Robin Gibb profile: More than one woman
IT'S an open marriage between eccentric equals, a union of the uninhibited and the unrepentant.
He's a sexually incontinent disco diva with a taste for cruising and threesomes, a one-time arsonist, thief and jailbird who is a teetotal vegan but has guzzled enough amphetamines to make Pete Doherty's jaw drop. She's a bisexual Druid queen turned Buddhist, a member of the Dracula Society with a weakness for Tarot cards, who once bulldozed the tennis court at their 13th-century Oxfordshire mansion to make way for a sun-calendar; a director whose only film credit is for a lipstick lesbian romance, Entwined; a writer whose sole contribution to the literary canon is a novella detailing Sapphic excess in Miami's gay community.
An engagingly odd couple, Bee Gees singer-songwriter Robin Gibb and wife, Dwina, nevertheless spoke with one voice. Sexual jealousy is energy-draining, they agreed in an interview early in their marriage. Sharing is caring, they concurred. "From the beginning we negotiated an open relationship – I don't worry about Dwina finding someone else and I don't have the urge to settle down with someone else either," said Robin. Dwina nodded, echoing Gibb's sentiments. "If Robin wanted a fling, so what? We have a spiritual, physical bond whereby we know we're always going to be together."
That, as it turns out, ain't necessarily so. The hippy mantra of free love may have held sway throughout their 25-year marriage but when a stork carrying a bundle of love called Snow Robin landed with a raucous thud on their front lawn, a more traditional morality reasserted itself. It was OK for Gibb to have been bedding his 33-year-old maid Claire Yang for eight years – apparently with Dwina's tacit approval – but the arrival of a daughter was beyond the pale. Suddenly, the only thing open in this marriage was the door, with Gibb, still insisting the arrival of his fourth child is "heaven sent", loudly invited to use it by his outraged spouse.
News of Gibb's travails became public knowledge last week, shortly before he and Dwina arrived at 11 Downing Street for a reception at which he was unveiled as the first Ambassador of the Diana Award, a scheme set up to honour the memory of the Sainted Di, another woman with an unconventional approach to marital matters. If his wife looked ashen, Gibb wore his usual goofy grin, Timmy Mallet specs and exuberantly bouffant toupee, and seemed unperturbed by the attention.
But then Gibb was in his element, grandstanding alongside his friend Gordon Brown, the chairman of the Queen of Hearts memorial committee. Sir Cliff Richard is also a friend, so too Tony Blair and Cherie, who formed a tight bond with the Mystic Dwina while the two famously enjoyed a freebie break at Gibb's sumptuous home in Miami Beach. Matt Damon, singers Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez and Shakira are all friends and neighbours.
It's a far cry from the 59-year-old's early years on the Isle of Man, where his domineering father Hugh – who was to be to twins Robin and Maurice, and older brother Barry what Joseph Jackson was to the Jackson Five – was a dance band leader by night and a delivery man by day. He wasn't much of a provider though, and by the time the family moved to Manchester, when Robin was four, the family were moving every few weeks to stay ahead of the bailiffs. With no money, the three boys and younger brother, Andy, shoplifted from Woolworths, raided parking meters and went housebreaking at night. "Our family didn't have much money so they had to make it on us," explained Robin.
While the boys had no friends of their own and no money, it wasn't all bad. Obsessive Beatles fans, they practised their harmonies for hours each evening using hairbrushes as microphones and honed their skills in the excellent acoustics of the toilets at John Lewis. Performing before cinema matinees was, says Robin, their form of escape: "The real world was just too real and we didn't want to be part of normal life, we wanted to create a magic world for the three of us."
But they were also involved in less innocent pursuits. Robin pepped up the evenings by torching local landmarks: first a garden shed, then the back of a shop and finally, in 1958, a whole row of billboards in Chorlton. After that night, the local bobby gave them two choices: arrest or a 10 assisted passage to Australia. The three boys performed in their pyjamas every night on the deck of the ship.
Not that things were much better in Brisbane where the habitual truants all left school early, Robin at 13. Their ambitious and overbearing father thought they had promise as singers and was hawking them around radio talent shows while simultaneously ridiculing their efforts. The painfully shy Robin bore the brunt of the invective and remains hideously insecure.
Returning to Blighty in 1967, they had a record deal less than three weeks after their boat docked, thanks to ballads like 'Massachusetts', 'To Love Somebody' and 'Words'. Barry and Robin were, however, already clashing over leadership – they were to split up several times over the issue – but their brand of music (they described their genre as "blue-eyed soul") was an instant hit.
Their phenomenal rise was cemented in 1977 by Saturday Night Fever. Their soundtrack featured hits such as 'Stayin' Alive' and 'More Than A Woman' and was number one in the US for six months while the album sold 40 million copies – only Michael Jackson's Thriller has ever sold more. In fact, the Bee Gees have written more American number ones than anyone except Lennon & McCartney (Benny & Bjorn are a distant third). Those statistics explain Robin's fortune of 150m, although he constantly complains that the Bee Gees have "never been afforded the respect we deserve".
Despite the best-selling records, by the late Seventies, Robin's life was in free fall. He and his first wife, secretary Molly Hullis – who he wed at 18 – were survivors of the horrific 1967 Hither Green rail crash in which 49 people died. He'd become addicted to amphetamines and his touring and serial infidelity (even then he claimed to have had over 100 lovers) led to the break-up of the marriage. Hullis disappeared and refused him access to their two children for six years. In 1983, he was jailed for two weeks for breaking a court order on custody.
During that low point, in 1980, Robin met Dwina, an artist who shared his birthday and his view that "an artist is an artist because he's not happy with the world". The daughter of an upright protestant family from County Tyrone, this believer in free love was still sufficiently of this world to find his swinging revelations in a radio interview so mortifying that he bought her a blue Jaguar as a penance.
This time, however, she may not be so easily bought off.
You've been Googled:
• Two of Robin's three brothers have died. Oldest brother Maurice died of complications after an operation in Miami in 2003. Robin's younger brother, Andy, a cocaine addict, died in 1988, aged just 30. He also has a sister, Lesley.
• The Bee Gees were named after the initials BG for the "Brothers Gibb".
• They wrote a stream of No1s for other performers, including 'Islands In The Stream' for Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, above, 'A Woman In Love' for Barbra Streisand and 'Chain Reaction' for Diana Ross.
• In 1992, Robin Gibb's wife Dwina, with whom he has a son Robin John (RJ), became the first woman for 300 years to be inaugurated as patroness of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids.
• In 1994, Robin Gibb was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and in 2001 he was awarded a CBE. He also received an honorary degree in music from the University of Manchester in 2004.
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