(The Guardian, Feb 22 2003)

Robin Gibb launched his album as a tribute to his late brother Maurice. Mark Anstead reports

Robin Gibb has forced himself to carry on and pick up the pieces after the untimely death of his brother Maurice on January 12th. He pressed ahead to launch his fifth solo album (after a gap of 17 years since the last one) partly out of a sense of tribute to his brother, who died of a twisted intestine - a condition he had suffered since birth.

"Barry and I aim to work even harder at my musical projects," he says. "This is the only way we know to help us come to terms with it. To dwell on sadness is not the correct way to respect Maurice's memory."

He is proud to be a British subject and he loves to winter in the Prebendary, the home he bought from Charles Harding Rolls, a member of the Rolls-Royce family, 15 years ago. "I got it for a song actually, because Charles hadn't done anything with it and needed the cash," he says. "Mick Jagger had been looking at it five years earlier and also Prince Charles, but I got it for about �0,000 because it was a bit dilapidated."

The Prebendary dates back to the 12th-century, when it was used as a training centre for monks. Roughly 400 years later, Henry VIII is said to have visited it with Anne Boleyn just after they were married. The chapel (now a refectory) was built in 1174 and stands to the left of the house, connected by a ruined wall.

It was in real need of renovation so he hired an interior decorator, who had done much of the work on Windsor castle, to bring out the medieval Tudor features. Completed in phases, the work cost nearly �0,000 and has ensured that the experience inside perfectly matches the expectations set by the exterior.

It's hard to imagine that life for Robin has not always been so grand. His is a true rags to riches story and he does not hesitate to describe his family's wealth during his childhood as "zero".

"My father had two or three different jobs when I was five - cheese cutter, milkman and breadman," he says. "We had come over from the Isle of Man without anywhere to live and we were flat broke. It was the late 50s and there were no opportunities for my father to have a steady job so we took what seemed like a better alternative at the time - emigration to Australia."

They were a large family - the three brothers destined to become the Bee Gees, younger brother Andy and a younger sister. But things proved little better for them all in another country. His mother fell ill adjusting to the climate and his father struggled to earn enough as a bush photographer.

"I can still remember the image, my dad at night counting out coins to try and get us through the week. Sometimes chips and buttered bread was our meal for the day."

It fell to the three older brothers to do what they could to supplement the family income. Each weekend they would go to the races in Brisbane and when the crowd threw coins at the track they would dash out between the cars to pick up the money.

"Everything was mortgaged or on hire purchase and whenever we got a car it was repossessed because we couldn't keep up payments," he says. "We had to move house five or six times in one year just to stay ahead and avoid ending up on the streets for not being able to pay the rent.

"When I got to about 12, I knew I didn't want to be in the same situation as my father. It didn't make me think, 'I must have lots of money,' it just made me feel that whatever I had I would rather own than be in any debt."

The three brothers became child stars in Australia. When they returned to England they were signed to a record label by Robert Stigwood and enjoyed rapid success.

Now they are one of the biggest musical influences of their generation, having sold nearly 110 million albums around the world and written hosts of songs for other performers. They are among the top five most successful recording artists of all time (along with the Beatles, Paul McCartney, Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson).

"I never had a figure in my life to teach me about handling money," says Robin, who admits to exercising extreme caution when it comes to investments. He avoids the stock market at all costs, which he says is too much like gambling, and he prefers investing in residential property than anything commercial (which he thinks has been a bad idea for the past 10 years).

"They say money doesn't bring happiness but it is only a broke guy who says that," he confesses. "Of course having money has made me happier - it gives you the means to be able to secure your own life and future and to be able to look after the people who are close to you."

Curbing my wife's spending

Lottery: If Robin won �m he would give a lot of it to children's hospitals.
Best buy: His house. It's one of the few properties in Britain that goes back to the 1300s and is completely intact.
Prefers to pay: By cash when he can but he rarely carries cash so he usually has to use cards.
Clothes: Robin says he is very conscious of how he looks when working and travelling, so he has no qualms about buying something new for each new project.
Tipping: Always 15% but he usually signs it over rather than paying cash.
Travel: Robin makes the eight-hour trip to America on a regular basis - more than once a month - so he feels he has to travel first class of necessity.
Collects: Antiques for his home. His wife is the greater collector of the two and he says that's an extravagance he has to monitor occasionally.

Robin Gibb's new album, Magnet, is out now

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