Robbie Williams

British pop singer Robbie Williams has emerged from a few years of wild living — and becoming a tabloid favorite in Britain — to achieve solo success in the UK and U.S.

Williams, once loved by millions of young English girls as a member of pop group Take That, is now positioning himself as a pop belter, much like his hero, Tom Jones.

Robert Peter Williams was born Feb. 13, 1974, in Stoke-on-Trent, England. When he was 3, Williams' parents separated, and they eventually divorced.

Williams was a class clown at school, and he wanted to be an actor. He joined the Stoke-on-Trent Theatre Company and played minor roles in shows such as "Pickwick," "Fiddler on the Roof," and "Oliver." Williams also had a bit part in the British TV soap opera "Brookside."

He quit school at 16 and became a salesperson, though he kept auditioning for acting gigs. But Williams' life changed after he responded to a newspaper ad to audition for a pop band managed by Nigel Martin-Smith. Williams performed a song from the musical "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" and impressed Martin-Smith and the four other members of the group that was to become Take That.

Four weeks later, Williams accepted the offer to join the band. Take That played schools and radio-sponsored road shows, but they were unsure of their image and experimented with tough personas and leather costumes. For the video to their first single, "Do What You Like," Take That rolled around in red jelly.

But as the months passed, enough teenage girls noticed the group's good looks to ensure a market for Take That's increasingly pop-oriented singles. "It Only Takes a Minute" put the band into the UK top 10 in 1991. Take That's appearances became mob scenes, reminiscent of Beatlemania in the '60s, as screaming girls tried to get ahold of the band.

The group scored eight #1 singles in England, including "Relight My Fire." But Williams, unlike his musical brethren, began to tire of all the adulation and wanted to act out his rebellious streak. The other guys in Take That got the message when Williams, with dyed blond, spiked hair, jumped onstage with Oasis at the Glastonbury Festival and ran amok.

In September 1995, Take That issued a statement that Williams was leaving because he could no longer commit to the group. Though Williams was sick of the band, he didn't quit. Take That kicked him out because of his wild behavior and indifference. The band called it quits the following year.

The British press predicted the demise of Williams' career as he increased his all-night cavorting in clubs, gained weight and bad-mouthed his ex-bandmates. But after a few months, he refocused attention on his music and signed with Chrysalis Records.

In July 1996 Williams issued his first solo single, a cover of George Michael's "Freedom" called "Freedom '96." His debut LP, Life Thru a Lens, followed the next year. For the first time in his career, Williams wrote much of the material. He worked on the album with former World Party and Lemon Trees member Guy Chambers.

The LP included the hits "Old Before I Die," "Angels" and "Lazy Days" and owed its sound to Oasis and the Beatles. The album went multiplatinum in Britain, and Williams solidified his comeback by hip shaking with Jones at the 1998 Brit Awards.

His sophomore effort, I've Been Expecting You, was released in 1998. Last year, Williams combined songs from both albums for his U.S. debut LP, The Ego Has Landed, including tracks such as "Karma Killer" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Man Machine." He had a hit in the States with "Millennium" and toured the country.

Other birthdays on Sunday: Peter Tork (Monkees), 56; Peter Gabriel, 50; Ed Gagliardi (Foreigner), 48; Peter Hook (Joy Division, New Order), 44; cEVIN Key (Skinny Puppy), 39; Henry Rollins, 39; Les Warner (Cult), 39; Rob Ellis (PJ Harvey), 38; and Freedom Williams (C+C Music Factory), 34.