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Gary Barlow at 50: Highs and lows of the Take That star’s glittering career

Keiran Southern, PA
·5-min read

Gary Barlow is one of the most successful songwriters in British musical history, proving wildly popular both as part of Take That and as a solo artist.

Barlow, who celebrates his 50th birthday on Wednesday, developed a love of music thanks to stars including Sir Elton John and taught himself to play his favourite songs on a keyboard.

After a stint on the club circuit in the north of England, super stardom beckoned when he formed Take That.

To mark Barlow’s birthday, the PA news agency takes a look back at his career so far:

Take That’s early success

Barlow formed the wildly popular group in Manchester in 1990 alongside Howard Donald, Mark Owen, Jason Orange and Robbie Williams.

He was the band’s creative engine, writing or co-writing many of their biggest hits including Back For Good, Never Forget and A Million Love Songs.

After Williams left to pursue a solo career in 1995, Take That called it a day a year later having cemented their place as one of the most successful boybands of all time.

Solo joy turns sour

That That
A young Take That – including Gary Barlow, Howard Donald, Mark Owen, Robbie Williams and Jason Orange – took the music world by storm (Neil Munns/PA)

With his prodigious songwriting talent, a successful solo career seemed certain for Barlow and he was touted as the next George Michael.

He got off to a fine start, with his first two singles Forever Love and Love Won’t Wait going to number one in the charts. Open Road, Barlow’s 1997 debut solo album, also topped the charts.

However, while Williams continued to find success on his own, Barlow’s career entered a lull and he quit singing in 1999 to act as a producer for other artists.

He later admitted to losing confidence and being unable to recapture his gift for songwriting.

Battles with an eating disorder

Barlow said his weight ballooned to 17 stone by 2003 as he struggled to come to terms with his career slump.

He said he had an eating disorder which he claimed stemmed from a subconscious desire to “kill off the popstar”.

Looking back on his decision to get healthy, Barlow said: “There was a lightbulb moment. I realised this is as bad as I want to let it get.

“It involved a trip to the doctor who informed me of my weight and that I was in a bad place. I had young kids and it felt highly irresponsible to be in the shape I was in.

“The music confidence had gone, now the personal confidence had gone. I needed to change that. ”

Take That return more successful than ever

Take That visit Radio 1
After a decade away, Take That reformed in 2005 and the once-estranged Robbie Williams re-joined in 2010 (Yui Mok/PA)

A 2005 documentary titled Take That: For The Record brought renewed interest in the once all-conquering boy band and they reunited that year – minus the still estranged Williams.

They hit the road in 2006 for The Ultimate Tour, which proved hugely successful and their comeback album Beautiful World catapulted them back to the top of the charts.

Williams rejoined the band for the 2010 album Progress, which was another smash hit and number one record.

Tax controversy

Gary Barlow on Desert Island Discs
Gary Barlow opened up on his tax controversy during an appearance on Desert Island Discs with presenter Lauren Laverne (Amanda Benson/BBC Radio 4/PA)

Barlow faced heavy criticism after being caught up in a tax avoidance scandal in 2014.

He later said he had little knowledge of accounts and took full responsibility for the damaging episode.

During his 2018 appearance on Desert Island Discs, Barlow said: “You try and do these things under the guidance of other people. I don’t know a thing about accounts. I never want to. It’s of no interest to me.”

He added: “I signed those things. It’s my responsibility.”

Tragedy strikes family life

Barlow has been married to former Take That backing dancer Dawn Andrews since 2000.

The couple have three children and a fourth, a daughter named Poppy, was delivered stillborn in 2012, days before Take That were booked to perform at the closing ceremony of the London Olympics.

Discussing the tragedy, Barlow said: “For anyone who’s been through anything like this, I think it’s something you accept that you’re going to be dealing with for the rest of your life.”

Barlow wrote movingly about the loss in his 2018 autobiography A Better Me.

Success is Back For Good

Gary Barlow
Gary Barlow remains one of Britain’s most successful musicians (Matt Crossick/PA)

Barlow is recognised as one of the most successful and influential songwriters of his generation and in 2012 was honoured with an Ivor Novello award for his outstanding contribution to British music.

He was a judge on talent shows the X Factor and Let It Shine, has written musicals and been made an OBE.

And his talent for songwriting remains as strong as ever.

In December he beat another act spawned in the 1990s – band Steps – to number one in the album charts with his fifth solo record Music Played By Humans.

Responding to the news, a delighted Barlow said: “What an honour, what a privilege, I can’t believe it. This possibly could mean the most to me than any other before.”