Icons / December 2019

Gary Barlow Can Rule the World

Gary Barlow has emerged from the outrageous fortune of his public life to discover the consolations of middle age: perspective, gratitude — and a renewed appetite for what lies ahead.

  • fashion director Veronica Perez

  • by Ryan Thompson

  • photography Charlie Gray

Blue and navy wool checked suit, Giorgio Armani; ivory cotton shirt, Emma Willis; grey marl cashmere tie and brown and ivy wool and animal print pocket-square, both Drake's; mustard cotton socks, London Sock Company; black leather shoes, Gaziano & Girling.

If you had been driving the 30-minute stretch from the Cheshire town of Frodsham to Connah’s Quay Labour Club on a Saturday night in 1987, you would almost certainly have chanced upon a blond-haired boy banging out songs in the passenger seat of his father’s car. Tuning up for another night in a room fog-thick with cigarette smoke in front of an almost exclusively male working-class audience, the young boy was nevertheless unperturbed by the reaction (or lack thereof) his performance would provoke. It certainly wasn’t the £18 a night he was turning up for, although that was more than enough to keep him in hair gel and Smash Hits magazines for another month (he’d use one to read about his idols Depeche Mode and the other to mimic the hairstyles). Connah’s Quay Labour Club was just one of many such venues the teenager would visit to test out new material and work on his act. While his friends were out on the town, this ebullient, self-assured boy was in his bedroom, headphones on, fingers stretched across the keyboard he’d received for Christmas five years earlier. Said boy went by the name of Gary Barlow, soon to be the lead member of the biggest group the world has ever seen. (And less than a decade later it would be me mimicking his haircut.)

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Ryan Thompson