The worst part of losing my brothers? We weren't even friends at the end: In a soul-baring confession, Barry Gibb tells of the guilt, remorse and loneliness of being the last of the Bee Gees
The first time Barry Gibb went on stage to perform solo as the last surviving Bee Gee, he was urged on by his wife Linda. She told him to stop moping over the death of his brothers, get off his backside and make music again.
Even so, it was a lonely moment. ‘The realisation that my brothers — first Maurice and now Robin — weren’t standing next to me any more made me feel pretty isolated,’ he says.
‘When I looked left or right, they weren’t there with me.
Maurice’s death in 2003 and Robin’s last year had been a huge trauma for me and everyone in our family. Before that, in 1988, we’d lost our kid brother Andy, who had his own solo career, and my father, Hugh, died soon after.
‘Robin’s much more recent passing had made me depressed, and there were times when I’d felt that nothing was worthwhile any more.
‘But getting back to performing in Australia earlier this year — thanks to Linda giving me a metaphorical kicking — turned out to be the tonic I needed.’
His sense of loss was eased, too, by inviting his guitarist son Stephen and Maurice’s singer daughter Sami on the tour, to keep it a family affair.
‘Now it has begun to feel like the sun has finally come out again,’ Barry tells me when we meet at his magnificent nine-bedroom mansion in Beaconsfield, set behind iron gates in 90 acres of Buckinghamshire countryside.
He and his Scots-born wife Linda — a former Miss Edinburgh — had flown in from their main home in Miami for Barry to receive a lifetime achievement honour for his services to music. It is his first visit here since Robin’s funeral in June last year.
‘I feel good — a lot better than I did this time last year with all the stress over Robin,’ he says.
At that time, his grief had threatened to engulf him.
‘We all lose someone and you have to deal with it and grow from it in some way,’ he says. ‘My way of handling it is to go back on stage.’
For Barry, it is an abiding sadness that in their final years his relationship with Maurice and Robin had deteriorated to the point where he feels they were no longer friends.
‘When Maurice passed, Robin and I just didn’t feel like the Bee Gees anymore, because the Bee Gees were the three of us.
‘So while Robin went around saying “I’ll always be a Bee Gee”, he didn’t really want that: he wanted to be Robin Gibb, solo artist. Deep inside, I think that was so. That was the competition.’
‘During the last five years, Robin and I could not connect in any way. A similar situation, I can imagine, would probably be Lennon and McCartney. That same kind of distance occurred between them. The fact that you couldn’t get over obstacles or issues in your life.
‘What drove me down was that we didn’t get a chance to really say goodbye. The only time I felt we made up was when I kissed Robin on the head the last time I saw him before he died.
‘I didn’t get to see Andy before he died, and I never got to Maurice before he died. Mo died in two days, so that was very quick and a great shock to everyone.
‘Robin’s process took two years. I won’t go that way. If something like that is ever diagnosed with me, I’ll find the funniest, most humorous way of checking out. Absolutely I will not be lying in a bed stuck on life support.
‘So when Robin died, I felt all those things: guilt, remorse, regret.
‘There was so much more to us, but we didn’t see it. There was so much more life in us that we didn’t attempt. So much neurosis that we could have avoided between us all. Because everyone wanted to be the individual star. And we never knew what we were.’
Barry, 66, with his trademark shoulder-length hair turned silver-grey, says that he always thought Robin knew he was dying, even though he insisted that he had beaten liver and colon cancer.
‘I didn’t realise Robin was seriously ill for about a year, when I began to see the pictures of him in the paper. I thought something’s wrong here — but I couldn’t get any answers out of anyone
No one called from his house. I’d probably do the same thing — who wants to be thought of as an invalid?
‘I don’t think they knew how serious it was going to become, but I think they knew two years before, or a year at least, before I knew.
‘Dwina [Robin’s wife] started to tell us things gradually, and about six months before Robin passed she began to be very open with us.
‘We were hearing stories: the fact he didn’t want to go into hospital, that he didn’t want to have chemo. All the signs that you know something’s really wrong.
‘We flew over to see him. He was extremely weak but he seemed OK otherwise. We laughed about a lot of things and we sort of made up. At least we were together, and we were talking to each other and laughing.
'When we left, he stood outside to see us off. It was freezing. My reaction was: “Go inside — you have no immune system.” But everyone was standing out there with him.
‘I said: “Get him inside. If he catches a cold, that’s the end of it.” And he did, in fact, get pneumonia.
‘The last time when I came over to see him, just before he died, he was unable to speak to me because he had an oxygen mask and was drifting in and out of consciousness. But I always got the familiar thumbs-up from him.’
During one visit, while Robin was in a coma, Barry sang a song that he had written for him called The End Of The Rainbow.
