My Night With a Robbie Williams Tribute Act

The girls on the front row are reaching out their arms to touch him. One of the girls who’s been chugging wine from the bottle is sick into her hands. My screams are getting more and more unhinged. Robbie prances around in his gold sequin number as he goes through other bangers, ending on crowd-pleaser “Angel”. He kills it.

I’m incredibly, pleasantly surprised. Usually, celebrity impersonators get a bad rep: mortifying at worst, cringey at best. We’ve seen it go wrong so many times, case in point your local Elvis impersonator – which is arguably what started it all in the 50s, before tribute bands fully kicked off after the Beatles. The bottom line is though, even if they’re good, you find it embarrassing because you think – brutally – they’re some wannabe who wasn’t talented enough to be an artist in their own right. It’s a bit like that old phrase: “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” In actuality, many tribute artists only enter the industry after constantly being told they resemble that person, according to one impersonator. Dan Budd’s career started after Robbie’s real dad spotted the likeness at a karaoke bar (he wasn’t even singing Robbie).

And as Budd proves, there’s something incredibly impressive about mastering a celebrity’s singing voice, speaking voice, mannerism and looks, which is obviously just genetic luck – or fate. 

Back at the gig now though, and Take That are dad-dancing onto the stage again, with Robbie this time, for the OG band reunion we’ve been waiting for. In “Relight My Fire” Gary shows off some moves that remind me of that wedding singer in The Hangover. “Could It be Magic” is a sight to behold, with the same wonderfully cringey boy band choreography – lots of jumping, pointing and getting low. They’re all having a right old laugh, noticeably more than the first act. Maybe it’s down to Robbie, or maybe it’s fuelled by, um, something else? Who knows! We’re all having a ball. (Howard, however, seems to have bad knees.)

In “Back for Good”, Robbie and Gary step down off the stage and swan through the crowd, with Robbie going up to Shelagh for a hug and a pork pie. Shelagh is practically crying. I’m ever so slightly – just slightly, OK – jealous. I half-try to brush past Robbie, but I can’t quite get close enough. My boyfriend asks me to stop making my lust for him so obvious.

As the evening concludes on “Never Forget”, the room bursts into joy. My mum has her arm around me. My boyfriend and I might’ve arrived feeling too young, too cool, too superior, but we – or at least I – left feeling like my soul had been nourished. 

Seeing Robbie 2.0 – especially next to the other band members – solidified to me why Robbie was, is and always will be the top dog of Take That. His aura is electric. His appeal is eternal. He’s the perfect loose canon popstar. And let’s face it, seeing him live would probably set you back hundreds in this ridiculous gig ticket era – so why not save your pennies and get the Next Best Thing? Maybe, as we get priced out of actual artists’ shows, the true era of the tribute is upon us.

When I leave the gig, I promise myself I’ll go to more tribute acts because it was a fucking hoot. I vow to listen to Robbie more than just when doing karaoke. I convince my mum to try and hire Dan Budd for her 60th. Sadly, this never happened because he is booked up the entire year. Still, as mum tells me on the way out: “It was the best £15 per person I’ve ever spent.”



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