Robbie Williams makes solo comeback
Robbie Williams has begun his first solo tour since 2006, and signalled his desperation to regain his crown as the undisputed king of British pop.
The star gave a characteristically charismatic performance in Leeds, one of four solo concerts that attracted more than 500,000 ticket applications.
He told the crowd he is eager for his new single Candy to get heavy airplay. "That's my only hope," he said.
"I hope, I hope it's played so much on the radio that you say, turn this off."
Williams took part in the record-breaking Take That reunion last year but his famously fragile ego was wounded by the lukewarm critical and commercial reactions to his last two solo albums.
"Don't worry, I'm not doing Rudebox," he assured the Leeds crowd at one point.
The concert, for 2,300 fans at Leeds Academy, on Tuesday was his first full solo show since 2009, and was intimate in comparison with the stadiums he visited on his Close Encounters Tour six years ago.
Claiming to be nervous at first, he was soon feeding off the adulation of his die-hard followers. "I'm here folks and I'm loving this," he announced.
Doing press-ups on stage, showing off robotic dance routines and cracking cheeky jokes, he was the Robbie of old - hyperactive, compelling, mischievous and needy.
His status in the wider pop world clearly means a lot. He recently told Music Week magazine his forthcoming album Take The Crown is a make-or-break release.
"Never in my career has so much hinged on one album," he said. "Success feels good. When it goes away it doesn't feel so good.
"I'd like to be successful and I'd like to feel good for a bit longer."
Williams played just two songs from Take The Crown in Leeds - new single Candy and Losers, an angst-filled power ballad performed as a duet with one of his backing singers. On record, the track features US singer Lissie.
The rest of the one-and-a-half hour set was taken up with such favourites as Angels, She's The One, Let Me Entertain You and Rock DJ.
Fans had to apply for tickets in a ballot and Williams will visit Glasgow on Wednesday before travelling to Dublin, where his gig will raise money for Unicef and Childline, and Southend.
But his plans may be altered with his wife Ayda due to give birth to their first child any day. He told the crowd in Leeds he had a phone in his pocket that she would call if she went into labour.
The singer has hinted that he will go on a bigger tour next summer. On Monday, he told BBC Radio 2's Chris Evans he "might have something on" throughout June, for which he would be rehearsing in May.
Williams was arguably Britain's biggest pop star in the late 1990s and first part of the 2000s, selling 60 million solo albums and winning a record 17 Brit Awards.