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IF THE feeling could have been bottled, Robbie Williams would surely have placed a bulk order.

When the 27-year-old singer walked away with three awards at this week's Brits - the evening's biggest winner - his position at the top of the pop tree was confirmed.

It was his night. The adulation he had craved since childhood was there for the world to see.

"Right now," he said, "I feel like the most loved person in the world."

It was a telling - and touching - statement from one of the most complex personalities in pop. A man often haunted by insecurity who, instead of cracking open the champagne, is rewarding himself by taking a year off.

"I'm not putting an album out next year. I'm taking some time out to find myself," he said.

"I've been spending a lot of time at home, playing cards, eating chocolate and chilling with a few friends. It's good for my head."

And therein lies the contradiction that is Robbie Williams. While he may feed off the security that comes with the showbiz accolades, he also craves a normal, unpressured existence.

When he returned to his table with the coveted statuettes presented to him by his friend Geri Halliwell, the star was embraced by his flatmate Jonathan Wilkes.

The limelight-hogging Geri and his childhood friend Jonathan may seem an unlikely pair of pals to have, but Robbie seems to need them both around.

He and Jonathan have been close since they were little. Their mothers were best mates, and they grew up playing footie in the park together and sharing Christmases.

At the Brits, Jonathan - who is busy trying to build a pop career of his own - was rarely away from Robbie's side.

The 22-year-old has just completed a round of media interviews to launch his own music career and shrugged off questions about their relationship.

Robbie has lent him his songwriting partner, a band member and even one of his songs.

There can't be many multi-millionaires who live with a flatmate, but Jonathan says: "It's just one of those things where I am very fortunate, in a way, that my best friend is top of the tree in his industry, and it's the one I want to go into.

HE'S just like my best mate. We are like brothers. I love living there."

He says Robbie and he laugh about their shared choice of careers.

"We come home and go: `Hi, pop star!'... `Hi, pop star!' It's Pop Star Towers."

Pop Star Towers is a flat in a scruffy-looking house in Notting Hill, West London. It boasts a pool table, a games console and discs on the wall.

It's a haven from the showbiz world which helps to give Robbie the stability he needs.

Jonathan doesn't have time for a girlfriend at present, but he was a ladies' man when dancing in Blackpool as a teenager. He says: "We just have a laugh, do what any 22-year-old and a 27-year-old would do.

"We drink tea, play computers, watch telly, play pool and play football. There aren't any house rules and there's usually music playing all the time.

"There tend to be trainers and clothes left around all the time - it's a busy place, with lots of people coming and going. A restaurant is our canteen." They go on holiday together, spent New Year's Eve in Gstaad, Switzerland, and will soon be moving into Pop Stars Towers Mark 2, Robbie's new home in Holland Park.

"It's coming along and it's going to be fantastic," says Jonathan.

It will be the comfortable base Robbie needs. Those close to him say he has always been looking for a normality he couldn't find. But he also wants to be accepted, however much he may claim to be a rebel.

On Monday night, he reckoned that the best thing about the Brits was people coming up saying: "Nice one, Robbie."

Yet only recently the star - who has grappled with drug and drink addictions and depression - told friends he is sick of being one of the world's most famous faces.

And he is just an old-fashioned person at heart, according to former girlfriend Sandy Palermo.

Sandy, 28, was a shoulder to cry on when Robbie was at a low ebb in 1998. Although Life Thru A Lens was shooting to No 2 in the charts, his relationship with All Saint Nicole Appleton had ended.

With hours, the star was bombarding her with drunken phone calls, telling her how desperate he was to settle down in a normal, loving relationship.

"He was really cut up about splitting up with Nicole," she reveals. "He seemed too soft for a high-profile relationship like that. You got the impression he needed to toughen up a bit.

Despite his sex-god image, Sandy believes the only solid relationship the star has ever had with a woman was with his mum.

"She means everything to him," she says. "He said he'd just bought her a new house and that was one of the few things that gave him pleasure - treating his loved ones made it all worthwhile."

At first, Sandy was puzzled by Robbie's interest in her.

"I wanted to ask him: `Why do you keep phoning all the time?', she says. "`You've only met me once - you don't even know me.'

ROBBIE thought of me as a challenge because I wasn't desperate to meet him. That's what he was looking for, someone down-to-earth."

When Sandy eventually agreed to meet him, she went to a flat he was renting in Notting Hill. She found him dressed in a football kit, surrounded by empty beer cans, with a massive wide-screen TV and MTV blaring out.

It was the world of a superstar who has never really grown up.

"He had a guitar in his room and loads of football stuff everywhere - cups and pictures," she recalls.

"His clothes were everywhere in piles. They were all folded up nice and neatly, like they'd just been washed, but nothing was put away. It was a bit like a teenage boy's room."

Though Robbie was the perfect gentleman - fetching soft drinks for her and asking if she was all right - he was obsessed with getting as drunk as possible.

"We didn't eat," she says. "He was just drink, drink, drink. He said drinking was the only thing that relaxed him.

"Rob told me what he wanted: to get married and start a family. He didn't want a showbizzy girlfriend - he just wanted a normal partner.

"He admitted he craved affection and companionship. He was touching me the whole night. He always had an arm round me or was cuddled up to me.

"When we had sex, it wasn't a wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am. All he was interested in was pleasing me."

Later, when Sandy got up to go, she saw his face drop.

"That's one of the things I remember most about him," she says. "He said: `What are you doing? You aren't going, are you? Please don't go.'

"All he wanted was someone to hold him."


FLATMATE: Jonathan says he's lucky; FAME GAME: Geri Halliwell and Robbie leaving the Brit Awards; THRILLED TO BRITS: Childhood friend Jonathan Wilkes shares in Robbie's triumph on Monday night; CUDDLES: Sandy Palermo saw Robbie's gentle side
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Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 28, 2001
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