Saturday 3 December 2016

Ronan Keating: 'I'm saying I'm sorry for the affair, but the outcome is I found Storm'

Matthew Stadlen

Published 06/02/2016 | 07:27

Ronan and Storm Keating
Ronan and Storm Keating

RONAN Keating isn't someone you'd imagine has struggled with confidence issues. There are the 45 million records he's helped sell; the enduring boy band good looks; and the easy charm. There's also the fact he entered the Guinness Book of Records in 2007 as the first artist to achieve 30 consecutive top 10 UK singles.

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So it's somewhat surprising when the Boyzone singer insists: "I've always been quite an insecure person."

Then again, this blond son of a truck driver and hairdresser from north Dublin is not the unreflective type. When we meet for a hot drink at Grind Coffee Bar, the elegant cafe he co-owns in Putney, south-west London, he's in introspective mode, touchingly honest and open about the vicissitudes of his 38 years.

He is, it seems, in a good place right now. Not just musically - he's launching what he calls a coming-of-age album - but romantically, too.

The headlines that followed his 2009 affair with a Boyzone backing singer when he was married to Yvonne Connolly - the mother of his three children - have been replaced by stories of new nuptials, this time to the Australian TV producer Storm Uechtritz.

"I'm happier than I've ever been," he says. "Storm makes me feel secure. It's very refreshing. I haven't had that before. I've always had to work to feel reassured, to feel secure, and that's not nice because you don't know where you stand. I put up a front to make people think I had all of this confidence in myself, which I didn't."

Keating's son Jack (16) was best man at his wedding last August and his daughters Missy (14) and Ali (10) were maid of honour and flower girl. He even prevailed on his friend and fellow pop star Ed Sheeran to surprise his bride by singing at the reception at Archerfield House, a country retreat in West Lothian, Scotland.

The children are at school in Dublin and live with their mother, but although he is London-based, he sees them every other weekend. "I'm hands on," he says. "We have conversations about what we've come through as a family. I'm a good dad. I'm proud of that."

He first introduced his children to Storm in Australia, where the couple initially became friends on the set of the Australian X Factor in 2010. "They love her," he says. "I spoke to the kids about getting married and they were incredible: 'Yes dad, whatever makes you happy.' I asked Storm to marry me and then got the four of us together and we said, 'Storm will you marry us?'"

It's hard, of course, not to feel for Connolly. Does he feel guilty about the affair?

"Nobody should have an affair," he says. "If you're man enough to have the balls to go home and say, 'Sorry, this isn't working any more', that's the ideal situation, isn't it?

"But we're weak. We don't do that. So yes, I hurt people and I am sorry for that hurt, but the outcome is I found Storm and I'm very grateful. But I'm saying I'm sorry."

Looked

Losing his mother to cancer when she was 51 and he was just 20 hit Keating hard. She had lived to see his teenage success with Boyzone, but when she died, he lost his "rock".

"I lost my way and got married very young. I looked for that figure in my life, I needed somebody," he says.

Keating is the youngest of five, but before he was 10 his elder siblings began emigrating from Ireland at a time of high unemployment. "I sat in Dublin Airport and watched them all leave," he says. "It was heartbreaking."

His brother Gerard had taken up an athletics scholarship in the US and it was Ronan's dream to follow him into the sport. He was crowned national 200m champion at under 13 and 14 levels but, after juggling Boyzone and education, he left school just months before his final exams.

Though she'd given him her permission, he was away so frequently his mother thought he'd joined a religious cult initially. "She was a very religious woman. She was scared at the beginning," he says.

During the early years he would fly home every evening after commitments in London and take the early morning flight back the next day. It was an exciting time but, looking back, he is not without regrets.

"We were catapulted into fame - five-star hotels, private planes," he says. "It was brilliant, but there was no one to guide us as such, we were just let loose.

"I took responsibility at a young age for the other members. I had an old head on my shoulders. I wish I hadn't taken it so seriously because it meant I didn't get to enjoy it the way I should have."

There was, he says, a lot of drinking, but no drugs. "I think we were all scared - Catholic guilt wouldn't allow us. [But] in Ireland when you're growing up, it's just expected of you to drink early. I'm not saying it's right but there's a lot of it."

Despite topping the charts with songs including Words and All That I Need, Boyzone agreed on a hiatus at the turn of the millennium, which then became a split at the insistence of Keating. He had already found international stardom as a solo artist. Boyzone regrouped, as such acts are wont to do, in 2007.

The next three years, says Keating, were their best. "We understood who we were. We didn't take ourselves so seriously," he says. Then, in 2009, tragedy struck. Stephen Gately, who had been co-frontman with Keating, and had come out as gay in 1999, died suddenly of pulmonary oedema in Majorca. He was 33 years old.

Losing

"Losing someone so young like that, l just couldn't fathom it," says Keating. As he remembers his friend he grips his hands together in a grief that is still raw. "When the four of us are together we feel like he's around. We talk about him, we laugh, we cry. He was a very special person."

Next year will be the band's 25th anniversary and despite the absence of their fifth member, it will not go unmarked. "Whether it's shows or an album or a reflection on it, we'll do something," says Keating.

For all their success, Boyzone lag behind Take That in record sales. So who's better? "Take That are better. The songs are better," says Keating. "We're very real. Boyzone was always like Take That's ugly sister, but [we] are the everyman's boyband. We're the type of lads you meet on the street whereas Take That was the polished article."

Thanks, he says, to the likes of Adele and Sheeran, the music industry has been re-energised since the boybands' 90s heyday. Now with a new label, he feels like an artist for the first time, released, as he sees it, from the pop conveyor belt.

Life is a rollercoaster, he once sang. If so, he's definitely on a high at the moment.

Ronan Keating's new album, Time Of My Life, is released on February 12

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