Robbie Williams is loved and loathed across the world, and he knows it. In this surprisingly candid new Netflix documentary, the singer comes to terms with his rocky past and rewrites the negative media narrative in his favour.
Although it occasionally borders on a therapy session, the documentary is a welcome portrait of the singer’s emotional side that, as we learn, inspired many of his world-renowned songs. If, like me, you weren’t a fan of Robbie before, you might just be after watching this.
Robbie Williams Documentary Review
Most of the documentary’s narration comes from a pyjama-clad Robbie on his bed with his laptop, creating a down-to-earth, relatable feel. We see him rewatch footage of his career’s lows and highs, providing incisive observations about his songwriting, addictions, and shaky sense of self. (He jokes about how he found his music too ‘Karma Chameleon’ but simultaneously took it quite seriously).
Compared with David Beckham’s more tight-lipped recent docuseries, the self-awareness shown by Robbie in his documentary’s interviews and historical footage is admirable. We learn that he always knew he was struggling mentally and always managed to seek help, aware that his life could have taken a very different turn.
It’s also enlightening to see how involved Robbie was in the songwriting process; this isn’t something his critics like to recognise. We bear witness to the multiple holidays abroad with his songwriting partner, Guy Chambers, whose jamming sessions helped Robbie conceive catchy lyrics off the cuff. Even if you don’t love the music, you can admire this artistic process.
A lyric that particularly stands out in the docuseries is ‘I just wanna feel real love in the home that I live in’. Robbie contextualises this within his suffering from relentless media abuse, referencing his heartfelt performance at Knebworth, where he re-sang the lyric with tears in his eyes. Robbie’s love for his crowds and his country is palpable, a love we learn he later extended to his wife and children, who also feature briefly in the series.
However, with the more traumatic talk of addiction, depression, and betrayals (Geri Halliwell might have betrayed him to the paparazzi), the documentary makes for heavy viewing and is best watched in doses rather than binged. In this respect, some viewers and reporters have accused the star of a kind of ‘narcissistic’ victim complex, but this seems misplaced: the tone isn’t ‘woe is me’; it is ‘here is me’.
Further, the arguments implying that the series has ‘navel-gazing’ intent, based on Robbie being its sole narrator, seem more like projection than level-headed critique. It is commonplace for celebrities to narrate their lives from a singular perspective—consider the ubiquity of autobiographies—and it is understandable that Williams wanted to be his own mouthpiece after decades of media appropriation.
While some critics’ egos hinge on feeling superior to the ‘mainstream’, most viewers of the docuseries—including non-fans—have warmed to Robbie’s story and grown to appreciate his musical flair. As proven by Knebworth, the star can get a crowd rocking more than many solo performers can, and Robbie’s gaining energy from that isn’t conceited; it’s being a passionate artist having fun with his fans.
While emotionally tough to watch overall, the Robbie Williams documentary is an admirable coming-to-terms by a star who has evidently done his therapy and wants to share his traumatic story of celebrity with the world. Such a frank vulnerability is rare among the rich and famous—and the rest of humanity, for that matter—and should be applauded rather than demonised.
Through his documentary’s emotional rawness, Robbie brings viewers closer to his heart and makes it about much more than his solo act. He shows celebrities and ordinary people that they—like him—can be emotionally open, ask for help, and ‘feel real love’. Very few stars have as profound a legacy as this.