Memories of a being a nine-year-old Steve fan come flooding back
FAN'S VIEW:LAST SATURDAY in the grounds of St Laurence O’Toole Church on Sheriff Street, an Irish jersey lay strewn on the concrete inches away from a bunch of yellow roses. On the back, in black marker, it said: “No Matter What, May You Rest In Peace from Hayley Gallagher Notts-UK.”
The yellow roses were from Elton John. Fans stood on the walls and hung out of the windows of the terraced houses surrounding the church to pay tribute to Stephen Gately and Boyzone. A group of girls each held a single white rose that they bought for €2 from a neighbour.
“We asked her to get them for us this morning, we just wanted to be able to throw them on his coffin as it passes,” one girl said. “He was my favourite.”
He was my favourite, too, back in 1996. As a nine-year-old Irish girl in the first generation of Boyzone fans, I was besotted by the cherubic Steve. (That’s what you called him, there was no “Stephen” for us back then.)
He was the dreamy one of the group, the one those frustrating Take That groupies said sang through his nose. To girls like me, those who got the Stephen Gately doll for Christmas and paraded it around like a fantasy boyfriend, he was a heart-throb.
It wasn’t about his background or things that now as an adult can be recognised as incredible feats. It was just about that fan love, that adoration, the fact that on the box for the Steve doll it said: “Good Things Come in Small Packages”. We swooned at the pocket-sized hunk and his pudding-bowl haircut.
For Christmas 1997, Steve was on the cover of Smash Hitsmagazine, the first copy I coaxed my parents into buying. My dad took it to read before me to make sure those Boyz weren’t putting notions in my young head.
On the front of it, Steve was holding up mistletoe and giving a cheeky smile. Inside he was talking about the girls from Eternal whom he’d like to snog; later when we found out he was gay, of course it didn’t matter.
The Boyz were a chunk of our 1990s childhood, he was still as dreamy as ever.
I met Boyzone in the summer of 2008 at one of their RDS gigs. I chatted away to Ronan with no hassle, but when I got to Steve my nine-year-old self burst out. I told him he was my absolute favourite of the Boyz, I used to have his doll, I loved his Disney songs. He looked a little shocked, understandably.
It probably wasn’t the best opener, in fairness. My friend picked it up and the conversation carried on with less of the crazed fan theme. Halfway through, a little boy brought a brownie up to him and he chatted away to him in a big-kid voice, saying thanks. We got our photo taken with him and we chatted a bit longer.
Girls cried outside the church on Saturday and were held up by friends. The funeral was a celebration of his life, with Ronan Keating calling Boyzone the “campest straight band in the world” and letting fans in on the world of “Rosaleen, Michaela, Kitty, Shanice and Stephanie”, nicknames Steve had made up for the lads.
Fans laughed and cried and, as the Boyz exited the church, they clapped quietly.
Ronan wore a red flower in his lapel, Mikey wore a red tie, and the door handles on the blacked-out cars that brought the mourners all had red on them too. It was Stephen’s favourite colour.
To us fans of the 1990s he was cheeky and charming but he also had an innocence, a devilish purity that made you want to faint at the sight of him.
At the end of Boyzone’s Live at Wembley show in 2006, roses were flung at the stage – just like when the funeral procession pulled away at the weekend.