‘He didn’t open his eyes, but I did get a response.’ Now, he intends to include the song in his new album. When Robin Gibb’s classical composition, the Titanic Requiem, commemorating the centenary of the ship’s sinking, was performed with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Robin’s wife Dwina and son R-J attended, but Barry stayed at his brother’s bedside
‘I couldn’t go — it was too much for me,’ says Barry. ‘Titanic was a tragedy in which 1,500 people died and I couldn’t watch that when my own brother was dying. It was just something I couldn’t handle.’
Barry and Linda were back home in Miami when the call came that Robin had died.
‘We’d had to leave Rob in hospital two days before, because our son Travis and his wife Stacy were about to have our granddaughter, Taylor. They needed our support — the attention of Mum and Dad. So, from birth to death. It was such a dichotomy.’
Yet only two months earlier, he had been hoping that he and Robin would record together again.
‘We had different philosophies in life. I was relaxed and felt that whatever I was doing was OK.
‘Robin wanted to do more and needed recognition. I didn’t feel there was anything to prove any more, but Robin was very driven.’
The whole distressing experience of losing his brothers has made Barry very conscious of his own health.
‘I don’t eat red meat and I’ve cut out dairy products,’ he says. ‘I watched my brothers over the years, beating themselves up, for want of a better term. In various ways, we all did.’
Through drink and drugs? ‘Whatever, yeah. We never saw the hard stuff that other groups maybe got into.
‘But we saw enough of the things you can acquire every day to make ourselves more creative. I watched that go on constantly with all three of my brothers.’
As the eldest Bee Gee, Barry saw his role as the protector and sorted out many things for them during their career, even getting all their song publishing rights and master recordings returned to them.
‘Maurice was the extrovert, Robin was the worrier — and he worried a lot. My job was to make sure we got paid and that we were all there and ready to perform
‘I used to say: “For God’s sake, tell Robin to do his hair.” Or “Tell Robin to polish his shoes.”
‘When we were younger, it was a radical competition between us. Who would be the most popular, who got the spotlight. It happens in every group — and we were no exception.
‘What I’ve since learned about life is to laugh at everything. See through it all. Don’t let your ego be in charge.’
Barry tells me he was especially close to his youngest brother, Andy, who was a solo singer and died aged 30 from a heart condition.
‘We were like twins,’ he says. ‘Maurice and Robin were the real twins, but Andy and I were like twins, even though he was the youngest and I was the eldest. We sort of looked alike, and even had the same birthmark.
‘I could see something was wrong with him because he would get very, very red in the face.
‘I used to worry about that and say: “Maybe you shouldn’t play so much, Andy.”
‘So there was something going on with his heart. But over the years, his own [drink and drug] habits had caught up with him.’
Andy had a string of girlfriends, including Victoria Principal, star of the soap opera Dallas.
After going through a wild time as a singer who’d had early success, he moved to Miami to be near his mother and brother Barry.
‘By then, he was really cleaning up his act — and I was keeping him on the clean side of life. He’d just got married, too. [His wife Kim and daughter Peta now live in Australia.]
‘Mum, Dad and I all tried to help Andy, because we were the closest to him. My mother, Barbara, was with Andy when he died at Robin’s house. She was watching Andy declining, the whole time feeling helpless.
‘Now I’m on my own, so I’ve got to make it on my own. I feel as if I’m a piece of a puzzle, or a cog in a machine, and that it’s for the betterment of everyone to do just what I do.
‘And then I look at my mum. At 93 and reliant on a wheelchair to get around, she’s despondent and still hasn’t got over any of it. So I feel for her — I know it’s worse for her than it is for me.’
Remaining: Barry attends the Nordoff Robbins Silver Clef Awards at a Hilton in London last month
‘Inside me, I’ve found the hunger to be on the stage again — like I did when I was a child. Music has been therapy. I didn’t go and see a psychiatrist or anyone for help. I have dealt with it myself, through music.’ His shows, the Mythology Tour, backed by a ten-piece band, were a huge success, with six nights in Australia. This autumn, he is coming to Britain and Ireland.
‘Making records has become a bit of a bore because of having to spend hours in the studio. For me, performing is best,’ he says.
‘On stage, I’m not singing the songs that Robin sang. I won’t encroach on his territory. I’m not going to try to do anything that Rob did, or Maurice or Andy. I’ll only do the songs I was instrumental in creating or that we collaborated on together.’
Nor will Barry be involved in the organisation of Robin’s memorial service, being planned by Dwina and R-J at St Paul’s Cathedral this year.
‘No, I can’t do that, because for me the grieving is over,’ he says. ‘It would throw me back into that dark place again.’ He is leaving it to Robin’s close family, ‘or whoever really feels they have to do that’.
He adds: ‘Robin is always with me. I don’t need to stand in a church or be in some place where there’s a ritual.’
Inevitably, though, he has been reflecting on his own mortality.
‘I don’t have any fear of death: it could just as well be tomorrow.
‘Don’t plan for the next five years: plan to get up in the morning. And that’s the lesson for me. That it can all disappear just like that