Last night my housemate A and I (and, apparently, every woman I know) sat down on the sofa with a bottle of red wine, to watch the Take That documentary.
Now, being a young ‘un, my memories of Take That only start when they were already on their way out. My older sister, bless her, was more into New Kids on The Block, but still managed to introduce me to the Northern five-piece, if sadly not in time for Gary’s Morrissey haircut.
I certainly remember them splitting up - the crying, the wailing, the helpline, the items on the ten o’ clock news. Never let anyone tell you that journalism is dumbing down, when it seemed in the 90s that some pop story made the BBC news every other night. I mean, Oasis against Blur for number one? It seemed important at the time, but now I think - did NO–ONE die that day? People, people.
It was a very well-made, well-edited affair. They’d interviewed each member on his own, in his own house, which threw up the differences between them. There was Howard, in a woolly cap, in some minimalist pad, the only decoration a distorted portrait of himself. Then we saw Mark Owen, with a spaniel, in the Lake District; Jason, much camper than I remembered. But these three, you felt, were always condemned to be the padding; now, just as much as they were ten years ago. It was Gary and Robbie we were interested in. We remembered how the headlines went: Gary, the obvious songwriting talent, destined for success, while Robbie attempted some lame Liam Gallagher impression... but then Angels happened, and suddenly Robbie was a global superstar, and Gary was yesterday’s pop star, dropped by his record label and consigned to obscurity.
What this documentary did, though, was show that this is entirely the wrong way to look at it. Robbie’s chart success came at a terrible price - devastating alcoholism and drug addiction, swings from mania to depression, and awful, seemingly eternal loneliness. As he was interviewed, you could see exactly what a feckin nightmare he must have been to live and work with - constantly showing off, doing impressions, saying outrageous things for effect. It must have been like working with a drug-addled five-year-old.
Gary, on the other hand, was interviewed in his (admittedly extremely tacky) Cheshire home, at his piano. Every so often one of his unbelievably cute children would show up, clamber on his knee and hug him. His wife, former TT dancer Dawn, was there too.
It should have been nauseating, but it was constantly intercut with Robbie, in solitary splendour, receiving Brit Awards and adulation.
The best bit came right at the end, when Gary, Mark, Howard and Jason were re-united. They made brittle conversation, waiting to see if Robbie would deign to grace them with his presence.
“We asked Robbie to come,” you heard one of the producers say off-camera. A long pause. “But he declined.”
Instead he had recorded them video messages, telling Gary he was a great songwriter, and the others they were great people. Gary looked disappointed, in a grown-up way.
It cut to former manager Nigel Martin-Smith. “Robbie and Gary were at each other’s throats,” he said (or something similar), “but Robbie did Gary the biggest favour ever. Look at them now. Who’s happiest?”
Back to Gary, teaching his daughter to sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Then back to Robbie. “I’ve got one more thing to say - fourteen Brit Awards! Aaaaaaaaaah!”
The tragedy of it nearly brought a tear to my eye, I can tell you - between the two of them, they had one perfect life, and yet they’re both doomed to wishing for what the other one has.
It’s a pretty basic choice that a lot of people make - career success or domestic happiness. Robbie admitted in a recent interview he hadn’t had a girlfriend for six years. Gary, despite being dropped by his label, is now writing for Charlotte Church.
I know which one I’d rather be.
(And I would have rather written Back For Good than Angels, if it comes to that - they played it, and the lyrics are shocking. How can pain walk down a one-way street? And since when have traffic restrictions been an emotive metaphor?
Whereas lipstick still on a coffee cup, well that just says everything about a failed relationship - the mundane things which are all you have left when the romantic fantasy is over.)