Boyzone: ‘A lot of our fans are guys now’
Female desire has driven Boyzone across 20 years, 25 million records and six number ones. They talk about hating Ronan, feeling Stephen’s presence and still wanting to hug Louis
Boyzone, including Stephen Gately, circa 1996. Photograph: Tim Roney/Getty Images
The audience at the recording of the ITV music special Boyzone at 20: No Matter What consists mainly of middle-aged women and their adult daughters: the communal blow-dry shimmers under the lights in a London studio.
Sam Taylor and Val Weaver have come in to central London by train from Bexleyheath in Kent. “We’ll probably go for a drink afterwards,” says Sam. They’ll get home about midnight, they reckon. They have work tomorrow. Val says that her favourite member of Boyzone is Ronan. “But I wouldn’t say no to any of ’em.”
Female desire has driven Boyzone across 20 years, 25 million records and six number ones. Back in 1995 I covered their first major gig at what was then the Point in Dublin. Teenage girls were hysterical. During their encore the Boyz were kicking cuddly toys out of their way, as young fans bombarded them with teddy bears.
Backstage girls as young as six burst into tears as the Boyz patiently posed with them for photographs. “Thank you,” each Boy would say after the photograph was taken. Pleasant, controlled, endlessly patient, the discipline of the new group, instilled by their manager Louis Walsh, was already well-known.
“That was 1995,” says Ronan. “Gerry Ryan brought his kids.” And Twink brought her kids. I had never seen anything like it. The Boyz didn’t see anything unlike it for many years – in fact, for all of their youth. Now they are gathered in a dressing room at ITV studios, and Mikey is getting his hair cut as the others – Ronan, Shane and Keith – reminisce.
“We were teenagers ourselves,” says Shane. “I think a certain amount of innocence does get robbed from you. But me and the boys were always home birds. I guess we missed hanging around on street corners. But actually we missed nothing at all.” Which sounds like one of their songs.
Ronan is the youngest in the band – he was just 14 when he started as a singer. “I have a 14-year-old son now,” he says, “and society is so different. We were almost protected because we were in a band. A wall was built around Boyzone to keep us in, but it kept a lot of stuff out as well.”
Ronan and Keith think it was harder on them when they went back home to their local neighbourhoods, and had to pretend to be macho, than it was to be in the band.
Keith – or maybe Ronan, they were talking so fast my notes are not clear – remembers: “We were very vulnerable and big-hearted young men. When you were at home you had to keep up your tough side. There was no bullies in the band; we were allowed to be vulnerable. We were creative; we were writing songs.”
However, there was also a Dublin toughness about Boyzone. I tell them that a journalist once wrote about seeing Boyzone playing support to a heavy metal band and said that if it came to a fight, the journalist would put his money on the ballad-singing Boyz in pastel cardigans, as opposed to the rock men in studded leather trousers. “That was Def Leppard,” remembers Ronan. “I’d say he was right about that.”