Rick Astley - Rolling back the years

Rick Astley

Rick Astley - Credit: Archant

Newton-le-Willows born Rick Astley may well be the sanest man in showbiz. He walked away from fame, then came back on his own terms

In the words of another toiler in the 1980s hit factory of Stock Aitken Waterman, Rick Astley knows he was lucky, lucky, lucky.

Oh yes, he had the boyish good looks, the luxuriant quiff and the sonorous baritone voice. But he still had to be in the right place at the right time. And that place was Monk Sport and Social Club, Warrington, back in 1985.

‘I was in a band called FBI and we’d been in a couple of battle of the bands competitions at Parr Hall...good days,’ recalls Rick. ‘Pete Waterman wanted to see a couple of bands and our manager at the time got three bands together for a showcase. Pete really liked my voice and thought he could do something with it. I didn’t know who he was. He wasn’t the massive producer he became, but he had red leather pants and a Jag, so he was on the way.’

After serving an apprenticeship at the SAW studios in London as a tea boy-cum-tape operator, Rick’s debut single in 1987, Never Gonna Give You Up, topped the charts in 25 countries. He had eight top 10 singles and sold millions of records worldwide, but by 1993 decided he had had enough of fame. So Rick returned to the London home he shared with Danish wife Lene and daughter Emilie and, for more than a decade, lived in obscurity, an ordinary bloke again.

So little did he dwell on his past life that his own daughter only realised he had been one of the world’s biggest pop stars when she kept finding his records in the collections of her friends’ parents.

‘I’ve never regretted it,’ he says. ‘I’ve been singing again for seven or eight years now. I had a really long break from it, but that’s also why I can do it with a smile on my face. I don’t feel jaded about it.’

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When he did return to the fray, Rick found that the ‘80s stars were still in demand, with greatest hits gigs filling big arenas. He joins a huge roster of them - Mike and the Mechanics, Level 42, Tony Hadley, Marc Almond, Heaven 17 and many many more - for the ‘80s music festival Rewind North at Capesthorne Hall from August 29-31.

As if describing a turn at the local working men’s club, Rick describes these nostalgia-fests as ‘getting up and doing your tunes’.

‘Everybody who does the gig understands what’s going on. It’s a good fun day out and a trip down memory lane,’ says Rick. ‘It’s a nice atmosphere backstage. There’s a bit of joy and fun about it.

‘I count myself lucky, full stop. If you’ve got a few hits under your belt, there’s still a place for you in the world.’

Actually, there’s lots of places in the world for him.

‘I’m doing 50 gigs this year,’ he muses. ‘I wouldn’t mind doing more, in a way, but I look at myself sometimes and think “You’re 48. That’s enough, son”. I’m going to Australia this year, I’ve been to South America, I’m going to lots of different places in Europe, I’ve already been to Malaysia, and Russia twice, I think.

‘It’s a fine balance - having enough work but not too much that you end up not liking it. I’m really happy with the way the balance is right now.’

So, a pop star who is utterly content with his life. A rare thing indeed.

‘I’m relatively sane, I’m very happy most of the time and I’m unbelievably grateful,’ Rick confirms.


Rick on parting company with hitmakers Stock Aitken Waterman in 1990:

‘I’ve never fallen out with Pete and I’m grateful for what he did for me. Mad as it may have seemed at the time to turn your back on the biggest production company in Europe, I just felt I’d love to get some real bongos on a record, just try some different things.’

On affection for home:

‘When I come back, all the memories come back. I still drive past the house that I spent most of my life in, in Park Road, Newton-le-Willows. I do that every single time I go back to Newton.’

On his biggest hit Never Gonna Give You Up:

‘That was one of those tunes that broke all the borders down. It got played on all kinds of radio stations in America. It was the number one R&B record, which is kind of ridiculous for a white guy from Newton-le-Willows.’a