WHEN Take That were launched the band which would propel Robbie Williams to stardom were initially aimed at the gay market.
AT school, a young Rob Williams was popular with girls, but was no heart-throb. He was a chunky child and found his best policy was getting them to laugh. It was only at a school disco in 1990, when he took to the stage and sang Every Time We Say Goodbye, that he saw the effect he had on his hormonal female classmates. There was much weeping and swooning.
It’s been the same ever since. While in Take That there was a "no girlfriend" rule, but almost from the start Rob was flouting it. And when in 1995 he quit Take That, he embarked on a succession of high-profile relationships.
The first was with Jacqueline Hamilton-Smith, the daughter of Lord Colwyn. The unlikely couple had met at a showbiz party and Rob was said to be smitten. They eventually lived together but the constant partying got too much for Rob and he moved out.
Next in line was actress Anna Friel, although that ended when he was snapped leaving a nightclub with an unknown blonde on his arm, although he was soon linked to Mel C and Denise Van Outen.
But in 1998 Rob had his first real relationship when he met Nicole Appleton. She invited him to her birthday party and the pair spent the night chatting. Almost from then on they were an item.
Then Nicole discovered she was pregnant, but while Rob was delighted, Nicole claims she was put under pressure to have a termination by her band’s management. She finally cracked and had a termination - but the relationship survived and also stood firm in the face of allegations from a lap dancer that she had given Rob a private show. In the summer Rob proposed, but their relationship was under strain because of their work schedules. Seven weeks after he asked her to marry him Rob called off the relationship.
He went to the south of France where he was photographed with a gaggle of beach beauties, while back in London Danish barmaid Linnea Dietrichson claimed he took her back to his place for sex.
Then Rob and Nicole were on again. But by the end of 1999 it was over. Rob had been chasing Andrea Corr, and when Nicole found out her revenge was swift and brutal. He was dumped.
But while that relationship was undoubtedly real, the next was more doubtful. To celebrate the millennium he went on holiday at New Year in St Moritz with Tania Strecker. She was a well-known party girl and self-promoter but also his manager’s step-daughter and was desperate to be a big name in television. The publicity would not have harmed her chances.
Likewise his relationship with Geri Halliwell a few months later was open to question. The liaison between the pair had stunt written all over it. The papers were reporting it was love, but their holiday in France was conducted in front of the camera lenses. The campaign worked a treat and the papers were full of the story.
Twelve months later Rob would admit he hadn’t had a girlfriend since Tania, but it was months before be came clean and admitted his relationship with Geri was strictly platonic.
The are-they-aren’t tease was used to spectacular effect again with Nicole Kidman. The raunchy video for their duet Something Stupid hinted at a possible relationship and the couple were willing accomplices. While there was the chance of a number one single, neither denied the story. In truth the relationship was nothing more than professional.
It was a similar story in February 2002 when Rob started dating Rod Stewart’s ex-wife Rachel Hunter. The couple were first snapped at a basketball game, giving credence to rumours of their relationship. Then in the autumn the tabloid papers hit gold.
Rob and Rachel were photographed obliviously relaxing naked in the garden of a Hollywood hotel. The shots were of a highly intimate and intrusive nature. But there seemed to be a problem with the images. The manner in which they were taken was a breach of the Press Complaints Commission code on privacy. But neither complained.
It was also obvious from the quality that the photographer was very close - close enough for the lovers to have spotted him. The clincher was the mug next to the singer. The piece of china was emblazoned "Blues Brothers". Was it coincidence that Rob was at the time renting Dan Aykroyd’s home?
Since then Rob has revealed that the whole exercise was stage-managed. His argument was "give them what they want and they’ll leave us alone".
But there were other reasons. Rachel needed publicity for her new career as an actress, and Rob was trying to tie up a new record deal and break the US market. The shots would do no harm to either.
However given his admission the whole thing was a set up it leaves him wide open to the accusation that if he staged the pictures how do we know he didn’t stage the whole "affair"? And if he needs to manufacture relationships with women, what is he trying to hide about his sexuality?
For year Rob has batted questions about his sexuality. It’s unsurprising he should find himself at the centre of such a debate for "Robbie Williams" is undeniably camp. It’s part of his music-hall, cabaret heritage and he likes us to be interested in his sexuality. The official line from Rob is that it’s women who turn him on. He has said though: "I have never slept with a man. I have never done anything with a man. You try everything once in life. I’m not discounting it, but it hasn’t appealed enough yet."
But his relationship with old school friend Jonathan Wilkes has been subject to speculation, although people forget that Wilkes has a long-term girlfriend. Their rendition of Me and My Shadow at the Albert Hall was chock-full of campery and the pair seemed to enjoy the limp-wristed pantomime. However when quizzed about his sexuality recently Rob snapped: "Look I’m straight, right."
And the fact that women outnumber guys six to one at his gigs would seem to prove the point.
• Edited and abridged extract from the book Robbie Williams: Angels & Demons, by Paul Scott. Printed by Andre Deutsch Ltd. RRP 16.99, available now.