From the Independent on Sunday 03 December 2006
… The publicist Mark Borkowski knows all about engineering a successful second chance; he’s the man behind Noel Edmond’s renaissance. …
When Take That split up in 1996 a generation of pre-pubescent girls went into shock. Now the not-so-fresh-faced four are reunited. Sarah Harris explores the secrets of a successful second coming
Just when we thought we’d waved goodbye to the denim-clad ghost of the 1990s boyband phenomenon, Take That have begun their second ascent to pop stardom – minus Robbie, of course. With their first No 1 single in more than a decade, a new album and an 11-date tour of the UK and Ireland in April, it looks like it could be magic once more.
When Mark, Howard, Gary and Jason parted company in 1996, you could hear the wails of 2,000 pre-pubescent females emanating from every classroom in my secondary school. One girl threw a chair at a wall and had to be sent home. Others sobbed hysterically while clutching tear-stained photos of Mark Owen. For months afterwards, “TT 4ever” was etched in ballpoint on every toilet door. Special helplines were even set up to deal with the unprecedented national upsurge of teenage hysteria.
Sean Rowley, broadcaster and creator of retro music label Guilty Pleasures, believes that Take That’s renewed success could be down to the shrewd timing of their break-up. “Take That were always going to have an incredible comeback because of the way they bowed out,” he says. “They did the right thing by jumping ship at the peak of their powers.” By leaving when there were still hoards of aggressively screaming teenage supporters, they ensured that, 10 years later, the same fans would be waiting in the wings, gasping for another bout of Take That fever.
But comebacks are not always so smooth. Ask All Saints. Just a few weeks in, the reunion of the whinging foursome is already being talked about as a flop: their first album in six years, Studio 1, entered the charts at No 41 last weekend.
The publicist Mark Borkowski knows all about engineering a successful second chance; he’s the man behind Noel Edmond’s renaissance. “The bottom line is that if someone has had a successful career there is always a place for them to be reinvented,” he says. Edmond’s appearance as the front man of Channel 4’s Deal or No Deal, he explains, was down to talent, years of hard graft at the BBC – and a touch of Cosmic Ordering. “He was nurtured by the BBC for decades, whereas the careers of many young people who come to fame now are brought out purely by the power of marketing. Just because someone has the ability to shovel bugs down their gob in the jungle, does not mean they would have the skills to bring Deal or No Deal alive.”
Borkowski says you can never bring back someone who was the product of 15 minutes of fame, “because all the comeback does is expose why they are no longer famous”.
If only someone had told that to poor Pete Burns. After 20 years of obscurity his re-emergence on the last Celebrity Big Brother proves that one hit song (1985’s “You Spin me Right Round”) does not a career make. Since his attempted comeback, Burns has become pilloried as a loud-mouthed cross-dresser with a face like a car crash. But it doesn’t seem to worry him. His latest projects include an autobiography, Freak Unique and an ITV special called Pete Burns’ Cosmetic Surgery Nightmares.
In the vacuous age of reality TV and Saturday night “talent” contests, real talent has become an increasingly rare treat. So proper stars of yesteryear suddenly look very appealing. Crooner Tony Bennett, who made his name alongside Sinatra in the 1950s, has enjoyed a magnificent rebirth riding high on the recent demand for musical “authenticity”. As testament to his renewed success, Bennett had an album out this year (Duets: An American Classic) and recently performed with Christina Aguilera on Saturday Night Live. The newly rejuvenated careers of David Cassidy, Leo Sayer and Bruce Forsyth tell a similar tale – as if, like a fine wine, the celebrity’s age has become a testimony to their quality.
Psychologist Dr Aric Sigman argues that the trend towards repetition is born out of a need for continuity. “Humans don’t like change, and one of the reactions is to seek continuity and turn to frames of reference that are more longstanding in their lives. This breeds the nostalgia we are seeing now – even for things like cheap boy bands.”
You only have to look at the popularity of the Guilty Pleasures DJs, and retro club nights such as “Popjustice” to see that we have an appetite for the familiar. “Pop music is always reviving, turning around and looking back on itself,” says Sean Rowley, “and here we are poised, getting ready to jump feet first into the Nineties again with the rebirth of Take That.”
The Take That comeback proves that we relish an unexpected resurrection almost as much as a spectacular failure. How we laughed at David Hasselhoff as the hairy-chested Mitch Buchannon in Baywatch, but loved him in his parodic reincarnation as The Hoff; how we sneered at Les Dennis’s spectacular fall from game show grace – but warmed to him after his self-deprecation in Extras.
However, as Take That’s Jason Orange weakly sings the haunting lyrics: “Who knows how long this will last?” – the cynic can’t help but wonder the same.
HAPPY RETURNS: So good, you get them twice
The first single from the band’s new album is aptly entitled “Patience” – which must have been essential after 10 years in celebrity no-man’s-land. Howard Donald – the forgotten member of Take That – kept a low profile after the band split in 1996 and admits to spending much of 1997 in bed, watching television. Jason Orange found fulfilment in fringe theatre. Pretty boy Mark Owen had a failed stab at grunge during the late 1990s and won Celebrity Big Brother in 2005. Robbie Williams satirised Gary Barlow’s post-Take That career in a track on his Escapology album called “Where Has Gary Barlow Gone?” After a No 1 album in 1997, Barlow’s career was overshadowed by Robbie’s colossal success.
Leaping on the Take That comeback bandwagon, 5ive have announced they are returning to music with a new album, minus Sean Conlon who is pursuing a solo career. 5ive claim to have had a relaxing few years, recuperating from the trials and tribulations of pop stardom. Scott Robinson married and had kids, Abz went on Celebrity Love Island and the other two set about finding themselves in books and on far-flung tropical shores. Ritchie Neville confides that, “Being spotted everywhere you go actually becomes quite a pressure.” He travelled to India, considered opening a sushi bar in Oxford, and dabbled in property development, until deciding that he was really a “creative person” and happiest making music. The band is optimistic and its manager Richard Beck says, “Everyone loved them first time round – it’s going to be awesome.”
After years of vicious infighting, religious epiphanies and false starts, the Fugees are to release their first album in a decade. Hip- hop fans will be waiting to find out whether it will be better than their UK tour a year ago. At a Manchester Arena gig, the band members were barely on speaking terms and their performance was so shambolic that even Wyclef Jean admitted that, if he had paid for a ticket, he would have led the booing. In 1996, however, The Score sold more than 17 million copies. The group then began embarking on solo projects, egos clashed and the clandestine affair between Lauren Hill and Jean turned sour.
After a decade in the celebrity wilderness and a couple of weeks in the celebrity jungle, Donovan is set for stardom again. He was the golden boy of the 1980s, playing Scott Robinson in Neighbours, and then a bestselling pop star. However, a cocaine habit, hair loss, psoriasis and a perhaps misguided court battle with The Face over suggestions he was gay put paid to his glittering career. His record company dumped him. Since then he has toured with The Rocky Horror Show, acted in Australian medical-legal drama MDA (2003), sung in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (2004) and lived in domesticity in Notting Hill with his girlfriend, Angela Balloch, and his two young children. But now Jason Donovan is hot property once more.