Renowned British pop star Robbie Williams arrived in Tel Aviv Monday for his Thursday night performance in Yarkon Park, his first Israeli show in eight years.
“I was incredibly excited to get here, and much like last time, incredibly excited to be here and experience what Israel actually is and what the people actually are,” said Williams during Tuesday’s press conference at Tel Aviv’s Sheraton Hotel, adding that he can tell a lot about a place just by the entrance in the airport, including the customs officials and security and the people that drive the bus from the plane to the terminal.
“You get a feel. Big smiles. Welcoming. Kindness,” he said. “There’s a lot of gratitude in people’s eyes, just from that little bit.”
Williams said he was last in Israel in 2015, “so 8 years ago, that’s mental. I woke up in a really good mood today, and I woke up excited and I woke up being excited about being here, but also about the prospect of what this show could be.”
Williams, performing as part of the Summer in the City festival, was supposed to headline the second night of the event, with British singer Sam Smith performing Wednesday, May 31, but Smith withdrew earlier this month from the festival due to reported technical and logistical problems.
The festival has now been whittled down to just the one event on Thursday evening.
Smith’s cancelation was amidst backlash from supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement calling on the performer to cancel the Tel Aviv performance.
While Williams kept his discussion of politics vague and to a minimum, he expressed anxiety about how his arrival in Israel would be construed by the public.
“I’m afraid to be part of a narrative, afraid to be used as part of a narrative for nefarious purposes,” said Williams. “It annoys me, because you can’t say anything, because there are two sides with two narratives, and my answer is: ‘I’m here, I’m here to perform for the people.'”
Williams attributed a special significance to his performances in Israel.
“Coming to a place like Israel, there’s such a massive buildup in one’s mind about what it is and what it isn’t, and you know, it’s a special place that deserves a special thing to happen,” he said. “Probably more than any of the other gigs that I do in any other places.”
The British pop star, married to Turkish-American Jew Ayda Field, has said he and his family mark Jewish holidays. He has said that while he feels more Jewish than Catholic, he does not plan to convert to Judaism, apparently put off — at least in part — by the idea of circumcision.
The singer, formerly a member of the English pop group Take That, got excited talking about the possibility of Israeli indie artist Noga Erez joining him at the Thursday night show.
Williams will take the stage at 9 p.m., following performances from English songwriter Calum Scott, Israeli rapper Static and Dutch DJ Martin Garrix.
According to Williams, he’ll meet with Erez Wednesday to discuss their plans. Williams, who has tweeted about Erez in the past, described himself as a “massive Noga Erez fan.”
“Noga makes me feel like a giddy fifteen-year-old,” Williams said. “When I see her, I want to be her. When I see her perform, I want to perform like that. I have great respect and am in awe of her talent.”
Erez, often called “the Israeli answer to Björk,” sings heavily electronic songs that are sharp in their tone and messaging, and are primarily in English.
Williams also briefly discussed a biopic based on his life that is currently in production, and is lined up to be released in late 2023 to early 2024.
Michael Gracey, known for his work in “The Greatest Showman,” is directing the movie. Williams has taken an involved role in its script and production.
“It’s sort of like being invited to the best birthday party that you could ever wish for, and not feeling like you truly deserve it,” Williams said of the movie. “It’s kind of scary, once again laying yourself bare.”