As he turns 50, Gary Barlow reflects on his lowest point and opens up about bouncing back...
Today, he is one of the most successful and well-respected musicians in the country, as well as a loving husband to his wife of nearly 21 years, Dawn, and devoted dad to Daniel, 20, Emily, 18, and Daisy, 11. But rewind 25 years and Gary Barlow was spiralling into a deep depression, after the band that made him famous, Take That, split up in 1996. Things got so bad for Gary, he refused to leave his house for up to six months at a time. The singer, who turns 50 this week, has recalled how he piled on the pounds during this difficult period of his life, reaching over 17st at his heaviest, and why he had to completely overhaul his life…
Following Take That’s split, Gary stopped singing and writing music and began binge eating the foods he loves – in his words, ‘chips, crisps and Chinese’ – and, at first, he enjoyed gaining weight.
‘The one thing I discovered was that I had put weight on and fewer people recognised me,’ he confessed. ‘The more weight I put on, the more invisible I was. This happened over a two-year period and it was fantastic.’
But, as time went on, he began to realise what he was doing to his body, and – weighing in at 17st 2lb – Gary went to see a doctor about his size.
However, things went from bad to worse as Gary became bulimic soon after, in a desperate bid to continue binge eating.
He recalled, ‘I thought, I know what I can do, I can eat with everybody, I can sling the food down, have a great time, drink as much as I want.
‘As soon as I get home, I’ll find the furthest place away from my wife’s bedroom and I can go in there and get rid of everything.
‘And I thought, it’s really clever, this is. Then of course, the one time becomes five times, and you realise this has no future.’
The turning point
It was in 2003 that Gary finally started to turn his life around. ‘It was the day when I just went, “No, I’m not having this any more, I’m going to change. I want to change and I’m determined that this is not who I’ve become”,’ he said.
In another interview, he added, ‘I remember one particular day just thinking, “How have I got here?” I was so disappointed with myself.
‘I was trying to kill off the pop star, that’s what I was doing. I was eating away what a pop star looked like. I was just killing him off. Stopped dying the hair, stopped buying nice clothes, just wanted to look the opposite, physically and mentally.’
Determined to change for the better, Gary decided not to have ‘cheat days’ and instead to stay away from his favourite foods completely, as well as cutting out smoking.
It might seem extreme, but Gary explains, ‘I’ve just not got the personality where I can tease myself every so often with something I love, because I just end up going down that road again.’
A happier place
Gary finally got on top of his issues, lost 5st and made a successful career comeback with Take That in 2006, and as a judge on The X Factor in 2011. He even launched his own online initiative to help others lose weight, Barlow’s Bootcamp, back in March 2018.
‘It only took a few years to get that low, but it took me years to get back; 10 years, probably,’ he reflected. ‘The fight back up is much harder than the one going down.’
But Gary believes he wouldn’t be where he is today without his dark period, saying, ‘When I look back on my down years, I think, “Thank God that happened.”
What character would I be now if it had all been smooth and brilliant?’