WHEN TAKE THAT are ferried around in limousines on their UK tour this summer, they will be a long way from the days when they had to make do with Gary Barlow’s beaten-up Ford Orion. “Our manager drove a Ford Escort XR3 and we couldn’t all squeeze in,” Barlow laughs. “My car was the back-up.”
Barlow, 46, who wrote most of the band’s hits, grew up in Frodsham, Cheshire, and dreamt of being a pop star. His father was product manager at a chemical company and Barlow worked on a farm to make ends meet.
“The family car was a Mini Clubman estate,” he says. “The bodywork was mostly wood and it had no rear seats. My brother Ian and I would lie down in the back and mess about. It was the 1970s, there were no safety belts. Honest to God, we are lucky to be here at all; that car was a death trap.”
As a teenager, Barlow covered his bedroom walls with images of pop stars, not supercars, but he did have one crush: “The white Ferrari Testarossa from Miami Vice. When I had lots of money, I wanted to buy one. I changed my mind on the forecourt — I would have looked ridiculous driving one in England.”
Barlow came runner-up in a BBC Christmas singer-songwriter competition when he was 15, then left school a year later to pursue his dreams of stardom. He sang and played keyboards at working men’s clubs around the northwest, supporting cabaret stars such as Ken Dodd and Jim Davidson. “By then I was singing in a Runcorn club five nights a week. The band’s drummer was a driving instructor. He got me through the test, three weeks after my 17th birthday.”
“The world was our oyster in 1993 and the Range Rover was the only car that could match my ego at that point”
Barlow struggled to squeeze his keyboard equipment into the boot of his Ford Fiesta, so when he signed for a summer season in Blackpool, he upgraded to the Orion. Soon after, he met Nigel Martin-Smith, a talent scout, who was putting together a boyband and Barlow was introduced to Howard Donald, Jason Orange, Mark Owen and Robbie Williams.
Take That were formed in 1990 and had their first No 1 three years later with Barlow’s Pray. The Orion was exchanged for a Range Rover after Relight My Fire (their second No 1) with Lulu. “She turned up at the studio in one — it was the biggest car I’d ever seen,” Barlow laughs. “The world was our oyster in 1993 and the Range Rover was the only car that could match my ego at that point. It guzzled fuel. I spent my whole life filling the damn thing up.”
The band enjoyed huge success but split in 1996 . By then Barlow was driving a Mercedes SL 500.
In the decade before Take That reformed and released an album in 2006, Barlow had a string of Porsches, including a 911. “I’m not a good driver — it was embarrassing to watch,” he says. “I fell out of love with cars when I started a family.”
He married Dawn Andrews, a dancer, in 2000 and then bought another Range Rover, a more frugal diesel. Their first child of three was born later that year. “Since then I’ve owned a string of Range Rovers. I did buy an Audi A6 in 2008; the kids have trashed it, but it’s still a daily drive.”
He also has a black cab he bought after a lunch meeting with Andrew Lloyd Webber in 2010. “He told me it was the best way to get in and out of the West End.”
Barlow has been busy of late with his BBC talent show Let It Shine and the band’s new album, Wonderland. The tour begins next month (with the band down to three, Orange having left in 2014).
The band recently appeared in a special edition of Carpool Karaoke with James Corden, for Comic Relief, but one thing Barlow won’t be signing up for is an appearance on Top Gear. “When the BBC ring to try and get me on, I hand the phone to Howard — he’s the real car nut.”
Gary Barlow: my life in cars
- 1988 Ford Fiesta
- 1989 Ford Orion
- 1998 Porsche 911 Carrera 4
- 2010 London taxi
- 2016 Range Rover SDV8 Autobiography
- My dream car Mercedes-Maybach S 600