By Sharon Krum, Woman's Weekly,
On the eve of a visit to Australia to represent her famous sons, Barbara
Gibb, mother of the Bee Gees, shares her pride in their huge worldwide success and speaks
frankly about the pain of losing two of her beloved children.
Transcript by A. DiJoseph
The year is 1966. The Bee Gees have just learned that their
song Spicks And Specks has gone to number one in the charts. It's the first time that
anything this momentous has happened to the brothers from Brisbane by way of Manchester,
brothers whose magical ability to harmonise would soon set the world on fire. So how do
Barry and twin brothers Robin and Maurice celebrate this milestone? First, they buy their
mother Barbara a silver fox fur coat.
"I was asleep when they came home with it. They threw the coat on top of me and, when
I woke up, I was covered in this beautiful fur." Barbara remembers. "Oh, they
are such generous boys."
Yet the coat would prove more than a simple gesture of love for their mother. It was a
sign, a map of where the boys believed their lives were heading. Then, they saw nothing
but blue skies, hit singles and many more family celebrations ahead.
Fast forward nearly 40 years. The Bee Gees have now sold 175 million records worldwide.
Famous beyond imagining, they have wealth, peer acclaim, even the honour of a CBE from the
Queen. And yet, like a Greek tragedy, their story has been marred by sadness and loss. Two
of the four Gibb brothers are gone; the remaining two have gone silent for now, declining
to talk even as their hit musical, Saturday Night Fever, runs in Australia. Yet in the
middle of the maelstrom, Barbara Gibb is still standing, witness to both the glory and the
wreckage. "It's been a horrible 15 years for us," she says softly. "First
Andy, now Maurice."
They say that the worst thing for a parent is to bury their child, and Barbara has buried
two. Yet when you meet her, you are awed by her resilience, her ability to laugh and her
"I do my crying at night," she says, eyes downcast.
"During the day you have to carry on. You have to be strong for the family."
Noeleen Batley, Australian '60s singing star and a friend of the Gibb family, says,
"Barbara is the rock in that family. She has this spirit that is very
Now 83, the Manchester-born Gibb matriarch has lived in the US since 1978. She spends five
months a year in Miami (where her two surviving sons live), the rest in Las Vegas, a city
that keeps her feeling close to her youngest boy, Andy, because he performed there often.
"I love Las Vegas. I love the life there," Barbara says, sounding like someone
half her age. "It's a 24-hour town, you can get up at 3am and go out to get a coffee
and there are people all around you. You never feel lonely."
Though she lived in Australia for only nine years, from 1958 to 1967, she still talks
about the country and raising the family there with deep emotion. "I think my
memories of Australia are so powerful because that was the time the Bee Gees were being
born. It was such a happy time." (The name Bee Gees was for Barbara Gibb and Brothers
This explains why she is so palpably excited about coming to Australia this month to visit
friends and family (her oldest daughter, Lesley, lives near the Blue Mountains, in NSW,
and there are eight grandchildren to see) and to represent her famous sons at a Walk of
Stars ceremony in Caloundra, Queensland.
"I have always talked about buying a place in Sydney, so I could live there part
time. Recently Yvonne (Maurice's wife) said, 'If you see something over there you like,
I'll buy it for you. Maurice would have wanted it.' But I'm not sure. I am 83."
Yes, but what a spry octogenarian she is, with her thick Mancunian accent intact, a mind
quick as a flash and a refreshing candour to go with it. "No airs and graces about
Barbara," says Noeleen.
In fact, Barbara recalls everything the boys have done, from the first time they sang in
perfect harmony in their bedroom to the days they became superstars clad in white disco
suits and gold chains.
"They hated those white suits!" Barbara confesses. "They were forced to
wear them at a photo shoot. And they hate the word disco. Barry always says, 'We weren't
disco, we wrote the music long before Saturday Night Fever came out'."
Barbara is the kind of mother lion who attended Narcotics Anonymous meetings with son Andy
and Alcoholic Anonymous with Maurice, when both were battling substance abuse.
"I had to do everything I could for them. I don't think it's anything more than any
mother would do," she says modestly.
We are sitting in the combined living/dining room of Robin's Miami mansion, where she
lives when she is in town. The backyard is the ocean and J-Lo lives next door. Barbara's
life now is one of comfort and modest celebrity in her own right (she is often asked for
autographs), one she couldn't have imagined growing up in the north of England and working
as a singer. It was music that led her to marry Hugh Gibb, a drummer and the bandleader of
the Hughie Gibb Orchestra.
"I got one of the other lads to do the drumming, stepped off the stage, asked her to
dance and afterwards brought her home." Hugh once said of how he met his wife at one
of his concerts. They married three years later and, when daughter Lesley arrived in 1945,
Barbara hung up her microphone. Son Barry was born in 1946, twins Robin and Maurice in
1949 and Andy in 1958.
It was the three older boys who were natural performers like their parents. At
the tender ages of six and nine, they would sing in their bedroom, copying the Everly and
Mills Brothers from the radio. Once, when their grandfather was visiting, Barbara asked
him if he wanted the radio turned down so that he could watch the cricket in peace.
