By Jennifer Bradbury ROBBIE WIlliams, the wild man of Take That, performed a private show on the Mrs Merton set at Granada Studios last week. And the BEN was on hand to grab a word with this extraordinary talent, whose new single, Let Me Entertain You, is released on Monday. This time last year Robbie was hard at work on his first solo album, Life Thru' a Lens. He was famous for being famous - and he knew it. So he had a great deal to prove to himself and his fans.

Twelve months later with a platinum single, a platinum album and two Brit nominations, Robbie doesn't have to prove anything.

So how is he feeling following the success of the album?

"I'm feeling confident. I was thinking to myself that over a million people have bought it now, and it nearly didn't work. It was touch and go, but I had a lot of confidence in the album. I thought, I know it's a great album but I was worried that if it didn't happen people would think it was because it was crap. But fortunately people are now listening to it and now it's a good album. So I'm dead chuffed with myself. "

Up until November last year, the album had sold just 33,000 copies. What was the turning point?

"Angels came out and boom, that was the track that did it," says Robbie.

"Angels stayed in the top 10 for nearly three months and the album rushed up the charts."

He went on: "I've got a song called, Let Me Entertain You, coming out soon. And apparently people are postponing their record releases because I'm releasing my record that week, and that's like wow. That sort of thing used to happen with Take That and now it's happening with me. It's great that it hasn't come very easy and it's great that a lot of people thought that I wouldn't do it. A lot of people hoped that I wouldn't do it. I'm sure there was immense hope in some people's heads. So it's great going 'na na' told you so."

Robbie is currently enjoying superstar status in his own right, but after six years with Take That, how did he feel when they split? Was he scared, or was it a case of being able to do his own thing?

"I did partying, which was great. To tell you the truth I wasn't that concerned about anything.

" I'd spent six years being very concerned about a lot of things and it was time to grow up. I know it's not growing up gracefully when you do it in public sometimes. But, I actually went out and I was 17, 18, 19 and 20. I did a lot of sleeping around, drinking, staying up all night, like people do when they're that age. It's done me the power of good. I've come out the other side and I've got a lot to write about. I'm very confident and happy."

Which takes us neatly back to the album. Is it from the heart?

"Yes. It's dead weird. I'd never written an album before. Lots of people don't. People go through their lives without writing an album.

"I didn't know what to write about. I'd plenty of stuff to write about but I was thinking is this too personal to me? Can people relate to this?

"In the end, sack it. Some of the people, some of the time, are going to like it. But the next album is a lot different. I think it's going to mean a lot more to a lot of people. It's my feelings but more general."

In the past Robbie's been quoted as saying that if he'd realised how easy writing songs was, he'd have done it a lot sooner. Is that the case?

"Yes, it's very easy. I've got a melody in my mind and lyrics. That's how it started. And I've got this fantastic writing partner, whose my best friend, Guy Chambers, and we just go and sit in. I know my three chords now. That's all you need. I just mess about with them and see what comes up. It's as easy as that. I think everybody should have a go at it."

The last track on Robbie's album is a poem about a teacher at school who thought he wouldn't make it. What's the story there?

"It's not just one teacher, it's about everybody that says it," he explains. "I wanted to do something that was out of the ordinary. I wanted to entertain. I wanted to be a singer, an actor. But that scares a lot of people, because a lot of people don't have hopes for themselves, like I had. So when you say you want to do something different, especially at school, and especially at my school, they say, don't be silly, join the army. But I didn't want to join the army. I wanted to do this, singing songs."

The Stoke-born singer admits he's not a great fan of Manchester, the home-base for Take That.

"I think there's a lot of lovely people here, but I really do think it needs a clean up and it's always miserable when I come to Manchester. To tell the truth, I don't have any happy memories of Manchester. And I don't like coming that much.

"But I love performing here. When I came on tour, probably the best night was in Manchester. Everybody was up for it and everybody loves live music. So I love the people up here but as far as memories go, no."

Following the break up of Take That, Robbie famously went off the rails, and after a year of drinking ended up in rehab clinic. Does he regret those wild times?

"No, I don't regret it at all. I had an hedonistic period. Like I said earlier, I didn't have the chance to do it before. We had this fantastic thing going on with Take That. It was great and I'm not slagging it. But there was a lot of things that went with it that were crap.

"There were a lot of forces out of a lot of people's hands, including the management and ours. We didn't know what to expect and we got this whole load of heavy heap. And I just wanted to go out."

And go out he did, when he got the chance - big style.

"I've got a lot to write about and so the experience did me well," he grins.

Listeners to Key 103 can hear an exclusive One-2-One interview with Robbie Williams on the Rebecca Franklin show, between 8-8.30pm on Friday, March 20. And listeners can also take part in an on-air competition to win a glittering VIP package to see Robbie's London concert.

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