Back in 2016, NME asked Robbie Williams if he was still into aliens. In 2008, after his oddball album ‘Rudebox’ was savaged by the critics, he grew a beard and headed into the Nevada desert with journalist Jon Ronson to search for signs of extraterrestrial life. The result, the Radio 4 documentary Robbie Williams and Jon Ronson: Journey to the Other Side, is a highly entertaining portrait of a pop star indulging his eccentricities, impervious to ridicule. In 2016, though, Robbie reported that there’d been something of a lull in alien activity.
“All is quiet on the UFO front and it has been for a long time,” he told us. “There have been no major sightings or anything that’s gone on for quite a while.”
All that has changed.
This morning, Robbie took a break from Instgramming glossy photos of himself judging The X Factor and instead posted a spooky Instagram video, a trailer for a new documentary entitled Hunt For The Skinwalker. The caption: “#huntfortheskinwalker is available to watch now. Download it via the link in my profile (I’m in it).” He’s in it. Oh, boy – is he in it. The trailer opens with director Jeremy Corbell ominously intoning that the Skywalker Ranch in Utah “is like the Area 51 of the paranormal.” Well, actually, I think Area 51 is the Area 51 of the paranormal, Jeremy.
Anyway, the trailer promises that the film is a shocking expose of, in the words of one interviewee – his voice distorted to protect his identity – “the most important scientific effort of our time.” The US government is funnelling millions of dollars into alien research on the ranch, the trailer claims – and this documentary is go to blow the whole thing wide open.
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For his part, Robbie appears briefly to relive his brush with a UFO: “I was right above my head and I could hit it with a tennis ball.” There should probably be a VIP ticket package where, in addition to buying a ticket, you also buy the chance to play squash with Robbie Williams and a UFO.
Robbie’s pals with George Knapp, the journalist who presents the movie, and who wrote the book on which it’s based. That explains his appearance on the film, though he’s always been refreshingly open about his interest in the extraterrestrial. It’s one thing to disappear to Nevada to look for aliens when your career’s on the skids, but Rob talked to NME, unabashed, about his unusual passion for UFOs when he was ostensibly promoting some daft film he’d made with Mastercard (even though we forgot to ask anything about that). It’s what makes him great.
He’s long had an interest in the supernatural, the esoteric. His mum, Janet, was a tarot card reader – a fact he’s attributed to his keenness for watching the skies. “She’d talk about spirits and ghosts,” he explained to Ronson in 2008. “On the shelf of books just outside her room, there’d be the books about the world’s mysteries, elves, demons, witchcraft. I was so scared. I’d never talk to her about it. Instead, I just lived in fear of all of this stuff. Maybe that’s why I want to investigate UFOs and ghosts and everything. So I can work out why I get scared at night.”
In fact, Robbie’s obsession with aliens once became so intense that he bought a £7m mansion in Compton Bassett, Wiltshire, an area noted for its propensity of crop circles. In 2010, when he’d lived there just a year, there was – and you can see in the photo below – a flurry of crop circle activity near the home.
Could this be a coincidence?
At 44, he’s confessed that he’s a bit Saturday Night Takeaway these days, and indeed you can’t get much more mainstream and – let’s be honest – lowest common denominator than The X Factor. After a flirtation with career kamikaze, Rob’s back on top, back on our screens on primetime television. You could forgive him, now, for playing it safe, for becoming the new Gary Barlow, for toeing the party line and pretending to be as normal possible. But that would be very un-Robbie, so instead he’s reminded everyone of his intensely strange passion for aliens.
You might argue that it’s because, with a reported fortune of around £155, he doesn’t need to do anything he doesn’t want to. But I’d argue this no-fucks attitude is exactly why he’s still, after two decades as a solo artist, he’s still one of the biggest pop stars in the world. It’s why he gave the middle finger at the World Cup opening ceremony, why he released ‘Rudebox’, an album of experimental pop nonsense, when the Tesco shoppers that buy his records wanted another ‘Angels’.
Still, they should have called that documentary Spock DJ.