Rick Astley is the kind of man who, if he were $20 up at a casino in Vegas, would call it a night. He’s the epitome of knowing how to quit when you’re ahead.
And, a millionaire at the age of 27 with a string of number ones after his first hit Never Gonna Give You Up – which topped the charts in 25 countries in 1987 – he did just that.
One day in 1993, on his way to Heathrow to fly to New York, he had a breakdown on the M4 – not one a mechanic can fix.
Rick Astley (pictured) said that he left the music scene as he wanted to be with his family instead
The 80s hero famously sung ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’, which topped the charts in 25 countries worldwide. Pictured performing at the Brit Awards in London in 1988
Rick Astley performed the new album ‘Beautiful Life’ ten years after his last album was released. Pictured at the Events Apollo, London on 9 November 2018
It was an emotional breakdown brought on by the terror of leaving his wife Lene and baby girl Emilie at home. He wasn’t a good flier anyway, and he’d seen how fame can destroy relationships.
He now had a choice to make: family or fame. So, having sold millions of records, he skipped the flight and retired.
‘Having Emilie in 1992 changed what I wanted in life,’ he says. ‘The music business is littered with people losing the plot.
‘I was already taking trains and driving in Europe, I didn’t want to fly any more. I had control over nothing. I’d made enough money to say, “I don’t need to do this.”’
And so he pretty much disappeared for more than ten years, until an invitation to join the 80s tribute tour Here And Now in 2007.
Speaking about his decision to quit the business, Rick said that he had to choose between his family and fame. Pictured at San Remo Music Festival in Italy, February 1988
Rick as he performs a set at the Prince’s Trust charity concert in 1988
‘I’d always said I was over it, but I got an offer to go to Japan, and Lene and Emilie wanted to go.
‘It was with other groups of my era, heritage acts, has-beens, whatever you call us. I loved it.’
But it was the internet phenomenon Rickrolling the same year that had everyone talking about Rick Astley again.
My voice has become mature. It’s more me
Pranksters put a link to the video for Never Gonna Give You Up into random websites.
When users clicked on it, the video popped up unexpectedly. Within a year more than 18 million people had been Rickrolled.
‘People would pay a fortune for that exposure,’ he laughs.
He dabbled with the odd single until, when he was about to hit 50 three years ago, he wrote new songs inspired by his life.
The popular singer pretty much disappeared for more than ten years. Pictured here in star-studded New York in 1988
He recorded them in his garage, played every instrument, and called the album 50.
The No 1 record went platinum and now he’s releasing a greatest hits album, The Best Of Me, featuring his spectacularly deep voice and new versions of his Stock Aitken Waterman back catalogue alongside the originals.
‘If the songs are 30 years old, you want to do something different, but people still want them,’ he says of hits such as Together Forever.
His voice is different now, richer with the emotions of a life lived.
‘It’s matured over the years,’ he says. ‘A great thing about working from home is there’s no clock ticking’.
‘If I’m in the mood, I’ll sing. But if my voice doesn’t get better I’ll say, “Let’s leave it as it is.” It’s more me, this voice.’
He doesn’t mind being called a heritage act – he’s cool now in a way he wasn’t before.
Even Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl is a fan – in 2017 he dragged Rick up on stage in Japan. ‘I’d had a few beers, I was jet-lagged,’ says Rick.
Rick has written a new album based on songs inspired by his life with his family. Pictured on This Morning on 19 December 2018
‘I was watching them on stage when Dave had me up to sing Never Gonna Give You Up!’
It’s far from his humble beginnings, singing in a church choir in Lancashire.
‘You’re in a gang, that’s what bands are,’ he says. ‘My parents divorced when I was four, and that time was unhappy’.
RICK BY NUMBERS
The number of records Rick had sold before he retired in 1993
The year he turned down the chance to sing the title track for the hit film Pretty Woman
His first eight singles hit the Top Ten in the UK, a Guinness World Record
The age Rick was when he left school to work for his dad’s gardening business and joined a Beatles tribute band
‘I lived with Dad, but Mum was around the corner. I was the youngest of five but their second child David died of meningitis before I was born.’
Was David’s death a catalyst for their split?
‘I don’t think that was the only thing. I was young but I knew something wasn’t right, so it was nice to get out of the house. A choir’s not rock’n’roll, but it is music.’
His talents come from his parents.
‘My mum was a professional pianist until a few years ago and my father has a big, powerful voice.
He’d sing Frank Sinatra around the house, although his lyrics were never quite the same! Because of him, I was never shy about singing.
‘I became the frontman of a band after joining as the drummer, and Pete Waterman saw us and liked my voice.
‘He wasn’t a big deal then, but he had a studio in London. I was writing songs, but I worked there as a tea boy to learn more.’
His first single Never Gonna Give You Up was a huge hit, and as the Stock Aitken Waterman juggernaut picked up steam with the likes of Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan and Sinitta, Rick had seven more Top Ten singles over the next four years.
‘But Stock Aitken Waterman started making it about themselves, not their artists. They felt, “It’s our productions that are doing it.” Besides me, not many of their artists wrote their own songs.
‘I guess I was naive to think that as a pop star I should have some say in what I was doing. But it was all getting monotonous.’
All of this contributed to his meltdown. But now, Rick’s back.
‘With Stock Aitken Waterman, I was just a kid. But I still see Pete, he pops up at things. I was lucky to meet him at the right time.’
And to quit while he was ahead.
The Best Of Me by Rick Astley (BMG) is out on Friday 25 October.