'I raged against being blind . . . until I realised I had to take responsibility for my life' - Evening Standard article: Date Thursday 10th June 2004
Making a success of your self is twice as difficult for someone with a disability. So how did Robin Millar conquer his blindness to become one of Britain’s most successful records producers? This is his inspiring story.My childhood was normal apart from the fact that I was born with Retinis Pigmentosa, which causes progressive blindness. With the small amount of vision I did have I could just about recognise places and people within a couple of feet, but night-time was always entirely black so I have never seen a star. I lost my sight completely when I was 35.
Despite my disability, I am, and have been, a very happy man. My blindness hasn't stopped me from living my life to the full. My parents believed that to survive I had to take some hard knocks early on and insisted I went to a normal school, Enfield Grammar. I used to have some spectacular accidents ... falling off walls, endless collisions with lamp posts, and I was constantly being hit in the face by unseen cricket balls.
My dad even encouraged me to take up boxing. And I dare say that some of the times I used to go off to Brighton on my bike he and my mum were probably wetting themselves with worry. My parents did 101 per cent the right thing for me - which is why I now go around talking to schools about how important I think inclusivity is: that people with all sorts of "weirdnesses" and " wonderfulnesses" should be included in mainstream schools.
On my 16th birthday I went to Moorfields Eye Hospital for tests. At the end, the doctor said: "Well, you're going blind, there's nothing we can do about it and it'll probably take about 20 or 30 years before you lose your sight altogether. Pop down the corridor and get yourself a free white stick and a pair of dark glasses."
Taking the bus ride home I missed my stop and ended up going right to the end of the line. I was just sitting and staring at the white stick and glasses in disbelief. I never used them. I had been devoutly religious - but suddenly I was full of rage and anger.
It took me two years to realise I had to take responsibility for myself, that I had to sort out my own life.
Apart from my poor eyesight, I was a typical teenager - I liked football, I went out with girls and I was a massive music fan.
The only untypical thing about me was that when I was 17 my older sister Rose married Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor. I spent my teens hanging out with the Stones and other members of the music scene.
I went on tour with them and even sat in for Bill Wyman on bass rehearsing Tumbling Dice. My parents encouraged me to get a qualification so I went to Cambridge to study law. I left with a masters and got a job with Polydor Records - the only "proper" job I've ever had. This lasted only a short while because I simply couldn't see well enough to deal with the amount of reading and writing involved.
Around this time my heart was broken by a girl I wanted to marry. Her parents were uncomfortable because of my blindness and dissuaded her from being with me. Devastated, I went to live in Paris and spent the next six years there, working in music studios, playing in bands, even doing a bit of nude modelling.
I got involved with writing a musical with a friend called Marek. Unfortunately, the show never happened as the producers ran off with all the money, about £60,000. However, a girlfriend's brother - who was extremely rich - paid for Marek and me to record one of the songs. Atlantic Records heard it and Who Needs Rock 'n' Roll shot to Number One. For 18 months, my life was a blur of cars, girls, booze and non-stop fun.
But in 1979 I settled down and married Ellen, a girl from Texas. I launched a luxury car-hire company, Rent-a-Ferrari, but the business went down the pan and my next venture was setting up Power Plant recording studios in Willesden.
One of my first projects was making a record to mark 10 years of the Chilean solidarity campaign. I have always been committed to raising money for charity through my work. Loads of great musicians performed on the record, including Tracy Thorn of Everything But The Girl and the saxophonist from a band called Pride - which later turned into the Sade band.
Pride's manager insisted I hear a few of their demos and we ended up recording two tracks: Smooth Operator and Your Love Is King. These versions ended up on Sade's Diamond Life album. This was a fantastic period. After Diamond Life I went on to produce Eden, the first Everything But The Girl album. Then I was asked to work with the Style Council, Randy Crawford, the Christians and Fine Young Cannibals.
Power Plant went from strength to strength. By the time I was 35 I had a string of multi-platinum discs, a wife and two lovely kids, £6 million in savings and a chauffeur-driven 1965 Bentley. Then, while recording Sade's second album, Promise, I lost my eyesight altogether. It had deteriorated fairly rapidly over about two months but when it happened I was totally unprepared. I withdrew into my shell and felt very much like that petrified 16-year-old again.
Instead of just explaining to everyone around me that I was now fully blind, I kept quiet and tried to carry on. After about six weeks I couldn't take it any more. I went into the studio and just exploded. I started ranting and raving.
CV Robin Millar
Born: 18 December 1951; St George’s Hospital (now the Lanesborough Hotel), Hyde Park Corner; mother – Anne, nurse; father – Bruce, army doctor
Married: Ellen 1979; children – Scarlett 20 and Crusoe 18
School: Enfield Grammar, Enfield, north London 1963 – 1970
University: Cambridge, Law MA, 1970 – 1973
First Job: assistant royalty manager at Polydor Records, 1973 – 1974
Employment: Resident in Paris as musician engineer and producer, 1975 – 1980; founded and developed Rent-a-Ferrari, 1980-1982; founder and chairman of Scarlett Group, which owned Power Plant and Maison Rouge Studios in London, 1982-1990; worldwide chairman of RePro, 1991-1999; founder of Artsmedia, 2002; owner of Whitfield Street Street Studios, 2004
Charity Work: raised more than £250,000 through putting on concerts and producing records for the British Lung Foundation, Artists Against Apartheid, Chilean Solidarity Campaign, Namibian Freedom Fighters, Oxfam, Patron of Unicef
Other: visiting lecturer in commercial music, Surry University, The Royal Academy of Music, London and Centra Musicale,Italy. Brit Awards Judge since 1993