My parents had another son before me, called David, who passed away, and I don’t think they ever got over it. My mum moved to my gran’s house a mile away and I saw her often – she’d sometimes come to the school gate at lunchtime. I lived in my father’s house with their other children and we had a housekeeper, Mrs Hill, who’d come and made our breakfast and tea. The food was northern and pretty basic.
My earliest memories are of being a terrible eater. I would eat ham sandwiches, but not a lot else. By the time I was a teenager it was Pot Noodles big time. It was only when I went abroad to promote my records that I got fed up with asking, at best, for steak and chips, and I opened up to the possibilities of food. “Spaghetti vongole? It looks pretty strange, but I’ll try it!”
My brother Mike was a bit of a beast, a tough nut, a bit of a bruiser. If I’d managed to get the last piece of chocolate, he’d snatch it off me. I remember once having a banana in my hand and Mike going past on a bike and grabbing it and eating it. We’re close nowadays, but I think that had been his way of finding a place in the hierarchy.
Mike once challenged me to eat 20 Milky Bars in 20 minutes. I got to about 15 and then realised it wasn’t possible.
It’s said that I was the tea-boy at producer Pete Waterman’s studio, brewing builder’s tea for Mel & Kim and Kylie, but I was a junior tape operator who made everyone tea because that’s the sort of guy I am. It’s also claimed that I’d hold out tea to people and then snatch it back, singing, “Never gonna give you cup”, but that was a joke, by Pete probably.
Mikkel [Borg Bjergsø, founder of Denmark’s Mikkeller Brewery] grew up as a fan of mine. He sent me a lot of his beers, fruity and all sorts. Some of them too weird to drink. He and his team call themselves beer geeks, because that’s what they are really, to be frank. And they’re quite like musicians in their dislikes.
A couple of years ago, Mikkel opened a bar in downtown LA and it’s there I first tasted the beer inspired by me called Astley’s Northern Hop. We’re currently working on another beer in my name and opening a Mikkeller bar in Shoreditch.
By the time I was 25 I probably had enough money to never work again. I retired at the age of 27, after my daughter Emilie was born, and I felt the pop business was daft by comparison. I’d had a rough flight back from Berlin and then I was going off to America to promote my first single there, and I had an emotional breakdown on the motorway, on the way to the airport. With tears in my eyes I turned to my manager and said, “I’m done”, and he said, “OK, we’re done”. He’s still one of my best mates and was the best man at my wedding.
Lene – my wife and now manager – is Danish. We’ve always got liquorice at home –which isn’t sweet, it’s really salty. We often have brunede kartofler, which are sweet caramelised potatoes and they’re lovely if you’re not due a heart attack.
My wife is big on fish, like most Scandinavians, and sometimes she’ll make curried herrings. It sounds dodgy but if you have them done properly with apple and boiled egg on a good rye bread, they’re incredible. Friends now arrive at the door and say, “Where’s your herring?”
My favourite things
I’d go for Italian. You can walk off a not-even-fancy beach and you can get a good bowl of pasta almost anywhere in Italy.
You might order a bottle of wine and feel an anticlimax, but a G&T is hard to beat in every instance.
I call it football pasta – penne, fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, a bit of basil, a bit of pesto – and you cook and plate it in seven and a half minutes.