Take That frontman, solo artist and former The X Factor U.K. judge Gary Barlow has spent decades on stage sharing his talents with fans the world over. However, for years, he kept the painful story of his daughter Poppy’s death close to his heart. Then, when it came to penning his 2018 autobiography, A Better Me, the star was finally ready to write about the impact of that loss.
Even as a child, Barlow knew that he wanted to be a performer. In his memoir, he even revealed that he had been “one of those kids [who’s] forever dancing in front of the TV looking at their reflection.” And when the future musician received a keyboard for Christmas, he began to dedicate himself to learning how to play.
All this practice made him a good choice of frontman for the British boy band Take That, which also included members Robbie Williams, Mark Owen, Jason Orange and Howard Donald. And Barlow would pen several of the group’s songs himself – including Take That’s first U.K. number one hit, “Pray,” which topped the charts in 1993.
Then when Take That disbanded in 1996, Barlow went on to enjoy an – initially – successful run as a solo artist. His first album, Open Road, would also reach number one on the U.K. charts, as did singles “Forever Love” and “Love Won’t Wait.” Barlow’s second album didn’t fare as well commercially, however, which led him to take a decade-long break from his solo career.
Of course, this halt to proceedings didn’t mean that Barlow wasn’t keeping busy. Instead, he and his Take That bandmates reunited for a sold-out tour in 2005. They continue to make music and tour the world together today, with a 30th anniversary tour scheduled for 2019. Also, from 2011 to 2013, Barlow served as a judge on the U.K. version of The X Factor, where he mentored contestants who were hoping to make it in the music business.
Barlow’s personal life flourished, too. In fact, he met his future wife, Dawn Andrews, while she was on tour as a dancer with Take That in 1995. The pair then wed in 2000 and began building their family right away; their son Daniel was born in the same year.
Then came daughters Emily in 2002 and Daisy in 2009. And three years after that, Barlow made an announcement that Andrews was pregnant once again. This time, though, the story would end in heartbreak.
And on August 4, 2012, Barlow would issue a statement to tell the world what had happened with the pregnancy. “Dawn and I are devastated to announce that we’ve lost our baby,” the singer said. Their daughter, who they had named Poppy, had been stillborn.
Poppy’s death had also come shortly before a big moment in Barlow’s career, since he and his Take That bandmates were slated to perform at the closing ceremony for the 2012 Olympics in London. And while the musician was able to honor his commitment, he nevertheless took a break afterwards in order to grieve.
Furthermore, Barlow wouldn’t share the real impact that his loss had upon him until October 2018. In that month, he released his autobiography. And there, he described how he and his family had coped with Poppy’s death.
Barlow revealed in A Better Me that, when Poppy had died, “the Olympics ceased to exist, it just left my mind. Instead, we were consumed by the worst thing that ever happened to us.” And, heartbreakingly, his wife could still feel movement in the womb – the natural swish of the waters within it – even though the baby inside had passed away.
According to the book, though, Andrews had still had to deliver her child. And this allowed her and Barlow to spend time with Poppy, although they wouldn’t be able to bring her home. “The emotional toll… was incomprehensible. I was filled with dread for what Dawn had to go through. I couldn’t bear the thought of the suffering ahead for this woman,” Barlow wrote in his memoir.
“There’s no sadder sight than seeing a mum with her dead baby in her arms, willing it back to life with all her being,” Barlow added. Then, after their two hours with Poppy, the couple had to hand her over to nurses and face their reality: they needed to plan a funeral for their newborn daughter.
Barlow described “the practical considerations” of this task to be “as grotesque as they are absurd.” Also difficult were his interactions with those who heard the news. “What do you say? There is nothing,” the singer wrote. Barlow grew frustrated with the endless stream of condolence bouquets, too; in the end, he said, he “[went] down to the bottom of the garden and [began] slinging them over the fence.”
So, the Take That frontman took refuge at home, heading straight there after his Olympics performance. “We shut out the world and made a nest where we could be safe, love each other and grieve,” Barlow wrote. He also turned to cooking as a sort of therapy, finding joy in feeding his family and evading a world that “made [him] tired,” he said.
Then, in the fall after Poppy’s passing, Barlow did go back to work as a judge on The X Factor, although he has since admitted that he didn’t want to. Even so, he found throwing himself back into work to be “a very effective painkiller.” And there was yet another unexpected consequence; according to the star, his bereavement helped him realize how trivial some of his professional life really was.
“Honestly, it’s not important. The job isn’t the problem. I love the work, it’s fantastic. Cut me and I bleed sparkly shirts and piano solos. It’s the surroundings, the world, some of the people, all the drama and the nonsense,” Barlow revealed. To that end, he said, he used songwriting as an “escape.” And it was through his grief that he wrote his first solo album in more than a decade.
Meanwhile, his wife suffered a terrifying reaction to her loss. “I can see her ribs, her breastbone; her skin is so pale, it’s transparent. Something is wrong,” Barlow recalled in his autobiography. It was later discovered that Andrews had type 1 diabetes, which can develop in those who have been through substantial trauma. “The emotional pain of losing Poppy had caused her physical damage,” Barlow explained.
After Poppy’s death, the singer also revealed that there had been “a long time without laughter in our house.” Even so, over time, Barlow said that he realized “the light that came into the room when Poppy was born has passed to Dawn… It’s beautiful to see.”
Of course, Barlow is still affected by his loss, and he also continues to have a hard time telling people how many children he has. “Every time I say I’ve got three kids, I feel guilty,” he wrote. “But there was a silver lining to those ever-present emotions,” Barlow concluded. “The pain of losing Poppy is our connection to her.”