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The Last Word: Rick Astley

A rick rollin' icon gives us his guide to navigating life, the music industry and career milestones.

By Nick Reilly

Rick Astley performs at BBC Radio 2 In The Park 2023 at Victoria Park on September 17, 2023 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Cameron Smith/Getty Images)

This is The Last Word. It’s our final section of the magazine where we take a bonafide music legend and ask them about life, navigating the tricky waters of the music biz and how far they’d go to prove their legendary credentials. Up next, it’s Rick Astley. Rick’rolling icon and national treasure extraordinaire.

Your new album is called ‘Are We There Yet’. But where are you heading?

Well, there’s a number of things. My wife manages me and we spent a few months last year in America on a crazy tour with New Kids On The Block, Salt-N-Pepa and En Vogue. It was absolute madness. And they were all lovely.

But my god, they had to be because it was a tough tour for us to do. They played 56 arenas because the guys are still massive, you know what I mean?

We did it all on a tour bus as well, cos I don’t like flying anyway, to be honest. We’d worked with our driver before in the States and we asked him if he’d do the drives in the daytime so we could see a bit of America. He agreed, but we were all literally sitting there for weeks, looking out the window going ‘Are we there yet?’

Look, I’m 57 years old too and I wonder when I look at artists who I like because they’ve had stellar careers, you know, like Bowie or whatever, they’ve done it for donkey’s years and become household names in that way At what point do they even look at it and go, ‘well, where, where are we going now’?

When I look at my own career, which is obviously nothing anywhere near that level of success or whatever, I do occasionally wonder that too. I played Glastonbury this year! I can say, ‘that’s me, right I’m done and finished’, but I won’t because I’m enjoying it too much and having a laugh. People can peeter out when they choose to stop exploring.

You famously retired at the height of your fame to raise a family. Do you think the renewed success, in part thanks to Rick Rolling, has given you a chance to appreciate it more?

100 percent. I was burnt out when I stopped. To be honest, I’d had enough. I’m pretty sure the world at large it didn’t need to hear me sing again or wanted me. I’m not saying fans didn’t or people who loved those records But I’m saying, generally speaking in pop music ,you get a very small window and people go, yeah, whatever, next.

There’s a handful of people who’ve managed to have long term careers in pop. I think, yeah, I think I was a bit burnt out anyway. It’s one of the reasons I can still sing ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’, because I do think it’s still a bit of a privilege to get to do this.

You know, I can put myself down and be self-deprecating but there is always a part of me that says no, when I get up there, if you want to hear me sing them songs, I’m gonna do it pretty well.

So I’m comfortable to be up there and I feel, I feel pretty good up there, to be honest, I really do and I enjoy it.

You were the unexpected star of Glastonbury this year, between your own set and the Smiths covers set you did with Blossoms.

Well that’s a classic example of wondering how this happened. You know, I was watching Foo Fighters from the side of the stage because I’ve got to know those guys a bit. I’m watching Elton from the side of the stage and it’s all just pretty fucking bonkers! How did this happen.

I think it helps you don’t take yourself too seriously. I saw you live eleven years ago and, among other things, you did a shot of Jagermeister on stage and hosted a raffle.

Oh my god that’s so good you saw that. We actually have a Jager machine that we use every time we go on stage. It needs servicing actually, that reminds me so thanks! We need to chill it at the right temperatures. I bought some stupid prizes for those raffles too. Brut aftershave! I thought I’d never find Brut in this day and age but we did. I actually wanted to do a meat raffle but somebody stopped me and said look, you can’t do that anymore. It’s just not really legal. It probably wasn’t the best idea I’ve had.

Going back to Glastonbury, you’ve forged quite the friendship with Blossoms…

I first met those boys at the Manchester Arena when it opened. A bunch of people played that night and Noel Gallagher was a real gent, he had everyone in his room after the show. We had beers, chatted and I ended up on their podcast where we started talking about our favourite bands. I just said well, in another universe, I wanna go and play Smiths songs somewhere. They basically came back days later and said well, we’ll be your band then.

