Twenty-one years ago, millions of teenage girls were left heartbroken when the world’s most famous boy band, Take That, split up. Such was the extremity that helplines were set up for devastated fans, in what was an unprecedented reaction to the break-up of a pop group.
Fast forward to a 2005 reunion and subsequent 45 million record sales worldwide, and it’s hard to believe the future was ever in doubt.
Things have, of course, changed – they’re now a three- rather than five-piece – but their catchy songs, energetic dance moves and loveable charm remain.
On Thursday November 30, Gary Barlow, Mark Owen and Howard Donald will be arriving in Dubai for a special one-off gig at the Dubai Media City Amphitheatre. The trio last played in the emirate two years ago, and they can’t wait to get back to the Dubai fans and sunshine.
“It was a really beautiful crowd last time we were here,” says Donald. “People were in the zone, singing along, enjoying it, just having a great time. We’re looking forward to it.”
And after all these years they still love singing their hits – which is excellent news, especially for all those who spent hours listening to cassettes on personal stereos.
“From the new album I love Giants and Cry. But from the old stuff it’s all about Back For Good, Relight My Fire, all those that have so much energy,” says Donald.
Given they’ve had 56 number ones worldwide, there’s a lot to pick from. “We always try and put all the hits in our shows,” says Owen. “Doing the set lists is really important as you want to try and play the songs people know and love.
“I think we’re quite good at it now, though. We have around two hours on stage and we’re very fortunate as we’ve been around quite a while, so we have lots of songs to choose from. We’ll probably end up doing around 20 to 25 songs during that time.”
Known for their massive productions and wow-factor shows, Dubai can expect a slightly more paired-down version when Take That land in the city, as the big productions “don’t travel so well”.
“It’s really more of a raw, live show,” Owen explains. “It’s more of the band and less of us with elephants, robots and trapeze acts. We say back to basics but it’s still challenging.”
Robots won’t be involved (luckily for Donald, who recounts how he once got stuck on one during the act and had to be rescued with a safety ladder). But before you throw up your hands in horror, the lads’ trademark dance moves will be making their way to the city.
Fortunately, the trio will be guaranteed to be throwing shapes in better outfits than they were 20-odd years ago.
“Yeah, we’ll be dancing!” exclaims Donald, who turns 50 next year, shocked by the very thought of a sedentary show. “Dancing is part and parcel of what we do – if we’re not doing that I feel like we’re not being ourselves. There’ll be a lot of it. You finish the tour and you’re 100 percent fit. Exhausted, but fit.”
As men in their 40s dancing like they do is not to be sniffed at. A tour is, they say, basically a “three-month workout”.
“We generally try to look after ourselves as best we can, obviously we’re getting a bit older so we’re more health-conscious with age.
I still like my chocolate now and again though,” Owen says of his pre-show fitness regime.
“We’re lucky really as we’re in good health. The main thing is to have a bit of party atmosphere. We don’t get out to Dubai often and we just want to enjoy having a sing and dance with the crowd.”
When we speak it’s exactly 25 years since the group went on their first tour, although they’ve been together almost 28, which is some achievement.
Is touring the same as it was back then? Big shows, they say, can be years in the making – visualising ideas that will work on stage, the production, lighting and staging.
“We’ve had the experience of years, now we know each other well, we’re like a well-oiled football team – we know what each of us is going to do. We’re like the Barcelona of the pop world. Gary can be Messi, he’s got the same colour hair,” laughs Owen, none of his cheeky charm abating with the ongoing years. “Actually I want to be Messi. Everyone wants to be Messi. I guess I could be Suárez…”
And do the more mature versions love it as much as their fresh-faced former selves?
“It’s still just as exciting, we just know what we’re doing a bit more now,” says Donald. “Every tour we do is different – we bring new stuff, new albums and all that. It’s always a lot of work and you always have to up your game. It’s a sad moment when a tour finishes, as even though you get to go home and be with family, it’s such a big part of your life.”
Despite Gary taking some time to do solo stuff, next year holds big things for Take That fans. The group has a greatest hits album coming out (which will include some new material) as well as another tour planned for 2019.
“We have a three- or four-year plan all worked out,” says Donald. “But really we’re just gunning for a great album, we just want to make some amazing songs that people love.”
It seems safe to say they’re doing a good job.
From Dhs350. Thu Nov 30, doors open 7pm. Dubai Media City Amphitheatre, www.800tickets.com.