With glamour, wealth, fame and three adorable children, the world was truly their oyster until his dalliance with a dancer brought trouble into paradise. Barry Egan reveals what really went wrong.
In the summer of 2009, things first began to fall apart in the interior life of Ronan Keating. I have to say that the initial cracks in their marriage must have been really tiny, because no one appeared to have a clue that there was a problem, least of all Ronan's beautiful wife Yvonne. That summer, I spent 24 hours in the company of Ronan and Yvonne in Manchester — during a Boyzone tour — where Ronan was allegedly conducting a very private affair with a dancer on that tour.
I sat with Yvonne for the show and afterwards, Ronan and Yvonne were a Mills & Boon masterclass of romantic bliss. On the surface, theirs was definitely a marriage that worked. Later, at a private party at the Hilton Hotel I sat with Ronan and Yvonne until 4am, drinking vodka and champagne. If there was trouble in paradise they — or Ronan — hid it very well. The couple who got married on April 30, 1998, in the paradise of the Caribbean island of Nevis, appeared to all the world that they were going to grow old together.
When they released the joint statement to the media on May 20, 2010, announcing that they were separating, Ronan and Yvonne looked like they had aged 10 years overnight.
For perhaps the entirety of their relationship, they seemed completely inseparable. I considered them friends. I attended parties with them, had dinners with them around the world, and at their house.
They genuinely seemed made for each other.
Ronan once told a newspaper that he believed that his late mother “gave” him Yvonne. His subsequent actions are hard to reconcile with the man I saw around Yvonne for so many years.
They met for the first time in 1987 when Ronan was 10. He was delivering minerals with his father as a summer job.
There was, he later told me, “this little blonde girl with braces and ponytails who worked behind the counter of her father's shop”. In October 2004, I had dinner with both of them when they held forth on what they brought out in each other.
Ronan: “She made me tougher — which I needed.”
Yvonne: “He made me a bit softer.”
Ronan: “I used to get hurt regularly by people. If somebody said something about me, I used to get really upset. Yvonne has taught me to be tough with myself.”
Yvonne: “When I met Ro, he was so nice to everybody, and everything was lovely, and he didn't see bad in anything. When he met me, I was the exact opposite. I saw the bad in everybody. I was sceptical — a little bit more wary of people than he was. Over the last seven years, I think we have actually met in the middle. I am certainly not as hard and he is not as soft. I think we have brought out things in each other.”
Later back in the Philippe Starck-style living room of their £3.3m designer house in Malahide, the blonde beauty even laughed at the eternal rumour: in 1999, when she was pregnant with Jack, she is supposed to have caught Ronan in flagrante in a hotel room in London with singer Brian Kennedy and broke down the door with a baseball bat.
I remember asking her mischievously did she actually own a baseball bat. “We do,” she laughed. “She broke down the door with her pregnant belly,” laughed Ronan.
Another rumour, “started by a guy that didn't like me,” said Ronan, “was that I was in bed with Brian Kennedy and Yvonne came home, caught us, got a baseball bat and smashed up my new Peugeot”.
To put the rumour du jour to the baseball bat ... I mean the sword, Ronan and Brian agreed to appear on an edition of RTE’s The Late Late Show which had the theme of rumours and the effects thereof. “I felt f**king stupid sitting in the middle with Chris de Burgh, who sh***ed the nanny.
“It was hilarious. I was a very happily married man with two kids and I have shouldn't have to explain myself on national television,” Ronan said afterwards.
Ronan can't get away with the look of injured innocence any more. Despite the smiles for the cameras, forlornness hangs around him now like a dark cloud.
I don't doubt that Ronan regrets ever meeting Francine Cornell. But, deep down, he must have known that once the imbroglio had been made known to Yvonne — and the world — there was very little chance that their marriage would ever be the same again.
During that dark period of two years while Ronan tried to win back the unwinnable — Yvonne's love — he sent me the odd text late at night. This was clearly a man in enormous pain, suffering for his act of madness. I told him not to stop; to keep telling Yvonne he loved her.
I have to say I never saw Ronan's troubles coming. I have tried to look back for clues, but there aren't any.
I remember bumping into Ronan in the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin a few months before the dancer revelations.
He’d normally have stayed for drinks, but he seemed restless, distracted certainly.
In hindsight, maybe he’d have revealed what was troubling him if he had sat down for a long chat.
Last Saturday, at lunchtime, I got a phone call from a friend of Ronan and Yvonne. I was told in no uncertain terms that Yvonne and Ronan's marriage was officially over.
She said that Yvonne and Ronan were anxious to get the truth out, however unpalatable: their marriage ended before Christmas.
It was clear, though never stated, that the lengthy phone call and the detail I was given was with the express permission of Ronan and Yvonne.
