Rick Astley performing on stage.
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Rick Astley: Never Gonna Give Up Working

From Lancashire lad to pop sensation and internet meme, Rick Astley has embraced his unretirement, taking Glastonbury and BBC's New Year's Eve Show by storm.

Naomi Chadderton
Naomi Chadderton
An experienced editor and journalist specialising in news and lifestyle.

Rick Astley is enjoying a major revival. Not only did he take last year’s Glastonbury by storm with his self-deprecating Pyramid stage show and set of Smiths covers with indie band Blossoms, but the man behind the '80s classic Never Gonna Give You Up also hosted BBC One’s New Year’s Eve show from Camden's Roundhouse - following in the footsteps of Robbie Williams, Alicia Keyes and Sam Ryder.

Having carved his place in the music industry with his soulful voice and infectious tunes, what is it about this teaboy-turned-superstar that keeps us coming back for more?

Rick Astley: From Humble Beginnings

Born on February 6, 1966, Richard Paul Astley grew up in a working-class family in Newton-le-Willows, Lancashire. His parents divorced when he was five and he went to live with his father, later estranging himself from him as an adult.

Astley’s passion for music developed early and, by the age of 10, he was already playing drums in a local church band. His talent and dedication led him to join a local band called FBI, where he honed his skills and gained valuable experience.

Rick Astley performs at Carfest.

From Serving Kylie Tea - to Stardom

Astley was talent-spotted by Pete Waterman, who brought him to London to work for the legendary 1980s pop producers, Stock Aitken and Waterman, while being groomed for stardom. He started out as a tea boy and tape operator for the trio, Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman, who played a pivotal role in shaping the '80s pop music scene, producing everyone from Bananarama, Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan, among many other acts.

"They were just so busy, I ended up making tea and getting sandwiches for acts like Bananarama, Mel & Kim, [and] Dead Or Alive like every other kid in the building," Astley told the BBC.

"What was great is that I used to get to do my demos late at night and at weekends. The engineers would be working on number one records in the week and helping me at the weekends."

Some of the artists produced by Stock Aitken and Waterman in the 1980s and 1990s.

Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan and Bananarama were signed to Stock Aitken and Waterman.

Rick Astley used to make tea for Kylie Minogue among other artists signed to Stock Aitken and Waterman.

Rick Astley made tea for Kylie Minogue and Dead or Alive.

International Success

He signed with Stock Aitken and Waterman in 1987 and his debut single, Never Gonna Give You Up, was released in the same year, catapulting him to international fame. It won best single at the 1988 Brit awards and reached No. 1 in 25 countries including the US.

The follow-up single Whenever You Need Somebody was a big success in Europe, reaching No. 1 in seven countries, including West Germany and Sweden. It also reached No. 3 in the UK.

Astley wrote many of his own songs, including four tracks on his debut album, Whenever You Need Somebody, which reached number one in the UK and Australia and No. 10 in the US.

Switching to Soul

In 1989, after embarking on a world tour of 15 countries, Astley left Stock Aitken and Waterman for RCA Records, switching from Pop to Soul in terms of musical genres. His third album Free, which reached No. 9 in the UK, spawned three singles and included collaborations with Elton John. His ballad Cry for Help also reached No. 7 in the charts in the UK and across the Atlantic.

In 1992, as his initial success waned, he decided to retire from the music industry to raise his daughter with film producer Lene Bausager and explore different musical styles. By this time, however, he had an impressive 40 million record sales worldwide under his belt.

Rick Astley performs on stage.

Rickrolling Fame

Astley was to find fame a second time as an internet phenomenon in 2007 - with 'Never Gonna Give You Up' central to the 'Rickrolling meme,' whereby a person is sent a link that is unexpectedly directed to a video of his hit song.

So popular is the internet prank that, students have handed in exam papers rickrolling their teachers, protestors have rickrolled Scientologists with crowds of boomboxes and banners containing the video link in binary code, and hundreds of people once took part in a rickroll flash mob at London's Liverpool Street station.

The meme helped revive his career. Indeed, in 2008, internet users at the MTV Europe Music Awards voted him the 'Best Act Ever' and by July 2021, Never Gone Give You Up had hit 1 billion YouTube views - the fourth 1980s song to reach this pinnacle.

Since then, he has signed with Polydor Records and later Sony BMG, releasing multiple albums. He has also supported Take That, Aha and the Foo Fighters in concert, performed as a regular act on Peter Kay's Tour, on the 1980s Here and Now Tour and even worked as a DJ for Magic Radio and with Peter Kay on the Chris Evan's Breakfast Show on Radio 2.

Reinventing His Hits

As Rick Astley embraces getting older with enthusiasm, he still manages to stay relevant, going viral once again when he filmed himself dancing about in a trenchcoat to launch “RickTok” on TikTok. Not afraid to poke fun at himself, he has also filmed himself jet-washing his rubbish bins in a lilac suit and wellies, dancing to a Dua Lipa track.

He has also recorded a new joke version of Never Going to Give You Up with the incorrect lyrics as part of a campaign with Specsavers to raise awareness of hearing loss - reinventing one of his trademark songs. As part of the project, he has also been fitted with hearing aids. “I’m sure it’s been affected partly by my age, I’m 57, but I have been around a lot of loud music," he told ITV.

As 2023 proved, his career shows no sign of slowing down. His ninth studio album, Are We There Yet?, released last year, reached No. 2 in the charts, while fans are still talking about his incredible Glastonbury performance.

Astley’s journey from a small town in England to enduring stardom is a testament to his talent and resilience, and the timeless appeal of his music. As an artist, he continues to inspire fans - old and new - and successfully redefine his career, while not taking himself too seriously.

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We are big believers that you should be able to design a life you love and not stick to a linear path, especially when it comes to ageing and retirement. In fact, we'd go as far to say that the concept of retirement in its current form needs to be retired. Yes, that's right, there's no rulebook here!