Ooh, Interesting! – How Robbie Williams Paved China’s Streets With Gold

September 04, 2015

This week’s edition of Ooh, Interesting! takes in one of the UK’s most popular singers. After leaving Take That, Robbie Williams’ career went stratospheric with hits including Angels, Rock DJ and Millennium. But what’s his link to the streets of China? Read on to find out...

If you cast your mind back to the early 2000s, you’ll recall that Robbie Williams was on top of the world. Pretty much every song he released was going straight in at number one and his album sales were stratospheric. In October of 2002, EMI decided to offer him what they thought was a solid record deal. £80 million in exchange for four albums. Huh. Not bad.

Things started off well with Escapology shifting a few million copies almost instantly and going on to be the best selling music album of 2002. By the end of 2003, it had gone six times platinum. The followup wasn’t bad either. Intensive Care shifted 373,832 copies in its first week and though only released in October 2005, it was the best selling album in Europe by December. Wow.

The public had spoken. EMI eagerly awaited his next release. They were so confident of its success that they pressed 6 million CDs straight away. Robbie Williams was unstoppable. Or so they thought.

Rudebox was the title of Robbie Williams’ 2006 album and was preceded by a critically mauled single of the same name. As such, its appeal wasn’t quite as strong as previous Robbie Williams efforts. Even so, Rudebox managed to shift 50,000 copies in the first day and 100,000 had been sold by the end of the first week. As of today, it’s sold roughly 5,000,000 units. No small number but remember that EMI had already pressed 6 million before its release.

For a good few years, a million copies of Rudebox sat gathering dust in a warehouse, presumably soon to head to the scrapheap. But rather miraculously, in 2008, EMI found a Chinese buyer for every single copy. Could it be a super fan from Beijing? Well, no. The buyers couldn’t care less about Robbie Williams’ music but were busy building roads. Yes, EMI happily crushed up a million Robbie Wiliams CDs and shipped them over to Asia to be used in ‘street lighting and road surfacing projects’.

Somewhere in China, the streets really are paved with (an album that went) gold.



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By Henry Fosdike