Dudley likes to say she’s not a Take That fan, but she’s seen them live four times and once listened to 'Back for Good' twenty times back-to-back. One of her fondest memories is when she took two tough Northerners to Wembley to see the Progress tour (the one where Robbie turned up) and was astounded to discover they knew all the words.
Britain’s got some brilliant songwriters, and Gary’s one of them. Now 49, he started writing songs in his bedroom when he was 11 Indeed, on of his many classic tunes, 1992’s 'A Million Love Songs' was written after school when he was 15. In A Better Me, his brilliant autobiography (which will make you laugh, cry and give up diets forever) he describes his Mum, Marj, sitting on the landing outside his teenage bedroom in Cheshire giving an opinion on the song he’d written (she couldn’t sit inside because it was too crammed with musical equipment). Mrs Barlow said, “That’s a good one.”
His first solo album for seven years comes out at the end of November, a beautiful, joyful big band production that sounds very different from the more poppy Take That sound. It’s called, appropriately, Music Played by Humans and features some mega collaborators including Barry Manilow, Michael Bublé, Beverley Knight, the cracking pianist, Chilly Gonzales and a LOLsworthy mutually abusive banter strewn number with his old mate (and not so secret super fan) James Corden. “It’s a funny song that celebrates British humour - in a Northern way!”
“Little did I realise how poignant this album would be in a time now that orchestras can’t sit in a room together. We finished our last session two weeks before lockdown and when I listen to the album now, it brings back great memories. We have some of the best musicians in the world in London...and they’re on my recordings.”
Barlow is a funny guy. Dudley’s got first hand experience of this. Way back in 2003 a friend of Dudley’s who worked in the music industry said, “You’ve got to come and meet these two songwriters I’m working with, they’re like the Two Ronnies, so funny - oh yeah, and one of them’s Gary Barlow.”
Well, this was a long time ago, in what he calls, “the Wilderness Years” when Barlow was writing and producing music but never thought he would perform again. Dudley and GB became sort of chummy, although mostly their friendship consisted of Gary saying funny things and Dudley crying her eyes out laughing like a sap.
Then Take That happened second time around, and Gary had better things to do than hang out with Dudley, things like sell out Wembley Stadium every night for a week in about 10 seconds (OK, maybe 15 minutes), write several multimillion selling hit albums, sing the song that closed the Olympics, and design and host the Queen’s Jubilee concert…to name a few. But he did send her some tickets for their comeback show and despite protesting to everyone (except Gary) that she wasn’t a fan, Dudley became one that very night watching “Gaz” and the lads dance their socks off after 10 years in The Wilderness.
That was the end of that story, Dudley went back to her normal life and Gaz became a pop star again, until one day in 2016 when he rang her and said, “I wanna talk to you about something, can you come over?”
Dudley said, “Can I bring the dog?”
Upon entering Gary Barlow’s home in London, Dudley’s lurcher slouched straight to the bed shared by the family’s two small dogs and settled down for a kip. Barlow didn’t mind, but the canines were a bit miffed, especially the feisty black Pomeranian, Hugo. Then the lurcher got on the sofa. Eek. But that was also cool. The Barlows are dog people. Phew!
Hugo’s addition to the family was inspired by visits from Sharon Osbourne who always had a cute Pom under her arm. In dressing room gatherings after the filming of X Factor, Barlow’s kids loved the Pom as did his wife, Dawn, as he says in his book: “She was giving me those eyes; not the rolling ones, the I want a puppy ones…” A few months later Dawn nipped off up the M6 and found Hugo, the runt of the litter who looked like a tiny fluffy black sheep and behaved like a massive pain in the arse. "It took three years to house train the little bastard and he’s never stopped yapping to this day.”
Cookie is something else. A sweet gentle, loving girl, Cookie - or “Cooksy” as Gary calls her - is a Patterdale terrier x working cocker spaniel x Jack Russell - in his book Gary describes her as, “A peaceful, biddable and loving member of our family. That little Cookie, if she could talk… the secrets I’ve told her coming in after a few wines on a Saturday night. She’s adorable. Unlike Hugo.”
Plans are to tour Music Played by Humans next year but with the world as it is, nothing is certain. While the humans are itching to get back to some kind of normal, Barlow says Cookie has enjoyed the new togetherness of the family pack that Covid has imposed. “No one has enjoyed lockdown more than Cooksy: everyone at home, no suitcases sitting in the hall, no uncertainty, awww, Cooksy. She’s taken to sitting on the back of my chair recently - just being sat beside me is not good enough [See picture]. Of course I love it.” Like so many dogs across the world, “She’ll needs easing back into real life.”
The Dudley Questionnaire
What is your idea of perfect dog-related happiness?
In the countryside - dogs all walked - the fire lit - the dogs sleeping with their heads resting on your leg and a glass of red on the go.
What is/are your greatest fears?
I just can’t bear dogs dying - it almost puts me off having them in the first place.
Which historical doggy person do you most identify with?
My Mum - she absolutely loves dogs and always has done. I think when we went to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and we both slipped our messages in for the dead most of her list were past dogs.
Which living person does your dog most admire, after you - obviously?
Our dogs love the whole family - no one has enjoyed lockdown more than our dogs - whenever we introduce suitcases to the hallway their whole mood changes - they sulk until we’re gone, then they probably forget about us.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself that you don’t mind in your dog?
Greed! They eat like I want to - fast with a never ending appetite.
What is your greatest dog-related extravagance?
My driver takes them in a Mercedes to my Mum’s house in Cheshire when we go on holiday or travel.
What is your favourite dog walk?
Hyde Park takes some beating - but a walk in the Cotswolds where you don’t see one other person is pretty special.
What do you dislike most about your appearance?
My stockiness, I’d love to be tall and skinny.
What do you most love about your dog’s appearance?
Which words or phrases do you most overuse when talking to your dog?
“Ooohhhh Cooksy Robinson.” No idea why I call her Robinson, but I say it all day.
If your dog could talk, what would he/she sound like?
Cookie would talk like our kids - quite posh. Hugo, on the other hand, would definitely have a Manc accent.
What does your special talking to the dog voice sound like?
Low and growly, usually saying, “You buggers - shut it for Chrissake.” For small dogs, they can make a racket.
What is your greatest regret when it comes to dogs?
I want them to live forever. I hate them getting old.