“It's heartbreaking for them,” said the friend. “It has been nearly two years but they really tried to make their marriage work again. Sometimes when it is broken, it is broken and it can't be fixed.
“Without going into the nitty gritty — you can just imagine — they just couldn't pick up the pieces of their marriage. There was just too much broken.
“They still go out together for dinner and are still a family. It is just they are not a marriage any more. They just couldn't make it work.
“Their relationship has been completely on and off since (that incident),” the friend continued.
“It has been very difficult, very awkward for them but they do still love each other and as cliched as it sounds, they are still good friends. It is just that their marriage is over. It is devastating for them.
“They have been together since they were young adults and thought they would be spending the rest of their lives together. It just wasn't to be.”
On Sunday, when my article appeared I texted Yvonne and Ronan.
I received replies from both immediately. I texted Yvonne to say that she and Ronan should try one more time and that they should move to America with their kids. You only have one life, I said. “Ah, you're so romantic,” she answered.
On Monday, with every front page carrying the story of Ronan and Yvonne's marriage break-up in sensational terms (30 Million Divorce! Yvonne to get 15 Million) I texted Yvonne and Ronan's best friend again.
I received a call an hour later. Clearly the information I was given was done so with the express permission of Ronan and Yvonne. I was told that the figure in the tabloids was patently absurd.
Ronan and Yvonne have not even discussed money. “There will be no court battle over who owns what or who is entitled to what. That is the furthest thing from their mind.” It was also emphasised that Ronan and Yvonne's separation was nothing but amicable: “They still love each other very much.”
Furthermore, they still live together in their mansion in Malahide. The house is big enough for them not to be bumping into each other every minute, I was told. Ronan will be moving out into a new home in two weeks.
The close family friend added that: “The family is not broken up. Their aim when they told their
kids about the break-up is that family life doesn't change for them. They don't want to be one of these families who when the parents break up the kids never see mum and dad together again.”
Indeed, Ronan and Yvonne and the three kids — Jack (13), Missy (11), and Ali (6), had gone out for dinner in Malahide on Sunday with 10 friends. “That's how they want it. To remain a family unit.”
Their kids are very well protected. They are not allowed unsupervised on the internet. They can't be stopped from reading newspapers but they are pretty clued-in. They are in school, so Ronan and Yvonne have no plans as yet to take a family holiday.
They were told about the break-up “a while ago” by Ronan and Yvonne, I was told. They wanted to give them time to adjust to what they were told before the news broke. Yvonne believed that the way she and Ronan lived their lives — she is away a lot with Missy and Ronan's in Australia — meant that nothing much would change for their children other than the fact that their parents would no longer be living together.
Ronan goes to Australia in a month for three weeks to do The X Factor. His movie Goddess opens at the Cannes Film Festival. He will be flying in from Australia for that premiere. Whether Yvonne will join him is another question. I asked my caller the big question. Did the marriage end because Yvonne was unable to forgive Ronan for his alleged indiscretion with the dancer?
The reply: “I couldn't possibly answer that. It is just too personal. I couldn't. That's not anything I could or would discuss ...”
Did they go to counselling? “I'm not answering that. That is way too personal. They tried everything.”
“Yes, they went to counselling. They tried everything to make their marriage work again. Everything. They tried everything they could. It just didn't work out in the end. It is sad that they are not going to get back together. It was up in the air a while there last year but it came down again with a bang ... “
In November 2003, Ronan and I were involved in a near-death incident on the singer's private plane flying into Cologne from Oslo: the emergency alarm went off and a terrified Ronan said that the pilots couldn't get the landing gear down. Ronan wondered would he see his wife again.
Doubtless when the tabloid revelations about him and dancer Francine Cornell appeared last year, Ronan, at his darkest, thought something similar. But I will always remember Ronan's reaction when the plane, landing gear now down, thudded to a halt on the runway in Germany. He ran out of the plane and rang Yvonne. At first, she thought her husband was joking.
Maybe Yvonne thought what Ronan is said to have done with that Boyzone dancer turned their marriage into too much of a bad joke ever to take him back or forgive him.
Ronan and Yvonne are lovely people.It is terrible to know how much they must be hurting right now. Ronan appears to have taken it worse.
Last Tuesday I texted Yvonne, asking if Ro was ok. “Yes,” she replied. “It's a tough time for him but we will get through it.”
And was she ok? “I'm ok. It's tough but I'm dealing with it. Ro and I are supporting each other. We have great friends around us.”
The golden couple of the boom, Ronan and Yvonne Keating were a joy to be around. Once you got to know Yvonne, she was a relentless bon vivante. They both were.I remember taking them to a party in 2004. With a few days to Christmas and the hour late, I remember asking them what they were looking forward to most in 2005.
Ronan Keating: “Me running the country.”
Yvonne Keating: “Being Yvonne Keating.”
Perhaps she will get the opportunity now more than ever.