Rick Astley tells Andrew Arthur how a midlife crisis project reignited his recording career
After topping the charts in 25 countries with one of the best-selling songs of the 1980s, you may have thought that success would have gone to many singers’ heads. Not Rick Astley.
“I knew I wasn’t cool. I just wasn’t. Look at the videos!” a relaxed Astley, 52, laughs.
Throughout our conversation, Astley is friendly and self-effacing as he reflects on how much pop music has changed since his enduring classic Never Gonna Give You Up arrived 30 years ago.
“In terms of myself and how I would have fared now, I just think it was a very different time.
“I’m not saying that Never Gonna Give You Up is uncool. I’m saying I wasn’t cool. I think there is a distinction there.”
One of the things I learned was people who get to a certain age still want to have a dance.
Under the guidance of production team Stock Aitken and Waterman the Lancastrian quickly shot to stardom.
When asked if he ever pushed back from the way he was marketed, Astley replies: “There was no time for that.
“The first time I went on Top Of The Pops, I turned up in a jacket I bought while doing a radio promotional tour in Scotland and found myself on TV in front of 12 million people.
“There was no kind of styling or strategy for how we were going to do this – and that’s true today, folks!”
Astley is currently riding the wave of what many would have thought an unlikely comeback. He is set to release a new album, Beautiful Life.
It’s the follow-up to the platinum-selling 50, his first LP to reach number one in the UK since his debut Whenever You Need Somebody.
On his recent success, Astley again strikes a modest tone.
“One of the main things I learned while touring the last record was people who get to a certain age still want to have a dance.
“It made me feel free to write some more uptempo tunes.
“I was writing the last one to hear it, so I think lyrically I didn’t even give it a second thought.
“It was a bit like my midlife crisis project and then we ended up having a number one album.”
That Astley is still releasing new material is remarkable given that aged 27 he retired after selling 40 million records.
Disillusioned by the business side of the industry, Astley swapped the spotlight for family life to raise daughter Emilie with his Danish film producer wife Lene Bausager.
During that time Astley says he was “happily invisible” as he explains why he turned his back on fame.
“It is a daft and silly business. After doing it for five years I never fell out of love with music.
“I’ve always had a studio to potter about in. But the idea of having a major record deal and trying to have a worldwide hit record, knowing what that takes up of you as a person, I just wasn’t willing to carry on.
“I got sick of it and the business and the public probably got sick of me. It was a good time to stop.”
Astley was inadvertently thrust back into the public eye as the subject of the internet viral sensation known as “Rick-rolling”.
Internet users were sent a link to a video that claimed to be something else but then cuts to the video of Never Gonna Give You Up.
A decade after it caught on, Astley admits he doesn’t understand the craze that helped relaunch his career.
“Quite early on, a friend ‘Rick-rolled’ me. He did it again and again.
“I kept saying, ‘What are you doing, you idiot?’ Eventually we spoke on the phone because I didn’t know what he was getting at.
“I discussed it with our daughter and she pointed out that the whole thing doesn’t really have anything to do with me.
“I know it’s my video but it could have been anyone. There’s been some amazing things done with it. I don’t have any hang-ups about it.”
Astley is clearly a serious musician, a description he disputes when it’s put to him.
Yet Astley is still wedded to Never Gonna Give You Up. Despite having clocked up eight other UK top 10 solo hits, he doesn’t resent his signature tune.
“I genuinely don’t get sick of it. I didn’t sing it for so long and that’s helped me with it.”
While he is disparaging of himself, Astley never criticises the song he says has only ever been good to him.
“If it gets played in a bar here, it’s not like it comes on and it sounds really naff. Well, I’m sure some people think that. But in terms of the general sound of it, I don’t think it’s uncool at all.”
• Beautiful Life by Rick Astley is out on Friday. His UK tour begins in October