The pop group Take That yesterday broke a promise to fans that they would be around for "as long as you want us to go on" by announcing their next single will be their last, ending six months of rumours.
The decision will affect the legal position of Robbie Williams, who left the best-selling band last year and faces the band's record company, RCA, in the High Court in two weeks' time in an attempt to break his contract and start a solo career. It is rumoured he plans to team up with Noel Gallagher of Oasis once free of RCA.
Take That's singer-songwriter Gary Barlow said the group was splitting after the release of their next single, a cover of the Bee Gees song "How Deep Is Your Love?", and a greatest hits album. "Thanks for everybody's support in the last five years. You've been absolutely fantastic ... but unfortunately the rumours are true," the 25-year-old told a press conference in Manchester.
Williams, who was celebrating his 22nd birthday, said:"Frankly, I am more concerned about how Port Vale do in the cup tonight [but] Take That were six years of my life and I know how the guys are feeling."
Thousands of teenage girls have been left heartbroken by the band's decision. The Samaritans have set up a telephone helpline to offer counselling to fans, and national pop magazines have also been fielding calls from tearful teenagers.
But it is not just British fans who are "distraught". German fans were among those who reacted worst when band member Robbie Williams quit the group last year, and German officials yesterday urged RCA to set up telephone lines to help desperate fans. One 14-year old girl in Berlin tried to commit suicide on learning that Williams would never play with the group again.
Williams is, meanwhile, still under contract to RCA. The editor of Smash Hits, Kate Thornton, said she believes Williams's legal team are intending to argue that he should be released by RCA because it would mean a conflict of interest for the company if it continued to represent both him and Take That. Now that RCA is to back the solo careers of Barlow and the other remaining band members - Mark Owen, 24, Jason Orange, 25, and Howard Donald, 27 - that argument could fall.
Music business insiders remained cynical about the timing of yesterday's announcement: Take That are favourite to win the Brit Awards best single, voted by fans, on Monday. n Paul McCartney was the target of a pounds 100,000 assassination plot, according to a report in the Sun newspaper which claimed a hitman was hired to kill the former Beatle but failed when his plan was reported to the police. Scotland Yard said last night that it was unaware of any threat to Mr McCartney's life.
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