Gary Barlow on his ‘sibling rivalry’ with Robbie Williams and why Christmas is ‘everything’

Gary Barlow On His ‘Sibling Rivalry’ With Robbie Williams And Why Christmas Is ‘Everything’
Gary Barlow. Photo: PA Archive
Share this article

By Alex Green, PA Senior Entertainment Reporter

It may come as a surprise to discover that, until now, Gary Barlow had never even considered releasing a Christmas album.

There is little the singer, who celebrated his 50th birthday in January, has not tried in the three decades since Take That hit the big time.


But until Christmas 2020 – the Christmas that Covid-19 cancelled – the prospect of a festive record remained distant.

“I’ve not had an intention ever to do a Christmas record,” he tells me over video call from his home studio, equipment and instruments visible in the background.

“It just came about, as these things often do, almost completely by accident. I felt so robbed last Christmas that I kept sneaking off.

“My studio in our house is like a separate building. I walked across to it on Boxing Day and I was tinkling and playing some Christmas songs. And then this melody started to arrive.”


That melody was the opening line of The Dream Of Christmas and from that moment, Barlow was off.

Working in the gap between Christmas and New Year, he produced a demo which eventually was played to his record label, Universal. It was met with an enthusiastic reaction.

“Then this thing starts to grow and suddenly we’re in Abbey Road in the middle of May when it’s boiling hot, recording Christmas music.” Unable to avoid an easy pun, he adds: “So it snowballs.”


His demo grew into an album that mixes original compositions, featuring the likes of talented young cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, and Sheridan Smith, with festive classics such as Winter Wonderland and Sleigh Ride – and even a piece of prose by the poet Dylan Thomas.

Barlow says he would not have simply recorded an album of covers.

“My audience know me as a songwriter,” he explains. “I have to be honest, if I hadn’t have come up with anything I would have left it. But that song, The Dream Of Christmas, that just felt special to me. And it felt like it had a place on a Christmas album.


“If it had been just that song, I’d have been happy with that. But we did find others and it became this thing that grew and grew. Then you start digging into really obscure Christmas songs. And it ended up being really, really good fun actually.”

Even selecting the Christmas standards proved more interesting than expected.

“Christmas is everything,” he explains. “When you start to think about it, Christmas is so enjoyable. It’s a great time for family. It’s a great time for reflection. But it can also be a time of sadness, because it is a special time of year and there are certain people that aren’t with you any more to celebrate.

“It’s everything. Christmas brings every emotion, and it’s something I had never even considered before. So when you start making music for Christmas, what is that?

“And so I wanted to try and get all of that into one record – sadness, happiness, hope for next year. It’s all those things, to try and include all that in one piece of music.”

Christmas number one

The Dream Of Christmas faces stiff competition in the race for festive number one. Ed Sheeran and Sir Elton John’s Merry Christmas, Little Things by Abba and Easy On Me by Adele are all in the running.

“I think this Christmas is a whole different environment,” he admits.

“You’ve got the really big artists out this year. Adele’s out. Ed Sheeran is out. That’s going to be tricky. If I’m somewhere in the top 10 for Christmas, I’ll be really happy with that.

“I don’t think you can have a plan for those things. They just work or they don’t. I certainly never make music trying to aim for things like that. You just make the best record you can. You do the best tours you can. And the rest is just the bit you can’t control. Here’s hoping.”

Unfortunately for Barlow, his former Take That bandmate Robbie Williams has already beaten him to the top spot.

The Christmas Present, which Williams released in 2019, featured a madcap roll-call of collaborators, ranging from boxer Tyson Fury to Sir Rod Stewart.

“Isn’t that just typical,” Barlow jokes. “Oh, there’s lots of sibling rivalry still. But we laugh about it now.”

When we speak in mid-November, Barlow is about to embark on a busy few weeks – a tour, an album release and filming for Simon Cowell’s new TV project.

Barlow heads up the judging panel on Walk The Line, alongside comedian Dawn French, singer Alesha Dixon and UK garage star Craig David.

Cowell broke his back falling off an electric bike that he was testing at his house in Malibu in August last year, and Walk The Line was meant to mark his TV return. However, Cowell decided to step back for the first series.

“At the point where I got the phone call off Simon, I wasn’t planning any sort of TV,” recalls Barlow.

“I felt like I’d really done the talent show thing. But I liked the idea and I thought, ‘This is going to be different’. It’s quick. It’s just six episodes, which feels modern now.

“An idea of a series with 41 shows just feels like the past, I guess. So this felt like it was easy to do.

“The idea of putting undiscovered talent on TV is – I don’t want to sound too cliche – but it’s bloody important. And I love to see it, because there’s a lot out there. So if I can be a small part of that…

“I think it’s only for this series. I’m sure Simon will be back next year. It’s his show, but I’ve been happy to help and I like ITV. They’ve always been really good to me.”

This year, Barlow plans to have a quiet Christmas with his wife of more than 20 years, Dawn Andrews, their children, and his mother.

Gary Barlow at 50: Highs and lows of Take That sta...
Read More

“For me, it will be a whole different thing, because we will have toured, we will have released a record, we will have launched a new ITV show. Christ, it’s all happening in these next few weeks.

“It’ll be a massive relief to have it all done. And hopefully everyone who has toured with us and been with us is safe and well and healthy – and everyone’s enjoyed a good few weeks.”

The Dream Of Christmas by Gary Barlow is out now

Read More

Message submitting... Thank you for waiting.

Want us to email you top stories each lunch time?

Download our Apps
© 2023, developed by Square1 and powered by