directing and who has also written the screenplay,” he said.
“I’m really excited for this and I’ve been very involved working with Michael, who’s a friend”.
Better Man is billed as a warts-and-all look into Williams’s life, tracing his transition from boy band Take That to solo stardom, in addition to his much-publicised struggles with mental health.
It is a subject Williams is open about in interviews and 2004’s unflinching biography Feel: Robbie Williams by Chris Heath.
“Talking about this is all part of the therapy for me and hearing that other people relate to my experiences makes me feel good,” he said.
“For sure, hearing other people’s stories has inspired me, and I hope in telling mine I’ve been able to help one or two people out there, too.”
New album will be a mixed bag
Williams also plans to return to the studio to record a follow-up to 2016’s The Heavy Entertainment Show.
“2022 is my 25th anniversary as a solo album, so I’ll have an album out later in the year to celebrate that,” he said.
“It will have some new songs on and some new versions of old songs.”
Some of the reworked tracks will come from Sing When You're Winning.
Released in 2000, the album was a global success and spawned the hits Rock DJ, Kids and Better Man.
Williams is proud of the album, yet surprised by its runaway success: “Sometimes it’s a moment in time and sometimes it’s a wave that happens — it’s hard to explain and even harder to plan.”
While glad to be back on stage in Dubai, Williams said the time off the road, owing to Covid-19, has been beneficial.
In addition to turning his hand to painting, the singer said the pandemic taught him to get a better grip on his personal and professional life.
“Family time is important and so is being creative,” he said.
“The last two years have been very different for me – usually I spend long chunks of time away from my family, but I’ve been able to be around my family a lot and be around the kids as they grow older, which has been very special.
“I’ve also spent time being creative, including some art which I’ll be revealing to the world in 2022.”