Bruce Dickinson recalled the words that convinced him that returning to Iron Maiden was the right thing to do in 1999. He’d left the metal giants six years earlier and embarked on a solo career intended to present himself as a different performer from the one people knew.

But in a recent interview with Kerrang!, he admitted there was a “mismatch between expectation and outcome.”

That led to a conversation with Iron Maiden bassist Steve Harris, which led to the announcement of his return, the Ed Hunter tour of 1999 and the release of the band's 12th album, Brave New World, the following year.

“When I told the rest of the guys in my solo band, they all immediately said, ‘Well, you’ve gotta go back,’” Dickinson recalled. “And I said, ‘You know this means I can’t play with you guys the same anymore because my feet aren’t gonna touch the floor, right?’ And they went, ‘Nah, man, you’ve gotta do it. The world needs Iron Maiden!’ And I thought, ‘Fuck. I never thought of it like that. But you’re right – the world does need Maiden. Bring it on!”

He noted that those words were "in the back of my head” during the first concert following his return: “The world needs Iron Maiden, and here we are. Boom! And you get that feeling underneath you, that you can move mountains. I felt a lot more confident about who I was and how I was performing. I’d learned a lot in that intervening period. I was never able to step back at any moment when I was in it and go, ‘What’s this all about?’ But coming back to it was a bit of a revelation.”

Dickinson described the atmosphere in the lineup – which kept guitarist Janick Gers even though Adrian Smith rejoined too – as “just amazing” and the members' relationships as “so much better than in the ‘80s.”

“Did that cooling off period in the ‘90s help?" he said. "Did it ever! The band are bigger now than they would have been if I hadn’t left. But I didn’t know that at the time – 20/20 hindsight is a wonderful thing. But I think the drama of leaving, then coming back, and coming back with an album like Brave New World, and continuing like that, has catapulted us into a completely different league. We’re in a pretty good place!”

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Bruce Dickinson Year by Year