Robbie Williams: How 'fat dancer' was transformed into most successful solo act

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Robbie Williams was once dismissed as the "fat dancer from Take That" by Noel Gallagher, but he has now become the most successful British solo act in official chart history.

The Heavy Entertainment Show is the artist's 12th album to reach the top spot, it was announced on Friday, pushing him past David Bowie and tying him with Madonna.

The Stoke-born singer first hit the headlines as a chirpy wannabe in the group that was billed as Britain's answer to The Backstreet Boys when they sprang into the charts.

Take That
(PA)

Gary Barlow, Howard Donald, Jason Orange, Mark Owen and Williams were hailed as Britain's biggest boyband in the 1990s, evoking hysteria reminiscent of The Beatles.

The band notched up eight number one hits and sold 10 million albums during the 1990s but tensions began to show between Gary, seen as the serious songwriter of the group, and Robbie, the rebellious joker.

After a lost weekend with Oasis's Gallagher brothers, Robbie quit the group and embarked on a solo career.

Take That
(Yui Mok/PA)

He started with a flourish in 1996, making it to number two with his cover of George Michael's Freedom, but success seemed to be slipping away after a solid start.

His saviour was the ballad Angels, which helped his Life Thru A Lens album hit the number one spot six months after its release.

Angels and its glam-rock parody follow-up Let Me Entertain You were massive hits and proved to the world he was serious about being a solo star.

By 1998 he had chalked up his first solo number one single, Millennium.

Robbie and Gary
(Yui Mok/PA)

He was soon a massive star with crossover appeal across the generations. At the height of his popularity he released an album of swing-era standards and again saw it top the charts.

But he battled personal demons - drink and drugs - along the way and often said success had not necessarily led to happiness.

He also embarked on a string of short-lived celebrity romances with women including Cameron Diaz, Rachel Hunter and Anna Friel.

Take That
(Yui Mok/PA)

Bored with life in the public eye, the pressures of fame saw him uproot to live in Los Angeles.

More stories began to emerge of drug use and in 2007 he was admitted into rehab for treatment for his dependency on prescription drugs.

That seemed to mark a turning point and the next year he ended his long-running feud with former bandmate Gary.

Take That
(Markus Schreiber/AP)

In 2009, he shared a stage with his old friends for a Children In Need concert, an event organised by Gary.

Robbie helped with the band's sixth studio album, Progress, in 2010 - and said: "It feels like coming home."

In the same year he married American actress Ayda Field and the pair now have two children together, Theodora and Charlton.

Robbie's 2012 record Take The Crown became his 10th album to hit the top of the charts and number 11 followed a year later with Swings Both Ways.

The Heavy Entertainment Show has now repeated that success, meaning the only solo act to have achieved more number one albums is Elvis Presley after a collection of the King's hits remastered with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra became his 13th two weeks ago.