Ronan Keating’s marital woes have given prying newsmen a field day
As the guessing game over whether the couple can repair their broken marriage continues, John Meagher asks what is the true story behind the rift?
In the past few days the media has been conducting a frantic guessing game — has Yvonne Keating forgiven her adulterous husband or has she really called time on what many thought was the perfect marriage?
In the absence of any concrete information, the headlines have been switching between the two scenarios almost by the hour. So what evidence is there on the state of the relationship?
Two months ago, Ronan Keating performed at Dublin's striking new concert venue, the Grand Canal Theatre. Much of the material was upbeat and lapped up by the crowd — predominantly female 30-somethings — but there was a pervading sense of sadness too as he spoke about the premature deaths of his mother Marie and his Boyzone “brother” Stephen Gately.
Towards the end, visibly moved by the reception, he offered his heartfelt appreciation to his wife, Yvonne, dedicating to her one of his most celebrated songs, When You Say Nothing At All.
Yvonne Keating sat with friends a few seats to my right. She blew kisses to Ronan, beaming from ear to ear. I was struck by how happy she looked and how proud of her husband she was. Tall, beautiful and chic in an elegant black and white outfit, she looked like a woman without a care.
And on the face of it, life had dealt her a wonderful hand. She was mother to three children, had enjoyed a successful modelling career and was married to a devoted husband whose career had given the couple all the trappings of a luxurious jet-set lifestyle.
Yet, as the kisses blew between the two of them at the concert, Ronan had a secret that he was keeping from his wife of 12 years. He was having an affair with a 26-year-old dancer, Francine Cornell, who had been employed on the Boyzone reunion tour. Cornell — 10 years Yvonne's junior, but boasting similar blonde tresses — had been so taken with Keating's attentions that she left her long-term boyfriend for him.
Yvonne only discovered her husband's infidelity when she found a mystery mobile phone which he had been using to communicate secretly with Cornell. Keating, a keen golfer, was playing at the prestigious K Club in Kildare when he was summoned back home to Dublin to explain himself.
The following day, a terse message was posted on his official website, announcing that the couple were separating, and requested privacy “at this difficult time”.
Since then, the Keatings’ plush home at the gated Abington estate in Malahide, north Co Dublin, has been besieged with photographers. It was, as one reporter covering the beat noted, “our Tiger Woods story”.
And it's an assignment that keeps on giving, with both Ronan and Yvonne supplying photo opportunities each day.
Several years ago, when Ronan was trying to crack the lucrative US market, I interviewed him at their new home.
At the time, towards the end of 2001, he was especially wary of the media. He had been perceived as the one who had broken up Boyzone and had been stung by criticism from his bandmates.
It was a strange interview from the start. For someone who claimed to hate the media game, it seemed odd that Keating would choose to be interviewed in his own home.
As befitting a house in an area dubbed ‘Millionaire's Row', it was every bit as impressive inside as out. There was a serious amount of money on show. The kitchen wouldn't have been out of place in a Michelin-starred restaurant, it was so well appointed.
At the far end, an enormous flatscreen television hung on the wall, while across the lobby the eye was drawn to a gleaming grand piano.
He said he wanted to use his office for the interview. The ‘office' turned out to be a two-storey building at the bottom of the back garden, which doubled as garage for his Harley Davidson motorbike.
Upstairs, the focal-point was a black-baized pool table and the soundtrack was his latest album, which was booming from the wall-mounted speakers of a high-end stereo system.
He was nothing like the goody-two-shoes figure of popular consensus.
Littering his speech with F-words, he came across as passionate, angry, occasionally truculent and very, very ambitious. Although his initial attempts to break America had failed miserably — his single Life Is A Rollercoaster had failed to breach the top 100 — he was convinced that he would eventually make it there. “I'm ready to pack my bags,” he said.
While he spoke at length about his career plans, he brought up family life a lot too. He was clearly besotted with Yvonne — or “wivvie” as he called her — not least when he spoke about how his childhood sweetheart helped him cope when he lost his mother to breast cancer.
“I didn't marry Yvonne to be away from her,” he said. “It's important for me to be at home to tuck the kids into bed every night.” He was adamant that the temptations of life on the road were for others to succumb to, but not him.
“I've got it all,” he told me, flashing the newly gleaming teeth that had been fixed up for his assault on America. “I really couldn't be happier.”
As he drove me in his Range Rover to Malahide Dart station, he relaxed a little and I could see just how charming he could be. He came across as a well-brought up 24-year-old with old-fashioned family values. It was an image quite at odds with the egotist I had just interviewed.
I was surprised then to receive a phone call from Louis Walsh when the article appeared to say that Ronan was upset about how he had been portrayed. “He will never speak to you again,” Louis said, jokingly. “Sometimes, Ronan doesn't have a very thick skin.”
Despite his fighting talk, his attempts to crack America ended in failure.
And with each subsequent album suffering declining sales, his profile here and in the UK started to plummet. Desperate to escape the shackles of being in a manufactured boy band, his dreams of being taken seriously as a talented musician were floundering.
Few were surprised when he signed up to a reunion tour with Boyzone in 2008. A reformed Take That had shown there was a huge market to plunder and one sensed that he was glad of the opportunity to sort out any acrimony that had existed between the five.
Stephen Gately's death last October would send shockwaves through the Boyzone camp, with Keating, in particular, said to be devastated at the loss. Yet, during that arduous time in his life, he was having to wrestle with his conscience as he continued to see Cornell behind his wife's back.
Like Tiger Woods's serial infidelities, the Keatings's marital trouble has aroused enormous interest because he was seen as the quintessential family man with the fairytale marriage.
The fact that Ronan, Yvonne and their two eldest children starred in a high-profile Ninetendo DS television ad campaign only served to re-inforce this view.
There has been a strong sense of schadenfreude recently, with The Sun's mocked-up photo of Ronan as a rat typical of the pleasure some are deriving from the troubles of a seemingly perfect couple.
With fears of a tabloid kiss-and-tell with Cornell, the family has had to contend with all manner of rumours and conjecture. For instance, the chick-lit writer Marisa Mackle spoke about how he tried to seduce her during a drinking session just months before he married Yvonne.
An entertainment journalist who knows both Ronan and Yvonne well says he was shocked to learn of the affair: “As a pop star, women have thrown themselves at him for more than half his life, but his devotion to Yvonne was so strong that he would never take advantage.
“I would imagine he is devastated by what he's done and he's probably thinking about how his mother would have been so disappointed with him.”