Ronan Keating: 'Forget musical credibility, a bit of respect would do me just fine'
As he releases a new album and he looks to buy a house with Storm, Ronan Keating opens up to Donal Lynch about grief, insecurity, the aftermath of his divorce, falling out with Louis Walsh, and how he really feels about Yvonne's comments last year.
The Arts Club in London's Mayfair doesn't feel like the type of place you'd be allowed throw your underwear at the stage.
Besides, Ronan Keating, who's perched on a stool at the front of the room, has long since grown out of such hormonal displays of adoration. He's telling a small group of journalists about how he's matured as an artist - the old record company used to have him working with several songwriters a day in Nashville - and, with nervous glances to new wife Storm, is belting out a couple of the new numbers. In the between-song banter he says he's nervous, but his rave-reviewed recent run in the musical Once has clearly sharpened his performance chops.
Even without studio technology or a wall of backing singers he is a surprisingly good singer and, in perhaps the ultimate sign that the boyband days are mostly past, he now plays his own guitar (although, he later tells me, he's "still insecure" about his playing). The much-maligned Elvis-inflected delivery has softened somewhat - it's now a more standard windblown Californian. But even that changes abruptly for the last song, which he sings in an incongruously guttural brogue. He later tells me that the number one thing his friends slag him about is still his singing voice.
Shifting accents can be seen as a sign of inauthenticity - Sinead O'Connor once said that she wouldn't work with Ronan because he didn't sing in his own accent - but psychologists also say that the tendency to do it also denotes a heightened sense of empathy. And you feel that must be how Keating himself sees it; after all, Storm Uechtritz, his Australian TV executive wife, already has a hint of an Irish lilt going on. They've spent much of the last year in the headlines, whether because of the breathless coverage of their romance - they were married last August - or because of the comments from his ex-wife Yvonne, who herself has moved on with cameraman John Conroy. Last year she officially reverted to her maiden name of Connolly.
Storm is the official inspiration for the new record, but there can be no doubt that the Yvonne fallout is more than a background note. She and Ronan were married from 1998 (when he was just 21) to 2011, but they parted ways when it was revealed he had been unfaithful with a backing dancer, Francine Cornell. Yvonne later met Francine in a hotel room and was quoted as saying: "We talked for a long time. When I look back, this is what it all boils down to. It was basically two girls in love with the same boy who, over a five-hour conversation, realised that boy was not who we thought he was. The details really don't matter."
It was sometime after that when his relationship with Storm began, although he remains adamant that nothing happened with her while he was still married.
"I remember the first time I saw her was on the set of Australian X Factor in 2010", he tells me. "You get that feeling straight away, but nothing happened, we just got talking. I was friendly with everyone on set, but with her I just clicked. We stayed in touch and when things changed and when I was single and she was single we took it to the next level. I fell in love with her a long time before that, I just didn't realise it."
Storm had been married to Sydney-based financial director, Tim Ivers, since 2009 and as her romance with Keating played out in public, Ivers was quoted by Australian and British press as saying he still loved her. Ronan says that the similarities of the situations he and Storm were going through provided an extra bond in their relationship.
"I wouldn't have said that we had blood on our hands, as such, but we were certainly coming from similar situations and we could compare and talk. I felt a kind of love with her that I hadn't felt before."
Their wedding, last August, took place overlooking the Firth of Forth in Scotland. Ronan's son Jack (16) was best man at the open-air ceremony, while daughters Missy (14), and nine-year-old Ali were maid of honour and flower girl, respectively. Meanwhile, the family's pet pug, Aussie, was ring-bearer.
The coverage of the wedding, at least in Ireland, was very much coloured by the wreckage over Keating's shoulder. He is careful to emphasise that he tried everything he could with Yvonne before walking away.
"I worked very hard in my first marriage and I travelled constantly to make money for the family and when I came home I would be the best father that I could be. I got married very young, and that's ok, we decided to do that. But I think in hindsight I can say we weren't the people that we thought we were and we really drifted apart."
The aftermath he says, has "not been easy".
"Anyone who goes through it will tell you that. It's no bed of roses. There's a lot to deal with, especially when you have three children. There was the added pressure of the media being there to record everything. Yvonne is a human being and she has her opinions and she says what she says, but ..."
How did he feel about what she said regarding the kids being used to his absences?
"I do have a major problem with what she said [about him being an absent father]. That was ridiculous. I worked very, very hard and I was a very good father. I provided in every way. If I didn't work nobody had any money, nobody has a life. I think possibly [her saying that] was the hurt of the moment coming out. I have a great relationship with my kids. I think it's not right for herself and myself to have a battle in public like this."
