My night with Robbie Williams, a Tom Jones impersonator and thousands of Shane Warne fans

Ordinarily, people get paid to be extras in a movie. But when you’re Robbie Williams, the normal rules don’t apply.

On both Saturday and Sunday nights, Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena was packed to the gills with fans of pop music’s cheekiest chappy. Officially billed An Evening with Robbie Williams, the show promised one hour of Robbie’s greatest hits, followed by an interview where the UK superstar will share stories of his life and offer audience members an exclusive insight into how this will be translated into the forthcoming film, Better Man.

Fans were encouraged to raid the back of the wardrobe and come dressed in their best ’90s concert-going outfit because select performances from the night will be filmed for inclusion in the biopic.

Tickets cost $100. The minimum rate of pay for movie extras, meanwhile, is $32. 89 per hour, with a minimum call of four hours ($131. 56 in total) – which technically means Robbie owes $231. 56 to every person who turned up to each of his shows on the weekend.

It’s unlikely that many punters will feel aggrieved though after the master showman delivered a set that was part concert, part chat, part film shoot – and all entertainment.

Dressed in black jeans and singlet, two-tone loafers and a silver lame jacket, Williams emerged onstage to the classical bombast of Carl Orff’s O, Fortuna from Carmina Burana, sang his first song then turned his back on the audience and pointed to his bum. I’m Robbie f—ing Williams. This is my band, this is my arse, and tonight, Melbourne is ours!

Over an hour or so, with his 12-piece backing band and four dancers clad in full-length skin-tight silver bodysuits, he ran through a best-of package that began with Let Me Entertain You, peaked with Rock DJ and finished with Angels.

In between, he cracked jokes, made asides to the audience, berated a couple of blokes for arriving late (or leaving early – it was hard to tell which) and serenaded a girl called Melissa. Or Melinda. It’s all the same to me, he quipped.

He sat with the Nine Network’s entertainment reporter Richard Wilkins to chat briefly about his film, before the director Michael Gracey (The Greatest Showman) took to the stage to talk about how great it was to be making the big-budget R-rated satirical biopic – which traces William’s rise from the boy band years of Take That to contented middle-age via some wild adventures in sex, drugs and rock’n’roll – in his hometown.

At one point, Williams even led the crowd in a swaying chant of Warney. The seemingly spontaneous tribute to the cricketer was .

The reason the show was happening at all, though, was so that Gracey could recreate a moment from the 1998 Brit Awards in which Williams performed a duet with Tom Jones. The Welsh singer wasn’t there – he’s too f—ing expensive, Williams told the crowd – so vocal duties on the cover of Wilson Pickett’s 1960s soul hit Land of a Thousand Dances were shared with a performer introduced only as Australia’s top Tom Jones impersonator.

Other than the sit-down chat, the clearest indications this was not your normal show were the fact the number was done twice (for the benefit of the cameras) and that the audience was asked to put away their smartphones, since mobiles capable of filming a performance were in short supply 24 years ago.

Better Man, which has a budget of around $107 million and in some scenes, is in production at Docklands Studios Melbourne and throughout Victoria, and is expected to be released in the second half of 2023.

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