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'WE TRIED TO CONVINCE HIM TO STAY' Take That’s Gary Barlow, Howard Donald and Mark Owen reveal why Jason Orange really left the band

The trio also open up about Robbie Williams returning, share the secret to a successful showbiz marriage and address THOSE Las Vegas residency rumours

 

GARY Barlow, Howard Donald and Mark Owen are in the eye of a storm.

A huge team of stylists, a glam squad, assistants and set builders buzz, fuss and preen around them.

 

But they barely seem to notice.

Instead, they catch up and gossip (despite having already spent most of the week together) while tucking into a hearty full English breakfast or – for health-conscious Gary – smoked salmon and poached eggs.

(It’s no wonder the Let It Shine judge, 46, isn’t shy later about showing off the super-toned results of his hard work, whipping off his shirt and
trousers in front of a packed studio to change before taking his turn in front of the camera.)

 

 

Behind the scenes at the band’s first Fabulous shoot, Howard, 48, is showing off his “baby eye bags”, having been woken every two hours the night before by one-month-old son Dougie Bear.

Mark, 45, meanwhile, is looking suitably relaxed as he gets a face massage from the band’s make-up artist.

Perhaps it’s this laid-back approach that has helped them overcome potential career-ending obstacles to remain the UK’s most successful man band, despite now being two members down.

When Robbie Williams quit in 1995, a bitter war of words followed (mainly aimed at Gary), but the past has been firmly put behind them and after reforming in 2006, Robbie, 43, made a jubilant temporary return in 2010 for the Progress album and tour, before departing again a year later.

Then, in late 2014, the band took a blow when Jason Orange, 46, released a statement announcing he was also leaving. He’s since kept out of the spotlight.

Their future was at crisis point and everything they’d achieved lay in the balance. However, they returned victorious with III, which went straight to No.1 in the album charts.

To date, Take That have racked up seven UK No.1 albums and 12 UK No.1 singles, and won eight Brit Awards.

Now they’re back with eighth studio album Wonderland and a tour that starts in Birmingham this May. And although they’re just a trio, their passion is anything but reduced.

From the gentle ribbing that Howard gets about his age, to Gary dancing around the room and Mark being full of hugs for everyone, this seems the happiest Take That have been in a long time.

We sit down with the guys to discuss why Robbie and Jason are always welcome back, how to be successful husbands and fathers, and whether those Las Vegas residency rumours are true.

Why do you think Take That have such staying power?

Gary I think it’s the audience. It was a really uncertain time when Jay left, but we knew we wanted to carry on. When Jason released his statement we sat for a couple of days watching social media. It was so positive and, even if we didn’t want to come back, you’d read that and go: “We have to come back.” Then it posed a lot of questions, like how do we approach this as a three?

Howard It’s loving the music and your job. I don’t really do or know anything else

Mark Who wouldn’t want to do this?

G It’s ridiculous!

M We’re very fortunate that we’ve been able to do it for a long time.

G You’re going to like this one: it’s like planning a big holiday. Along the route we’re going to see all these amazing pictures and meet incredible people. It’s a big adventure

G You’re absolutely right. We’re all committed and still really enjoying what we do. With our last album III we didn’t know whether Jason was in or out. It wasn’t made as a three – it was made as a hopeful four. We really enjoyed making Wonderland.

H It reflects how we’re feeling as a group of three and where we are now. There’s a lot of positivity.

G For our audience, I think this is an important record. The one thing we hate is them feeling like they don’t know what we’re doing, [like] are we going to split? We’re telling them: “We’re here and loving this. As long as you’re there enjoying it, we’ll be here doing it.”

M Making the record has been a bit of a journey for us. We wanted to show some grounding and real stability.

There was a backlash from some people when Spice Girls Geri Horner, Emma Bunton and Mel B tried to reform as GEM last year. How have you avoided similar criticism?

G I missed that! That’s clever.

