It was going to be so easy…just a quick stroll down the road from my home, to a venue I was looking forward to experiencing; Robbie Williams wasn’t someone I was ever a fan of – but just from working music-retail (and reviewing) I knew his material, most of it anyway. Maybe he’d be the great song-‘n’-dance man. But god no, he sounded awful, almost comically bad. And so I said as much. And didn’t think a whole lot of it – oh sure, I can’t lie, I figured maybe there’d be some rarked-up fans, a few whinge-comments. And, hey, that’s their right. I’ve had my say. They can have theirs. I don’t ever write reviews hoping to wind people up – but I’m realistic that it might happen. Roll with the punches.
Well, a day or so after, Robbie started doing the punches. And anyway I’ve covered most of this – a year after the gig I decided to write about it for my new Spinoff Parents column; Robbie had tweeted out a picture of me and my son (then just 5 months old). He’d dug deep and called me “Babyeater!” His fans, peaceniks, were pitchforking away, retweeting and laughing it up. Angry mob satiated, slightly, since their hero had stabbed me where it hurt (and hey, plenty of coverage, so to speak, soft, easy target apparently). In Auckland, a couple of days after the Wellington gig he had actually name-dropped me, used my name to end his vitriolic poem about how he travels everywhere first class. Taste is in his mouth. Class is where he sits. No wonder he sounded like shit trying to sing Bohemian Rhapdsody and even his own songs. Thin-skinned Robbie went on and on about it and so did his fans. And then it was – nearly – forgotten. Until he was about to release a new album and the website I worked for (Stuff.co.nz, owned by Fairfax, they also own the paper I wrote the review for in the first case, The Dominion Post) interviewed him. They asked him all about his time in NZ and my “harsh” review. And he bit. And said it hurt him. And so on. So they (the paper/site) came to me and asked – begged – for me to write my reply; they wanted a cage-match. And I said no. No interest. They wouldn’t print my story all about how my family was actually pretty upset by his actions; how he’d made it personal – gone beyond what should happen. And how I’d ignored any/all requests to write about it. Only when I figured it might make a story from the parenting angle – and my editor there had thought so too – did it seem worth even exploring. So I said no to Fairfax. And no again. And when they promised me what they paid me in a week for one piece of writing – “however long you like, just something, anything!” – I said no. No thank you. Thanks, but no.
And then a day later I was fired. Via email. My services suddenly no longer required. The guy – who couldn’t even pick up a phone – told me that no one read my stuff anymore and I wasn’t worth keeping. I wrote back saying that I seemed to recall, since it was only a day earlier, them offering me a week’s wage for one piece of writing. He copied in the lawyer, his boss, his boss’ boss and they politely said to fuck off. Never mind writing for the paper for 12 years or so and the website for about eight. Just get lost. So I did. And I am.
A week or so after that – late last year, a year on from writing a review, you know “yesterday’s news/tomorrow’s fish’n’chip wrap” I was contacted by someone from the record label in the UK. Could they have an email address so Robbie Williams could contact me personally? Oh fuck, this story is never going to die. I was curious, sure, why not. Maybe Robbie would donate to my child’s university fund…Not quite. But an email from Robbie did arrive. He’d read my Spinoff column, or at least the headline (I’m not being smart, his email said he felt sick as soon as he read the headline, maybe he didn’t read the full story). He apologised. He felt like a fool. He was wrong. In the wrong. He wasn’t thinking. Rush of blood to the head, mate. You know…
I didn’t really. But I was reading an email from Robbie Williams. Sent to me. Surreal. Odd. Not necessary. Kinda nice, but not really sincere – what’s the bet a PR ghoul, a manager, had told him to nip this in the bud, so that future Kiwi (and other) press didn’t continue to reference this rift? Oh well, he didn’t need to. Good point. He really didn’t need to.
But imagine Fairfax getting hold of that email? Imagine the thrill they could have had. They could have kept me in their employment – they sure dined out on the story when it suited, even used the picture of me and my son being mocked (such great support from them!) – and in exchange for a few more columns and reviews, and just a few dollars here and there I might have even let them print Robbie Williams’ email to me. But no. They panicked. Got angry that I chose to post a story somewhere else – which should be any freelancer’s right, and was certainly mine. They’d love that Robbie Williams email. They would print it on their site. And gloat. And gloat. And they’d leave the comments up so readers could write in and say what a top bloke Robbie was. Again. And Again.
I no longer work for Fairfax. Haven’t done for a few months now. Fired on the spot by a guy who couldn’t even pick up a phone. He had phoned the day earlier to beg me to write about Robbie though…I don’t wish him any malice. I sure hope he’s found his phone.
If you would like me to write for your publication please get in touch. Simon@offthetracks.co.nz – freelance writer, 20 years’ experience, thick-skin, fast, honest (that’s often been a problem)…
And yes, I have this ticket-stub. From the concert (and concert review) that won’t end. It’s been an excellent bookmark.
Stubs is an occasional feature here at Off The Tracks – looking back through the ticket-stub box and remembering how the show went down.