Finally sitting down face to face with Robbie Klay was something of a surprise. The singer has none of the cockiness of someone who’s been in the limelight since the age of five. Instead he’s quiet and rather shy. He’s also shorter than you’d expect. While his buff body might be the first thing you notice about this 24 year old, it’s those strking green eyes that are really the stars of the show.
I admit to him that as someone who hasn’t followed the Afrikaans music scene I hadn’t heard about him until his molestation claims hit the headlines in early 2008. Robbie rocked the local music community by laying charges against fellow singer Jurie Els. He alleged that the older man sexually abused him repeatedly between the ages of 11 and 16. The case dragged on for nearly two years until Els was acquitted in December 2009. The judge said although there was “a suspicion” against Els, the state was unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty.
Robbie began singing as a youngster as a laugh. He was urged on by his mother who paid him R50 for his first performance and he soon grew to love the attention. The court case could have been the end of his career, which boasts 11 albums, but instead Robbie has since thrown himself into a new dance sound with the single Vat (Take) and a sexy makeover. He also surprisingly begun marketing himself to the gay community, performing at gay clubs and at Joburg Pride in October. It certainly paid off – he was the overwhelming winner in this year’s Pravda Vodka Sexiest Man of the Year survey.
I chatted to Robbie over lunch, during which he displayed his commitment to his physique by ordering nothing other than eight eggs from the confused waiter and then leaving behind the best part, the yolks.
How do you feel about being not just a musician but also a sex symbol?
It actually feels very good, I must say. (Laughs) I was very surprised when I was announced the winner.
You haven’t always been this big. Why did you decide to bulk up?
During the court case… there were so many things that went on in my head… and the best place for me was to take it out in the gym and the weights. I really put myself into that. And I wanted more and more and I trained harder and harder… It makes me feel good about myself. I’m doing it for myself and not to impress anyone.
Does it worry you that it might distract people from your music?
No it doesn’t. But I do understand that some people may focus on how you look on stage. And I don’t want that necessarily – I want people to listen to my music and to enjoy the music and the words. Not just the body.
Is it hard to stay in shape?
People are funny sometimes. When you get buffed up they think that you’re using steroids or something like that but I use a lot of protein shakes and try to eat right.
Looking back how do you feel about the court case?
It was a very difficult time in my life. I must say that it made me stronger, much stronger, and made me see things differently. You go through ups and downs and ask yourself ‘was it a good thing to do this because look at what you have to go through’. I was definitely disappointed when it ended the way it did.
How do you feel about Jurie?
Someday, somehow he will have to answer to someone else.
Do you regret going to court?
No. You put so many people in your family and in your life through so many things. You put them out there… And all the personal stuff that they put in the media… That’s something that I have to live with. But I feel good about the choice I made. It was the right thing to do.
There’s been a recent news story about a 16 year old girl claiming to be pregnant with your child (Robbie has asked for a paternity test after the child is born). Do you think that all this negative publicity is good or bad for your career?
Some people say that any publicity is good publicity. But when [the media] just concentrate on your personal life and the things that you do wrong and they don’t look at you as a performer…
Some might say that you bring it on yourself…
Look everyone makes mistakes. You go through life and you have to learn from your mistakes.
But with you the mistakes land up on the newspaper.
Yes! (Laughs) The last couple of years it’s just been negative stuff. And I don’t want that. I still want to be a role model for kids out there and that’s not easy to do with all the negative publicity that you get all the time.
Some people might have distanced themselves from the gay community after the court case – you did the exact opposite. And you also performed at Gay Pride…
I wanted to do that because gay people are not different from any other people. We’re all the same and we all have emotions and we get hurt. There were people who said that I shouldn’t perform at the [Joburg] Gay Pride festival and that people would say things. But I didn’t care. I wanted to do it because otherwise it means you have to make a choice. And why should I have to choose: ‘okay, am I going to sing for straight people, am I going to sing for gay people?’ I don’t think that’s right.
The gay community accepted me with open arms – and I really appreciate that. I don’t want the gay community to think, you know ‘it’s not going well with the straight audience, so now he’s trying the gay community’. It’s not that. It’s definitely not that.
You were a child star. Was it difficult transitioning into an adult performer?
Oh yes, people always want to you to still be that small little boy. It was hard and it took a while… Personally, I would not let my child start at that young age. You miss out on a lot of things in life. When I was in grade 8 I went from school to home schooling and that was hard because you lose all your friends. And I think you need that in your life – friendship with other kids your age. And I didn’t have that. It was mostly grownups I was involved with all the time.
Were you pushed into it by your parents?
No, it was my choice. My mom always told me that I didn’t have to do it if I didn’t want to. I made the decision. But I wouldn’t say that anyone else should do it.
I’m a big Keith Urban and modern country music fan. He’s been quite a big influence on my career… I love country music – not the old style but more the modern music. Keith Urban, Taylor Swift…
The new song isn’t country music…
(Laughs) We wanted to do something different. I like what we’re doing now it works and I enjoy performing it on stage.
So will there be more music along those lines?
Yes, I think we’re going to start working on a new album. It’ll be English and Afrikaans. I’ve got a good feeling about it…
Your favourite restaurant?
Wimpy! (Laughs) I’m a big fan of their chocolate muffins!
Boxers or jocks?
Smooth or natural?
Shaved. I don’t like hair. I have a lot!
Walk the Line.
What do you drive?
An Opel Astra and a Kawasaki speedbike.
What do you do to relax?
I get on the bike and I