M What could we have been? GHM? We need a vowel.

H Maybe it’s because they dropped two members in one go.

M Ours is so confusing that we sort of get away with it! [Laughing] Someone could come back tomorrow and we’d be like: “Yeah, whatever!”

G It’s a tricky one. You’ve always got to remember what you mean to people and we constantly underestimate that. Even when we were bringing Rob back and becoming a five-piece, he was very sensitive to it. He thought we should be called something else and was like: “I don’t want to insult Take That fans.” For a while we called ourselves The English and then we were like: “What are we doing?”

Do you now feel like you understand the full reason behind Jason’s departure in 2014?

M [Shakes his head] I don’t think there’s a reason. It’s quite simple: he doesn’t want to do it. It’s not like he has a bad ankle, that would be easier. It’s his choice and we’ve got to respect that. We tried our best to convince him. We’re still in contact. We always try to keep him involved in everything that we do to some extent, so he knows what our plans are. Every now and again we drop into conversation: “Hey, do you fancy
coming back next year?”

H We’ve been practising Wooden Boat [which Jason has lead vocals on] and it sounds really good. We just need a vocalist!

Was it crucial for you to maintain that friendship?

M The most important thing is that he’s happy. He’s not going: “I wish I could come back,” because he knows he could. He’s happy doing what he’s doing.

H We had a great relationship and when he decided to leave, it was done amicably.

G That’s the important bit. We’ve had that before [when things didn’t end well with Robbie] and we’ll do anything not to go there again. It has been left on a good note and it’s an open door for Jay and Rob. This band is for us all to come and go as we please.

M There’s an open door – we just haven’t told them where it is!

If one of the three of you also decided to leave, would that mean the end of Take That?

M Unless someone did a swap: “I’m going out the door and he’s coming in.” We’d be like the Sugababes. I don’t know, it’s hard to tell. If I was the one who left, it would be up to the two who remain if they wanted to carry on.

G Howard, we could be the new Erasure.

M They’ve wanted to be a duo ever since day one, let me tell you!

If you could only have Jason or Robbie back permanently, who would you pick?

G Argh, that’s unfair! We can’t answer that.

When did you last speak to Jason?

M It was my birthday in January so I got a message then. He remembers things like that.

When did you know you’d made the right decision to stay together as a band?

M I don’t mean this disrespectfully, but when I see pictures of the three of us, it looks right. It took time and at first I was like: “I don’t recognise that band. It looks odd.” Now it’s stranger to see a picture of four of us.

Last year it emerged Robbie didn’t know what a cucumber looked like – have there been aspects of the real world that you’ve struggled with?

H [Confused face] What do you mean he didn’t know what a cucumber looked like? [The whole band crack up]

M I spent four or five years with my curtains closed because of people outside the house. Then one day there was nobody outside and you could open the curtains. Little things, like daylight coming through the windows. And one of the weirdest things when everything stopped, was not having your day planned.

G We were so young the first time round that someone put a pause on life when we entered that group and took the finger off when we left. When it does [disappear], it presents a shock.

H When the group first came towards an end, it always felt like the grass was greener on the other side. Then once you’re out of it, you want to go back.

G It was utter chaos, wasn’t it?

M Boredom is a hard thing for anyone to cope with. I still struggle with sitting and doing nothing.

G It’s important to find an hour where you’re not a doer.

What do you do with that hour?

G I read a lot [and recently read] a book on CEOs, people who are changing the world. They all have these mechanisms that make their next eight hours of work far better and more focused.

H When I’ve meditated afterwards my head space is clear.

You have 10 kids between you (Gary has Daniel, 16, Emily, 14, and Daisy, eight; Mark has Elwood Jack, 10, Willow Rose, eight, and Fox India, four; Howard has Grace, 17, with his ex Victoria Piddington, Lola, 12, with ex Marie-Christine Musswessels, as well as Bowie Taylan, 14 months, and Dougie Bear, one month, with wife Katie Halil), so how do you juggle band commitments and fatherhood?

