Robbie's red-top revenge. Or how a star got his own back on the paparazzi
Robbie Williams has revealed for the first time how he faked a series of photographs, including a famous picture of the singer cavorting with the model Rachel Hunter, in an effort to fool the press and cheat the paparazzi he loathes.
Williams, currently the most bankable star in British music, is fiercely protective of his private life and has, in effect, left the UK to avoid the attentions of photographers who used to besiege his home in London's Notting Hill.
But he has now admitted in a new biography that he faked shots in which he frolicked by a pool, wearing just a towel around his waist, with Hunter, who was topless. The images were bought by the News of the World and appeared on the paper's front page in June 2003. Money raised from the sale of the pictures - which ran into hundreds of thousands of pounds - was donated to charity by Williams.
He even admits mocking up pictures that would have given the impression he was gay, but he destroyed the photographs.
The plan was to manipulate the press and sell images that were so over the top that there would be little demand in future for anything less racy. However, Williams says he has since had huge regrets about the episode.
"I felt really dirty. I felt it was a huge, huge mistake. I thought 'what must people think of me?'," he said.
He makes his admission in a new book, Feel, written by the journalist Chris Heath, who spent two years with the singer chronicling his recent life through a series of candid interviews.
In the book, he discusses his well-chronicled battles with drink and drug addiction, including a brief flirtation with heroin.
Williams also talks about how his friend Sir Elton John checked him into a clinic to help him with his problems back in the days when he performed with the boy band Take That, which he left in 1995. He has also used anti-depressants to cope with his unease with global fame.
His discussion of the tabloid press in the book sheds most light on the unhappiness his success has brought.
He claims he is being used as "a pawn in the game they're playing with me, I'm not a human being, you know?
"What you are actually dealing with is the devil, I believe. You're actually dealing with people who want to see you die. I'm a competitive person ... and if I think that someone's got the upper hand on me in any way I want to find a way to beat them."
His photoshoot with Hunter was a bid to do just that. Williams hatched the plan after his friendship with Hunter, the estranged wife of Rod Stewart, became public knowledge when they were pictured together.
"I said, look, if we give them what they want - exactly what they want - then there'll be no call for them. If we give them everything, they won't hang out and there'll be no money for it."
He and Hunter "got excited like schoolkids" when they discussed it, he recalled, and the next day his management arranged for the shots to be taken. They were then touted as genuine paparazzi shots, and the proceeds were given to charity.
Williams then went a step further. He had long been dogged by rumours that he was homosexual, and he decided to pose emerging from a gay shop holding hands with a male friend.
"My thinking behind it all was if I flood the market with loads of stuff they won't know what to trust, therefore they'll stop taking pictures."
He eventually gotcold feet about the gay pictures and they were destroyed.
His distrust of the press is partly behind his decision to decamp to Los Angeles. While living in London he would find a pack of photographers outside his home at all hours.
'Feel' by Chris Heath is published by Ebury Pressand goes on sale on Wednesday
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