Gary Barlow, man of the moment, is sitting opposite me in his private recording studio, telling me how he once felt so full of self-loathing he would disguise himself on train journeys to avoid being recognised. This was during the period when Take That first split up, Barlow's solo career had tanked, he had not become "the new George Michael" as predicted, and his old bandmate Robbie Williams's career had gone stellar, with Williams attacking Barlow in the press as variously "selfish, stupid and greedy", "a clueless" and "really dated".
"I was living in Cheshire at the time, going to London and back on the train," says Barlow, a mug of tea perched on his knee. "I used to heavily disguise myself, with a hat and everything. I was overweight, I wasn't feeling great. I was embarrassed to be me, to have people recognise me. I did this for about three years, every day."
The night before the reformed Take That put out tickets for its comeback tour, a nervous Barlow went out with a friend and got drunk. "I'm not a big drinker, so it's rare I start feeling tipsy. But this night I went for it. I woke up the following morning and I had 27 missed calls. All the tickets had sold out. That was the moment I realised: shit, this is big; we're back." How did he feel then? "Amazing. That day was the first time in years that I got on the train, took my hat off and just sat there. People were coming up and being so nice. It felt so good. I felt so, I don't know…" Barlow pauses, searching for the right word, "valid again."