Robbie Williams reveals why he turned down fronting Queen and judging ‘American Idol’

Lyndsey Parker
Editor-in-Chief, Music
Robbie Williams turned down performing as Queen's frontman. (Photo by David Parry/PA Images via Getty Images)

In 2001, pop superstar Robbie Williams re-recorded “We Are the Champions” with Queen for the soundtrack to A Knight’s Tale.

The collaboration sparked rumours that the former Take That member would be enlisted as the band’s new lead singer, but it never came to be.

Instead, Free/Bad Company’s Paul Rodgers toured with Queen from 2004 to 2009, and now American Idol star Adam Lambert successful fronts the group. But Williams reveals to Yahoo Entertainment/SiriusXM Volume that he was indeed offered the job — but he turned it down due to his own insecurities. 

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“[Brian May and Roger Taylor] asked me to do it, and even though I [seem] confident… I have suffered with incredibly low self-esteem,” Williams confesses. “And I just thought I'd save them the audacity of me even trying to step on a stage and be in the same echelon as Freddie Mercury — because he, to me, is angelic. He's godlike. And it was just too scary.”

Williams quickly adds with his typical snarky humour: “Plus, I was doing stadiums myself at the time, so they wanted to split it three ways — but that's another story!”

Williams has fond memories of his brief  “We Are the Champions” experience, however, saying: “It was absolutely amazing that I'm in the recording booth with Roger and Brian from the band, and we re-recorded ‘We Are the Champions’ and I got to do the backing vocals with them — and how intricate they were, those backing vocals, and how many parts it took to get that sound. To be in the room with real history, proper history, just felt absolutely incredible.”

Williams also has no regrets, insisting that Lambert is the right man for the job. “Look, Adam Lambert, he's great. If he wasn't such a lovely person, which he is, I would just be terrified of him, because of his pure talent. His voice is absolutely incredible, and he's an incredible performer and a lovely person to boot. And I'm really pleased when I meet people that I'm just over-awed by their talent. It gives me a talent hard-on when they're nice. It's much better than meeting people that give you a talent hard-on, and they're a**holes, and it’s just like, ‘I hate everything you've done now!’"

Williams has won more Brit Awards than any other artist in history (18) and is one of the best-selling music artists of all time (75 million records sold worldwide) — “I did rather well” is his cheeky understatement — but mainstream US success has largely eluded him. A spot fronting Queen surely would have elevated his U.S. profile, but Williams, who has struggled with addiction and depression, says he made the conscious choice to not pursue American fame.

“I stopped working here [in America],” says the singer, who has actually quietly lived in Los Angeles since 2006. “I haven't promoted here since 2000, because I was at the state where Britney was when she shaved her head off and hit the car with the umbrella. That's where I was. And I pretty much figured that fame and everything is doing this to me. ‘If I go to break America, I'm famous everywhere.’ You're famous in Katmandu if you're famous in America. And the sane person took over and went, ‘Do you know what? I'm going to enjoy my spoils and just live there instead.’”

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This is when Williams reveals that he once turned down another high-profile position: to join the judging panel of the above-mentioned American Idol, in Season 10 (the first season after Simon Cowell left the show). ‘I got offered a TV thing to do. ... I turned it down because I wanted my anonymity here,” he says. “Now, listen, they sane person driving the car — the ‘mom,’ let's say — made that decision. But all the other narcissists that live in the car too, they hate me, and they're like, ‘Why did you do that? Why did you ruin this for us? We were on to a good thing!’’

Williams, who actually judged one season of The X Factor in 2018 alongside his wife, Ayda Field, jokes now that he’d consider being a judge on the rebooted ABC edition of American Idol. “Have they got 4K on the cameras? Now that you've got 4K, you can capture the whole handsomeness. And they haven't got a camera for the charisma yet. But when they do, that's when they should offer me a job judging over here. .. So, I'm sorry that I turned it down last time. I've got four children, and they're really expensive. I would like that job now, please!

“Have I just ruined my chance at getting the job on the new one? … Hey, listen, I don't even want to own any format. I will do it for boo koo bucks. I'll do it for English money in America. How about that? English money's like nothing. It's like, they don't punch you. It's like, ‘Oh, well, thank you very much, governor. … We ain't going to glass you or punch you.’ Thank you very much, sir. So I'll do it for English money.” 

Robbie Williams in 2016. (Photo: Getty Images)

In the meantime, more seriously, the “Let Me Entertain You” star is very busy with his new Las Vegas residency at the Wynn’s Encore Theater, a rare chance for his American fans to see him perform live. “Look, I'm not expecting to ‘break America’ by playing the Wynn, but I am happy to come over here and ply my wares to people that may be familiar about me, or may be vaguely familiar,” he chuckles. “Seventy percent of the [Vegas] tickets are sold to Americans. Who knew? Stick that up your ass, England! The only thing that they can hold over me in England is, like, ‘You didn't break America.’”

It’s surprising to hear that seemingly superhumanly confident and constantly wise-cracking Williams has ever struggled with low-self-esteem. “Yeah, but I can turn that [charm] on,” he admits. “I’m brittle, so brittle. I would collapse with one look of disdain from you, where I thought I'd offended you, or upset you, or you thought I wasn't funny. I would go home and think about it for the next 20 years, and you would become an enemy for life.”

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Williams continues: I've only just started to fill my own shoes and figure stuff out in my head. And I would say it's only been like the last 18 months of my life, as a 46-year-old, where I've gone, ‘Hang on, I have put together a few days, and now a few months, and now nearly a couple of years, of hitting never below seven out of 10 during the day.’ And that feels really, really good. But I think that a lot of work on myself has gone into that. Having four children helps, and having an amazing wife helps too, and some lovely people that surround me and work with me too.”

The above interview is taken from Robbie Williams’s appearance on the SiriusXM show “Volume West.”