"And he said, 'That's not the radio, that's the boys!' I couldn't believe it, so I
went into their room, and there they were, three little kids on the bed singing Lollipop
Lollipop in perfect harmony!" They began singing at a local cinema. Then, when the
family emigrated to Australia in 1958, the boys had the chance to hone their act on the
"The children hat to be in bed by 9pm," Barbara recalls. "We would come out
of the nightclub at 1am and there would be my three little ones in their pyjamas, singing
on the top deck with a crowd around them."
Given this, it was no surprise to the Gibbs when, once the family settled in Brisbane, the
boys embarked on building their singing careers.
From singing on local Brisbane TV and radio to playing in RSL and leagues clubs, buzz
about the Gibb brothers, who not only sang like a dream, but wrote their own material,
spread. She never worried about her sons, as young as they were when they first hit the
stage (Barry was 13, the twins 10). "They were so confident, the three of them,"
Barbara says. "They had each other, that was the key."
In 1963, the Bee Gees signed their first record deal with Festival Records. Three years
later, Spicks And Specks went to number one and the brothers moved back to the UK to
further their careers. Hugh and Barbara followed. With hits such as Massachusetts and New
York Mining Disaster 1941, the Bee Gees became a force on the pop landscape, and their
parents were proud enough "to burst".
Yet success has its dark side and, for Maurice, it would eventually come in the shape of a
bottle. Before his death last year, he was admirably open about his early battle with
alcohol and his subsequent commitment to sobriety.
"When he was drinking," Barbara says, "I was heartbroken, as were his
brothers. They begged him to get healthy."
Maurice did seek treatment and was sober for the last 12 years of his life. "I would
go with him to his AA meetings," she says. She would, of course, try to rescue Andy
the same way, but her youngest son, who found his own fame with hits such as I Just Want
To Be Your Everything and Shadow Dancing, was too far in the grip of drugs to find his way
When I tell her I had a crush on Andy as a young girl, she throws me a smile as wide as
Texas. "A lot of women had a crush on my Andy, because he was so sweet. He was a
lovely boy, but his own worst enemy. I knew it would happen (his death). I was quite
prepared for it. He was only 30. He would have been 45 this year. I often wonder what he
would have been like."
When Andy's career took off, Barbara travelled the world with him. Yet, she had to watch
helplessly as he became addicted to cocaine. "I told him. 'You are breaking my
heart'," she says. "The thing is, you can talk and ask and beg, but they have to
want to come out of it on their own."
On the surface, Andy Gibb had it all -looks, talent, fame and charm. So why wasn't it
enough? "Andy had an inferiority complex. He didn't think he was as good as his
brothers. He felt that he couldn't measure up and I think drugs filled that ache. I also
think Andy was unhappy that he had nobody. He hadn't got a girl and a family like his
Andy had married and divorced his Australian sweetheart Kim Reeder in 1978, the same year
their daughter, Peta, was born. "Andy wanted to see Peta, but her family wouldn't let
him write to her or send a Christmas present. It hurt." (Barbara does see her
grand-daughter now). She says she knew her son's affair with Dallas star Victoria
Principal in the early '80s would end in heartache. "He was obsessed with her, but
she didn't treat him well." No later relationship gave him the love he craved.
Andy eventually went into rehab twice. His mother went with him to Narcotics Anonymous
meetings and family therapy at the Betty Ford Center - and he was, ironically, clean of
drugs for a year before he died in 1988 of heart failure. "But the damage had been
done. The doctors told me that was drugs," Barbara says.
The family was rocked by Andy's death, she says. When Hugh Gibb died three years later,
many believed it was from a broken heart over his son. The next album the Bee Gees
recorded was in memory of Andy, but Barbara says it took years for the family to find its
By the early '90s, things were looking up. Maurice was sober, the boys were all happily
married and raising families, they were writing songs for artists such as Barbra Streisand
and Diana Ross, and performing to sold-out venues around the world. Barbara says that she
had, on some level, made her peace with Andy's death when Maurice was hospitalised in
Miami with stomach pains in January 2003. He suffered a heart attack before surgery to
remove an intestinal blockage and died three days later, aged 53.
"As upset as I was, I was more upset for Barry and Robin," Barbara remembers.
"Those three boys were inseparable, they never needed anyone else."
Both Barry and Robin withdrew from performing and, according to Barbara, the entire family
is still raw with grief. "It's been a sad and hard year, but you have to keep going,
I know that is what Maurice would have wanted," she says.
At a recent fundraiser for Diabetes Research in Miami (Barry and his wife, Linda, are
patrons), Barry sang Send In The Clown as a tribute to Maurice, and Barbara tried to leave
the room. "She said, 'I have to go. I don't think I can handle this'," says
Noeleen Batley, who was there. "And I said, 'No, stay and listen. Maurice is up there
watching.' She stayed, but she was really overcome."
One way that Barbara is taking care of herself since Maurice's death is by going on a
cruise to the Caribbean, another is spending time with her 18 grandchildren, whom she
I ask Barbara if the extraordinary joy she has garnered from her sons' success has been
offset by the personal losses that have devastated her. She shakes her head and grabs hold
of my hands.
"No, I enjoy their success just the same and, in spite of everything, I believe
myself to be incredibly lucky. But I do want Robin and Barry to start working again. I
doubt they will be the Bee Gees again, but I want them to work, to go into the studio and
write and produce. That's where I know they will find peace of mind."
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