When asked if he and Yvonne are still on speaking terms he simply says "yes", without elaboration. Does he foresee a time when things will bed down to a greater degree of cordiality? "Who knows?" he responds. "I know I'm happy and she should really concentrate on her happiness."
The divorce, he says, had a serious impact on his personal wealth. "I'm not incredibly wealthy. When you go through a divorce that diminishes rapidly, because you're supporting more than one household. I have had a very wonderful life, a long and wonderful career, and I feel very blessed."
In person Keating looks younger than his 38 years. He comes across as open and honest, answers each question with a clear-eyed integrity and poses patiently for pictures. Through some long and involved answers he never once utters his most famous catchphrase: fair play. He is lean and fairly covered in tattoos. One of them, he tells me, has long since been removed; a memory of a silly afternoon in Soho when he was 17.
"I was here with the boys from Boyzone, we got some stupid Chinese tattoo and I got rid of that pretty quick."
Another tattoo, the one he got for Yvonne, has also been removed.
In many ways Ronan was almost a child star. He was plucked from obscurity at 16 after spotting an ad in a Dublin newspaper for auditions for an Irish version of Take That. Boybands were huge at the time and Louis Walsh, a veteran of the showband era, was determined to cash in. Boyzone's music was, he concedes, "pretty sh*t sometimes", but it was also phenomenally successful. They sold 25 million records, and Keating's image graced the walls of an entire generation of teenage girls' bedrooms. He was always the star of the group, and it seemed natural when he was the first one to go solo. In 1999, while still a member of Boyzone, he recorded the single When You Say Nothing at All from the movie Notting Hill and was launched into solo superstardom; it entered the UK album charts at number one and his debut album, Ronan, sold in the millions.
Throughout it all he was still managed by the man who had guided him to fame in the first place, Louis Walsh. The two men had a fractious relationship and eventually agreed to part ways, with Louis later saying: "He [Keating] wasn't the most talented one - he's not a great singer and he's got no personality." Ever since then the pair have traded barbs. "Louis wants press and the best way Louis can get press is to slag someone off", Keating says. "He should just try to enjoy his life".
So what was at the root of the rancour? "The fact is that I decided to not work with him any more. Out of respect I had hired him as my solo manager. My record label and my other manager were making the decisions. I went to Louis and I said 'let's just part ways'. I met him to say this, I didn't send him an email. He threw a strop like you wouldn't believe and I've had the wrath of it ever since, but hey, that's that."
He says the most difficult moments in his life and career were the deaths of his mother and bandmate Stephen Gately. Marie Keating was not even 50 when she died of breast cancer in 1998 and her passing hit Ronan hard. He began drinking heavily and for a period fell out with his lorry driver father, Gerry; they have since reconciled.
"On my wedding day it was very hard not having her here. She would have been so proud to see me happy. She witnessed a bit of [his success] during the Boyzone years, but she never got to see me solo. I miss her all the time. It's still hard, to be honest."
Gately's passing, in 2009, came as a bolt from the blue. Keating and the rest of Boyzone flew out to Spain where the post mortem revealed the cause of death to be a congenital heart defect.
"As regards Stephen, to be honest I still think he's alive sometimes. Nobody expected it, obviously, and even now it's still very raw for us. Sometimes, even when I'm on stage with the boys, I look over and think he might be still there. That was undoubtedly the toughest moment of my career - getting that call to say that he had passed.
"We're lucky that we have so much footage and recordings of him. Every tour we do we do a song for him onstage." He holds out his arm to show me the tattoo with Gately's birthdate; all of the Boyzone lads have it, he adds.
As far as his career goes, he says you can "forget about musical credibility".
"I think unless you're Radiohead or whatever it's pointless striving for that. What I would like is some respect. I'm 38 now, 23 years in this business.
"Commercial success would be nice for touring reasons; selling albums does help in terms of selling tickets and people are buying records again as we saw last year with the success of Adele and Ed Sheeran. I have a great fan base of people who love my music."
He's optimistic about the future. He and Storm are looking for a house in Dublin. He says he can see himself having children with her: "I think we would both love that."
He remains close friends with all the other Boyzone lads and there is another reunion coming up at some point soon - bandmate Shane Lynch recently hinted that they may even join forces with Westlife.
He doesn't care about the money, he tells me, that's not why he does it. But he would just have one caveat. "I don't think I could handle getting knickers thrown at me again", he smiles. "I'm well beyond that."
- Ronan's new album Time of My Life is out now