Take That: ‘We’re too old to spin on our heads’

The band talk fame, fans and friendships

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by heat staff |
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From the moment we clapped eyes on Gary Barlow, Howard Donald, Jason Orange, Robbie Williams and Mark Owen writhing around in jelly in the Do What You Like video, it was love. Each of the boys offered us something different. Cheeky chappy? Mark was your man. Soppy lyrics? Gaz delivered. Bad boy antics? Robbie had you covered. Impressive dance moves? Jason stepped up. Fashion-forward? Hello, Howard – and we were totally hooked on their feel-good anthems.

While we were gutted when Robbie and Jason left (we’re still hoping for another full reunion), we’ve never stopped loving the band and their music, or lapping up their remarkable live tours – more on that later. So, when we got a chance to hear the boys, sorry, men – Gary is 53, Howard is 56, and Mark is 52 – talk about their careers to date, we snapped it up.

Their current live shows, This Life On Tour, which sees them performing around the UK, Europe, Asia and Australia, have broken records for being the UK’s biggest-selling gigs of 2024, and their latest album This Life was the highest-selling physical record of 2023. So, it’s safe to say, when it comes to showbusiness, the most successful British boyband of all time know a thing or two…

How is it being back on the road?

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taking it way back: mark, robbie, gary, jason and howard in 1993 ©Iris Honold/Shutterstock

Gary: We’re all relieved. There was definitely a moment three or four years ago where we thought, “Will we ever be back onstage again?” So, it was a huge relief to go back on tour. We’ve been hugely ambitious, and we’re really proud to be playing the amount of dates we’re playing. It’s been terrific so far.

Mark: The tour brings us all together. The thoughts for the tour process began two years in advance. The creative process of us going on the road is the part that we really enjoy – it’s something we take great pride in. When we first started, we were teenagers. We were just kids in Manchester, thinking, “Yeah, this is great.” We got to wear Fila trainers and spin on our heads and that’s all we wanted to do. As time has gone on, we’ve become older and grown into ourselves. We started seeing ourselves more like a brand. We started to look into new ways of presenting ourselves, because we can’t spin on our heads any more – we’re too old! The wonderful thing about being in Take That for 35 years now is the growth that we, as a band, have made over that time.

You’ve been friends for a long time. How has your relationship influenced what you do and changed over time?

Howard: When you look at the 1990s, none of us had responsibilities. None of us had children. None of us were married. They were absolutely amazing years. I don’t feel that we found our relationship with each other until we actually learned about real life and that was probably between 1996 and 2005, where a couple of us had kids. We’ve got an amazing relationship, regardless of people coming and going. We still have a great relationship with those people, too.

M: Gary always jokes that he’s known us longer than his wife.

H: And it’s fantastic. Here we are, still getting on with each other and we all want the same thing.

take that
winning one of their eight BRITs in 2008 ©Getty Images: Eamonn McCormack/WireImage

G: Yeah, we’re great friends. All that usually starts with the music. It’s what brings us together, from across the world into a room because that’s our familiar ground. The music is our main anchor. It’s the reason why we’re here. We came back as adults in 2005, saw this group, this entity, as adults and thought, “How do we look after this vessel?” It starts with looking after each other. If you can give each other the space, respect, time, appreciation and environment where they can be themselves and be free to create, not be laughed at and be taken seriously, it bears good work. It makes it easier to work as a team, so the music and the personal relationships is always where it starts and ends for us.

You use social media to bring the fans into your world. Why do you do that?

G: We recognise that a lot of our audience can’t travel and don’t have money to watch our concerts. There’s a whole world of eyes who want to see what we’re doing and I think social media plugs that hole very nicely. It’s interesting now seeing the power of social media.

M: We’ve learned a lot about social media skills through our kids because they are working it much better than we do. I’m like, “How do I do a video?” and they help us out. It’s been a wonderful way for us to communicate and grow, and our relationship with our audience has grown over the years, as well. We’re still learning as we go along. We all know how to turn a phone on now.

G: It’s exciting as artists, because we have control now. And I think as long as you’re putting your best self on there, singing, talking about what we do, all the rest of it, nothing can go wrong. Until one day I stood in a field and said to the camera, “This is my idea of a very nice day out,” [referring to his viral TikTok video] and then it all went completely wrong. So, beware!

Your sets have always been elaborate, from mechanical elephants to burning staircases. Have you always liked to go big?

M: Even when we were playing in small clubs, we wanted to be the best. In our heads, we were Madonna. We always aimed for the top.

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on fire: onstage on their current tour ©Dave Hogan/Hogan Media/Shutterstock

H: We were more like the Village People.

M: Maybe, but our ambition was always so high. We’ve not found a way to lessen that. We don’t know how to make it small. We always want to be the best. The most wonderful thing that Take That has given me is life experience. I came from Oldham. I hadn’t really left the town and then I joined this band. I came to London and tried Indian food – I’d never tried Indian food before. We can try to offer our life experience to other people through music, through our songs, through our shows, and if we can do that in a positive way, then it doesn’t get better than that.

You’ve moved into new genres with the film Greatest Days, which itself was based on a stage show…

M: The initial idea came ten years before it actually hit the stage. We talked about how we could make a show that involved our music, but wasn’t our story. We’re always looking at new ways to keep us going and to help us to grow. When we had ten years off, we realised, “Oh shit, it’s not that much fun when we’re not in the entertainment world.” That’s something that’s driven us all throughout our careers.

G: The one thing we always fear is repetition. It’s tough across 30 odd years, but it’s something we share as a rule – we don’t do things we’ve done before. We move forward, always.

What scares you?

M: Just spiders. [Pauses.] I like spiders, actually.

H: Every time we go on tour or release an album – we can never count our chickens. You’ve always got to take a risk and be a bit scared. It’s a nerve-wracking experience.

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doing what they like ©Getty Images: Dave Hogan/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

And you’re doing The Greatest Weekend, a four-day festival experience in Malta in October. How did that come about?

G: It’s an interesting one – we assumed touring every four years would be enough for our audience. It’s not. There’s a certain percentage of our audience who want more. We’ve looked at a few versions of this – a cruise, something in Tenerife. Then Malta came through. We’re doing a remake of our 1993 album Everything Changes on Saturday and a full show on Sunday.

H: Don’t forget, I’m DJing on Friday, too.

G: It feels new and exciting and we’ve had a great reaction. We don’t call our fans a fanbase, they’re like an army. Our fans come ready for action.

We’ve got a quickfire quiz to test how well you know the group. This quiz is called Take That Take That…

G: How long did you spend thinking that up?

About four seconds. Firstly, how many times have you played the O2 Arena?

M: Oh! We got given an award the other day for playing it the most.

G: How many, though? I can’t remember.

M: It was 39 times.

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That’s right. This one’s quite easy. How many chart-topping albums have you had?

G: It’s in one of Mark’s intros on tour, this.

M: Is it? No, Howard says it.

H: I think there were seven No1s during the ’90s. Albums, I think five, possibly? Anyway, we’re still here, who cares?

The answer’s nine. How many songs have Take That released commercially?

G: Oh my goodness.

H: I don’t have a clue.

G: Thirty-something… 32, I’m going to say.

Gary, you’re way off by a clear 100. Anyone else?

M: We made a lot of music videos. That we do know. It’s the hardest thing. Some of them have been more enjoyable than others.

You’re taking a creative deviation from the quiz to distract from the lack of knowledge…

G: [Reads from our notes.] The answer is 139.

Cheat! Last one. How many BRIT Awards have you won?

M: I know that, because I do announce that onstage – it’s eight!

Take That appeared at Advertising Week Europe 2024

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