First person

Rick Astley: ‘Christmas was a bit odd when I was growing up’

The ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ star reflects on his difficult upbringing and the Christmas traditions he embraces now. As told to Roisin O’Connor

Monday 18 December 2023 06:30 GMT
Rick Astley: ‘We keep things pretty simple at Christmas’
Rick Astley: ‘We keep things pretty simple at Christmas’ (Peter Neill)

With his warm personality and signature rich baritone, Lanchashire-born singer Rick Astley shot to global success in the Eighties with hits including “Together Forever” and, of course, “Never Gonna Give You Up”.

After retiring a decade later, he delighted fans with his return to music amid a newfound viral fame thanks to the “Rickrolling” meme. He has since won over new generations of listeners thanks to collaborations with acts including the Foo Fighters and Bastille, as well as his rapturously received set at Glastonbury, where he covered songs by The Smiths with Manchester rock band Blossoms.

He released his latest album, ‘Are We There Yet?’, in October, which peaked at No 2 on the UK albums chart.

My mum and dad divorced when I was four, so Christmas was a bit odd in our house growing up. I was brought up by my dad but spent weekends with my mum – at Christmas we’d go to my aunty’s a lot. This sounds unbelievably posh (believe me, it wasn’t), but we had a housekeeper, Mrs Hill, and she used to get to the house before I woke up and she’d be there when I got home from school. So there was a female presence in the house, with my older sister – who became like a mother in some ways – as well, but yeah… it wasn’t super cosy in our house.

Rick Astley stars in Sainsbury’s Christmas advert 2023 as festive season approaches

I remember getting this thing one year called a Tonka Toy – my dad bought it and put it on top of the fridge. We always got nice presents from him, maybe he was trying to make up for the fact that he was always at work or something, but anyway he must have thought I wouldn’t see it because I was only five. But if you stood at the back of the kitchen you could see the top of the fridge, so I was just staring at this toy for about two weeks!

I didn’t risk getting it down, though. My dad loved us, he really did, and he showed us a lot of affection at times, but Christ almighty he was a very dark person with a really bad temper. You wouldn’t cross him. He was never violent towards us, but he would smash something to bits because he was angry with it. So you thought, ‘I’ll just keep away.’

We keep things pretty simple these days. Our daughter lives in Denmark (my wife is from there), so this year we’re going over there for about a week because my daughter has a new place with her fiance. We’ll celebrate on Christmas Eve, because that’s how they do it in Europe.

Danish Christmases are very traditional, and a lot of it revolves around what you’re going to eat and drink. I’m not a wine snob but I know what I like – a production manager once told me, “Life is too short to drink s*** wine.” So I’d rather open a nice bottle every now and again and drink that. I don’t spend a fortune, but when Christmas is coming, I do start thinking about what we’re going to have.

I’ve got a few favourite Christmas songs. I used to really dislike Wham’s “Last Christmas” – I think because I didn’t like the video when it came out. I also felt like George Michael’s voice – he was one of the greatest singers I think we’ve ever produced – was a bit wasted. But then we sang it recently at a party with my band, and it made me appreciate it a lot more. It’s such a simple song, basically the same four chords the whole way through, but the melody is fantastic. So I’ve grown to really like it, and now I think it’s cheesy in a great way.

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My ultimate favourite is probably “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby. Back in the day, you’d hear it for the first time around mid-December (now it comes on the radio in November), and it’d make you think that Christmas was here. We did a cover once at the Royal Albert Hall with a full orchestra, which was wonderful.

Rick Astley during his Magic of Christmas show at the London Palladium (Getty)

I don’t really know why we haven’t had a big Christmas hit in recent years. I think it’s part of a symptom of the way music has gone, in that, we used to have certain artists that everyone knew – and even if they didn’t like them, they still knew all the songs.

For example, if Madonna put a song out, it was undeniable, and everyone whatever their age would know the words. Michael Jackson achieved that, probably U2… Now, someone could have four weeks at No 1 and you could ask a 15-year-old, a 25-year-old, a 50-year-old, do you know this song, and there’s a strong chance they’d have no idea. You need to come up with something that everyone’s going to remember.

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