H It’s difficult because we all have different situations. Two of my kids are with different mothers, so it makes life a bit more complicated. Once you’re at home you savour it and try to be the best dad you can. Even when you’re on tour you take them on the road because you want them to be part of everything.

M I absolutely love being a dad – it changes everything in your life. Sometimes you can get lost in this world, but then you go home, and they do and say the most wonderful things. In many ways it keeps us young and gives us a new lease of life.

H [Clutching his eye bags] It keeps us young!

M I love seeing their excitement over the tiniest little things.

Do they know their dads are part of Take That?

H I don’t think I’ve ever explained it – it’s one of those things that gradually merges into their lives. It’s difficult because I have got a 17 year old and, since watching me on TV, she has wanted to go on The X Factor or some sort of talent show.

Have you encouraged that?

H I sort of didn’t want to. I didn’t want my daughter to be upset because it’s a really tough thing to handle if you don’t get through. Being famous, with all the media [pressure] about how to look… It all gets in their heads. It’s quite a difficult world for teenagers.

G Especially girls… It’s pressure.

You’re all happily married (Gary to former Take That dancer Dawn Andrews since 2000, Mark to actress Emma Ferguson since 2009 and Howard to illustrator Katie since 2015). So what’s the secret to a strong showbiz marriage?

H Letting us work. I probably speak for all of us here – it’s about understanding where we’ve come from and our love of what we do. When you start going out with somebody they have to understand – if they don’t like it, but you’re loving it, they’re not right for you.

Are you embracing being in your late 40s?

M Do we look in our 40s? When you take pictures you don’t think that, but the number seems big and you go: “God, we’re all old.” I remember, growing up, 40 seemed really old.

G I remember my dad turning 40 and it felt really old.

H I’m 50 next year!

G Are you going to do something? You have to do something.

H [Joking] Yeah, stay in and be miserable!

Do you treat yourself to expensive creams, facials or Botox?

G I don’t consider any of those things you’ve just said.

H I’d run a mile from a needle! I’d never have anything on my face.

M Cut to five years from now…

H [Pulling back his skin and pouting] I’ll be like: “I’ve not had surgery!” [They all laugh]

Gary’s known for embracing a healthy lifestyle – has that rubbed off on you two?

H I’ve kicked it up [a notch] since January because of the tour. I’m doing more yoga and have got a personal trainer. I also go swimming a lot. My eating is 60/40 healthy.

M You get to a certain stage where you want to feel your best, not your worst.

G If you’re starting the day feeling crap then something has to change.

How wild are your nights out now?

G People think because I’m healthy I never drink. Bloody hell, I’m drinking red wine on the regular. These guys’ kids are still young, but ours have grown up so we get out a lot.

Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions?

M I’ve always wanted to do directing and film. I once got the application forms to join a film college, but haven’t filled them in yet. I’d like to direct one of our videos.

Howard, you recently tweeted that The Band isn’t just a Gary Barlow musical, it’s a group effort, after it was only Gary who appeared as a judge on BBC1’s Let It Shine show to find the stars. Was that sparked by frustration?

H I wanted to correct it, that’s all – it blew up a bit. I should have thought before tweeting. I get myself in trouble all the time!

M It’s right though. We all want to feel a part of it and are producers on the stage show. The TV show was more Gary’s thing, as I don’t think we could do it like Gaz does.

H I don’t envy Gary doing it. If I’d been asked to be a judge at the side of him, I’d have said no.

Is there any truth in the rumours of a Las Vegas residency?

G We have been offered. We were thinking of doing it this year or next. I don’t know where we are up to! When we commit we want it to be the right thing. In our heads, this year is all about touring and getting Wonderland out, but who knows about next year.

Take That’s new album Wonderland is out Friday. New single Giants is available to stream and download now.

 

 

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