We absolutely love it, but I’m a bit cautious of how I talk about it, simply because I just don’t want to come across as disrespectful because it’s the absolute opposite of it. But I can understand that some people have been a bit upset by it and they just think why are they doing that?

Glastonbury was pretty damn amazing though. It was raucous. If I’d just done the one set at Glastonbury that would have been fine, but two! Wow. The two different dynamics as well. The sunshine of the Pyramid Stage in the midday sun and then later that massive tent.

Sean Dyche was watching you too!

I actually had lunch with Sean Dyche the day after the set. We were trying to get a table in the nice bit, VIP or whatever it’s called. They have a restaurant which has actually got tables and we hadn’t booked anything. Four of us pile up and we were told there was no space, before Sean and his friends spotted us and managed to squeeze us in. They were lovely, but Sean is quite reserved in that almost classic football manager mode. He’s quite recognisable too. But we had a few drinks, a really good afternoon and a good chat and then we went and saw some bands. My first Glastonbury experience was pretty amazing.

I’m a big fan of your friendship with Dave Grohl too, I was at that night in 2019 when he played the MOTH Club in Hackney and you rocked up as his drummer!

God yeah. I remember getting a text from Dave Grohl and that’s enough, that’s already set the ball rolling. I don’t know him very well at this point. We’ve hung out a couple of times and I’ve gone on stage with him and sung with them. They’re lovely and they’re super great guys and all the rest of it and, but I’m not gonna call them mates.

But anyway, I get this text saying what are you doing later? I’m doing this thing for the NME and it’s just me and I wondered if you maybe wanna come and sing your tune.

I get there and I go to this little dressing room and he’s saying to me ‘We’ll do your tune, obviously, but I think we’ll do Everlong too. Do you wanna drum it or do you want to play guitars?’

I just thought ‘Dave, fuck off. I’m not doing either of those things’. I’m not gonna get up in front of 500 people and go ‘don’t worry Dave, I’ll play guitar! That ain’t gonna happen.’

Anyway, he goes up and the drum kit from the last band was still up there. I suddenly thought I’ve been given the OK to go and play because he’s mentioned it and I occasionally play a bit of drums. I squeeze through the crowd and his security pulled me up on stage and we just went away with it. That whole night was amazing. Dave didn’t even bring a guitar. He just winged the whole thing and it worked brilliantly. God, love him.

Aside from Rick Rolling, what’s the best thing you’ve ever seen on the internet?

My god that’s hard. I’m a sucker for a cat video to be honest. I know there’s billions of them, but I saw one the other day and it just made me smile. We had cats for over 20 years, actually, two brothers and sisters and they died a few years back and we’ve not had another one since.

I’m still quite fond of those videos.

We all know the Rick Roll. But what’s your favourite type of roll?

Oh I quite like a sausage roll, they’re nice. In fact, funnily enough, we have stayed at a pub near Glastonbury quite a few times when we’ve done gigs in that area and we met the woman who owns it, Sally, when she was on holiday in America and she invited us to stay.

Anyway, it’s gorgeous and they once made some sausage rolls for us when we came back from a gig late at night. They were so good that even Lauren, one of our singers who is a vegetarian, couldn’t resist. So I’m gonna say the sausage rolls at the Litton Pub is where they’ve gotta be tried.

Is there any advice you’d give to your younger self?

Relax and enjoy it more. I definitely think I do that now, but as a youngster, I was so, kind of, you know, in that feeling of being in the headlights of an oncoming car because I didn’t know anything.

I hadn’t experienced anything like that before and it was just like, without me being an arse, Never Gonna Give You Up was number one everywhere including America and it was the biggest record that year on a global level and it’s just like, OK, fine.

It was so mental that I don’t think I ever really recovered myself. It was all happening in front of me and I’m just there trying to keep hold of it.

So I kind of feel sometimes like I forgot to actually just kick back and enjoy it.

I did everything the label told me to do. I never went nah, I’m going to get pissed with my mates and I’ll see you on Monday. I just thought listening to the label is what you did and I just think back to being 21 when that first record came out and having no experience of the world really.

In a way I’m sort of grateful because I didn’t lose myself down a black hole. A lot of people do when that happens. So I can’t complain about it.