We're older and wiser, but still miss our brother Steo every day
IT IS a bittersweet time for Boyzone.
On the one hand, they are back in the limelight with a new TV special to mark their 20th anniversary. On the other, it highlights the fact they are missing founding member Stephen Gately, who died in 2009 of an undiagnosed heart condition.
Gately was only 33, and his absence hangs over his bandmates, who each now have tattoos with "76-09" to mark their late friend's life.
"Bittersweet is what this is," says 39-year-old singer Keith Duffy of the reunion. "He would be so delighted to be part of this now."
Four years after Gately's death, the group is using the one-off ITV special, Boyzone At 20: No Matter What, to discuss their career highs and bitter break-up and to reminisce about Gately.
"We kind of feel he's in the room when the four of us are together," says Duffy who, from 2002 until 2005, played ladies' man Ciaran McCarthy in Coronation Street.
"We constantly reminisce about him because he was a character, great fun. Stephen did some fantastic performances, but most of them weren't on stage -- it was in the dressing room."
Going back on stage as a four-piece instead of five has been difficult for each of the singers.
"When you're standing out there, you do get moments of reflection," says Duffy. "He's not there on stage beside you, and there are moments when it's sad and bitter. But the sweet part is, he'd be delighted looking down on us, doing what we're doing."
The band performed together shortly after Gately died, but the experience left them emotionally drained.
"We did a tour about two-and-a-half years ago, our first tour after Stephen passed away, and we were all very emotionally unstable," says Mikey Graham, who at 41 is the oldest of the band. "We hadn't grieved correctly. It was quite awful, to be honest with you.
Frontman Ronan Keating, who scored a chart-topper with When You Say Nothing At All, which was also used in the film, Notting Hill, agrees.
"I think it was a bad idea," says the 36-year-old father of three. "Looking back, I didn't enjoy the tour. I think we all felt that. Now we're ready."
Hosted by Dannii Minogue, the TV special will see Keating, Duffy, Graham and Shane Lynch (37) perform their best-loved hits, including Love Me For A Reason, Picture Of You and Father And Son, and share insights into their career.
At their peak, the band, who were managed by Louis Walsh, scored 18 UK top 10 hits, six number-one singles in the UK and 25 million record sales worldwide. In 2000, they split up to pursue separate projects.
Keating, who Lynch says he "hated with a passion" at the time of their break-up, went on to have a successful solo career and has recently appeared on the Australian version of The X Factor with Minogue.
After the split, Graham, a father of two, trained as an actor and competed in the fifth series of ITV's Dancing On Ice in 2010, a show that Gately took part in a few years before. Lynch took up his passion for motorsports and also recently appeared on Celebrity Masterchef, finishing fifth.
Meanwhile, as well as a role in Corrie, Duffy played a drug dealer in RTE drama Love/Hate and is an active campaigner for various autism charities, a cause close to his heart as his daughter has the condition.
With 20 years in the business behind them, they say it is more "cups of tea and hugs" than sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll these days.
"We were reared on the quiet side of the tracks," says Lynch, whose sisters Keavy and Edele are members of recently-reunited Nineties girl group B*Witched.
"We were nice lads, none of us were the tough guys in our area," he adds, laughing.
"We got together, went off in our own bubble and we were on an exciting rollercoaster."
Now they are set for a new journey.
"The memories will always be there, but we've managed since Stephen's passing to accept the new shape of Boyzone, and to build on that slowly," says Graham.
"It's mad," adds Keating. "Warner Music are doing a four-album deal with us, so it doesn't mean it stops here -- it's only just started."
They may be 20 years older, with Graham over 40 and the rest of the group edging ever closer to the milestone age, but the band members are convinced they can still corner the pop market.
"As long as we have fans who buy our records and want to come and see us perform, why not?" says Graham.
"But I don't know if we'll still be doing a lot of dancing at 40, though."
Boyzone At 20: No Matter What is on ITV on Friday, December 13