Robbie Williams review, BST Hyde Park: gloriously entertained by the new Tom Jones

James Hall
Robbie Williams at BST Hyde Park - Getty Images Europe

Robbie Williams brought a dollop of Las Vegas pizzazz to the closing night of the British Summer Time concert series in Hyde Park. Fresh from a 16-show residency in Sin City, the 45-year-old left no stone unturned to dazzle 65,000 fans. Did he entertain us? And how.

There was a sense of unfettered celebration about this show. Perhaps it was because England had won a World Cup a mile or so up the road just minutes before Williams took to the stage. Perhaps it was because Hyde Park blushed a breathtaking pink under a tangerine sunset (although the flushed hue could equally have come from the gallons of rosé that Williams’ fans had guzzled throughout the afternoon). Or perhaps – in my case – it was because having stood through almost four enjoyable-yet-visually sterile hours of Neil Young and Bob Dylan in the same park on Friday evening, my desire to see “a show” was heightened.

Surrounded by a troupe of dancers, the former Take That member and tabloid-filling wild child bounded on in a black and silver jacket and ripped through Let Me Entertain You before leading the crowd through a series of Freddie Mercury-esque call and responses. “Are you ready to worship at the temple of light entertainment?” he shouted. “The number one rule of entertainment is ‘You have to love your audience’. And in the Nineties I tried to love you all individually.”

And so the familiar Williams tone was set: part showman, part comedian. But what made this show different was the sense of a rubicon having been crossed. Now a middle-aged family man with a Vegas residency, and having not had a UK number one single for seven years, Williams can safely be labelled a heritage act. Is he musically relevant? Hardly. Is he close to the zeitgeist? No. But in becoming our new Tom Jones, he has upped his production values and lost that sense of shouty insecurity that could make him so annoying in the past.

Even songs like Old Before I Die, 1997’s cringey attempt at Britpop bandwagon-jumping, took on a cheery nostalgic sheen. There were cabaret twists a-plenty: a choir made up of X-Factor contestants (Williams was a judge last year) came on for Never Forget, Williams’s father Peter joined him for Sweet Caroline, and a female audience member called Lesley was serenaded on a sofa during Somethin’ Stupid

Robbie Williams at BST Hyde Park Credit: Dave J Hogan/Getty

But just when things teetered a little too far in the direction of vaudeville, a full-on laser show would begin and Williams would play a song like No Regrets, co-written in 1998 with long-term collaborator (and current band mate) Guy Chambers. Mournful and slow-burning, No Regrets remains one of the greatest pop songs of the Nineties.

Williams lapped up the cheerful energy as much as the audience, did. “I’ve got a massive smile on my face, and a smile in my heart,” he said after a final run of Kids, Rock DJ, She’s the One and, of course, Angels (“the national anthem”, as Williams called it).

As fireworks popped overhead, you felt that it’s only a matter of time before Williams gets the call up to perform in Glastonbury’s fabled Sunday afternoon Legends Slot. This moved down a generation last month from septuagenarians to Kylie Minogue, so he’d be fair game. And on this basis he’d nail it. 

Williams’s hits might be behind him. And as he joked from the stage, the backstage drugs have been replaced by hummus and celery. But he doesn’t care. Nor did the beaming crowd. Robbie Williams: he’s loving ageing instead.