It was actually the tail end of last year when splitter Jason first told the Gary Barlow, Mark Owen and Howard Donald to go ahead and make plans without him
To Take That’s legions of fans it came as a complete shock when Jason Orange sensationally announced he was leaving.
But his bandmates had been expecting it for some time.
It was actually the tail end of last year when Jason first told Gary Barlow, Mark Owen and Howard Donald to go ahead and make plans without him – and they have spent the past 12 months begging him to reconsider.
Speaking of the split for the first time since the announcement, Gary, 43, says they left the studio door wide open for Jason as they began work on a new album.
“We’ve known for a while that Jay was like, ‘I don’t know if I’m doing this or not,’” he says.
“At the end of last year we said, ‘We’re going to start, is that OK?’ You can see how you feel during the year.’
Full house: Howard Donald, Mark Owen, Gary Barlow, Robbie Williams and Jason Orange
“We left a big space for him on the record.”
Finally, last month, the boys sat down for an emotional meeting and Jason told them face to face that he was leaving.
“We hit the point where we could do nothing else,” laments Mark, 42. “Then, it became real.”
A fortnight ago they got together as a foursome one last time to write statements to announce the news.
The group described it as a “sad day for us” and said: “Jason’s energy and belief in what this band could achieve has made it what it is today, and we’ll forever be grateful for his enthusiasm, dedication and inspiration over the years.”
Jason called the others his “brothers”, adding: “There have been no fallings out – only a decision on my part that I no longer wish to do this.”
It’s clearly devastating for the three lads that Jason didn’t change his mind. With Robbie Williams no longer involved, Howard refers to “what’s left of the band” and says of their upcoming releases: “Let’s hopes the fans are still there.”
After first forming in 1989, the group have been together on and off ever since with a few different lineups so they shouldn’t be a problem.
Glory days: Take That in September 1993
However, there have been rumours that Jason’s decision to go was related to a tax controversy surrounding the other three.
In May a judge ruled that the Icebreaker partnership Gary, Howard and Mark had been part of since 2010, along with their manager Jonathan Wild, was a tax-avoidance scheme.
Jason was not involved and when the announcement of his departure came only weeks after Gary made an apology, speculation of a link was rife.
Asked if that is what’s what’s behind it all , the boys chorus in unison: “No.”
Howard adds: “We’re all great friends. But he’s no longer in love with music, or recording it, or the whole process of it.”
They admit they did consider calling it quits. “It did cross my mind,” says Howard.
“But I would have encouraged the other two to carry on. But I love being in the studio creating music and touring.”
Mark says: “There was a time when we had to get Rob to come back.
“So we’re quite used to people saying they don’t want to do it any more.
Two down: The remaining members of Take That
“Eventually you kinda talk them round and send them flowers. We didn’t send Jason flowers, actually. That’s where we went wrong!”
However, they did invite him to listen to demos of their new album, III, including debut single These Days.
Howard says: “Me and Mark played it to him in the hope he’d think, ‘Yeah I’ll get on board’.”
Writing songs for the new record was clearly influenced by what was going on in the background.
“It was quite downbeat, and we needed to change it to bring more energy to it,” says Mark.
“I think Gary said: ‘We’re not writing a retirement record.’
“Then around May the three of us locked ourselves down for two or three weeks and started to play with sounds and for me that’s when we started for real.
“The energy was more positive. Now it’s one of our most upbeat records.”
Gary says the new album, due out on December 1, is “an amalgamation of the past eight years”.
They’ve worked with a selection of previous producers from different stages of their career.
Now that the trio are all in their forties it’s clearly a more mature sound than their early cheesy pop.
Gary and his wife of 14 years Dawn have children Daniel, 13, Emily, 11, and Daisy, four.
Mark and wife Emma have Elwood Jack, eight, Willow Rose, six, and Fox India, two. And Howard is dating illustrator Katie Halil.
But as Gary’s retirement comment implies, this is not scheduled to be the band’s final album.
“I could see us going on for another 15 years,” says Mark. Gary goes one better, stressing: “I could see us going in indefinitely.”
But however long it lasts, there will always be room for Jason or Robbie to return.
As Howard insists: “The door is always open.”