As Boyzone release their seventh and final studio album, 'Thank You & Goodnight', members Ronan Keating, Keith Duffy, Mikey Graham reflect on the legacy of the late Stephen Gately, who died in 2009 at the age of 33 following complications from an unknown heart condition, and explain in their own words why their former bandmate will always be with them.
When Boyzone first formed, we all knew Steo was a pop star in the making. People were comparing him to Mark Owen from Take That. He had that cute look about him, so you just knew he’d be at home in a boyband.
On first impressions he was a gentleman, a really sweet kid. As the band progressed, we all became very close, and the banter, the laughs and the friendship was very special. We soon saw that Steo was a wonderful character. Regardless of who you were, he’d treat everyone the same way and give them the same amount of love. It was a beautiful thing, especially as being in a boyband means you constantly meet so many new people.
We had been founded by Louis Walsh, who had already chosen the name Boyzone for us. Apparently it was a reference to an American gay US magazine called Boy Zone!
We’d all come from working class background, but here we were together embarking upon a completely new life. But nothing could really prepare us for being catapulted into this bubble of fame. We were told that we’d be playing concerts all over the world and sell loads of records, and we were like, “Ok, great!”
In the early days we’d spend a month promoting each single, visiting radio stations and playing roadshows across the UK and Europe. We even toured South-East Asian when we’d barely even left Ireland before. It was a gruelling time, but we didn’t know any different. It was five young boys on the gravy train, and everything was crazy for six or seven years.
At the height of our fame, Steo would often be worried on a Saturday night about what stories might run about him in the following day’s papers. We were on tour in Europe when he found out that a newspaper was planning to out him. He made a deal so he could tell the story himself, but we were so angry because the press basically forced him to do it. What other choice did he have?
He was scared because he had to take a leap into the unknown, and he was most worried about the Boyzone fans and how they’d react. He was the cute little one in Boyzone who all the girls fancied, and all of a sudden he was gay. He was so stressed and worried, and what it did to him was terrible.
We just wanted to be there to support him, so that’s what we did. We told him that whatever happened, we’d still be brothers in the band and our support would be unwaning. We believed it wouldn’t be a negative thing for Steo or Boyzone – too many people loved him for that to happen. For us it was simple: those who matter won’t mind, and those who mind don’t matter.
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The reaction was incredible as the love for Steo and his decision was overwhelming. He was worried how the fans would react, but Boyzone gained fans and he was even more popular than before.
The situation was obviously a very hard time, but ultimately it was the best thing he ever did. The chains were unlocked and he was free to be who he wanted to be. We got to see him come alive, and he became this incredible person who felt comfortable in his own skin.
It sounds weird now, but in the Nineties a lot of people didn’t have much awareness about gay people as not many people came out. People knew Boyzone and they already thought Steo was a lovely guy, so there was an acceptance of it. He was probably the first man in a boyband to come out, and it showed a lot of young people that they could too. It gave people the freedom to be whoever they want to be, and that’s a great legacy for him to have left.
Ronan was in Chicago when he got the call to say that Steo had died. He then had to call the rest of us individually to let us know what had happened. It was the toughest thing he’s ever had to do in his life. Losing Steo was heart-breaking, just absolutely devastating.
Steo’s mam said that she didn’t like the thought of him being alone in the church on the night before his funeral, so we decided to stay there with him. It was our way of saying goodnight and goodbye properly. Just the five of us together one last time.
When it came to performing again, the thing that hit us the hardest was just him not being there. It was particularly hard to deal with on stage. You’d expect to hear his voice or look around to where he’d normally be, but he wasn’t there.
As we began to work on our farewell album Thank You & Goodnight, we discovered a demo that Steo had recorded years ago. Mikey took it into the studio and reworked it, cutting out everything aside from Steo’s vocals. It became a nostalgic song about how when you’re young you think you know it all, and no-one can tell you what to do. It builds up to Steo singing ‘I Can Dream’. It reflects our experiences in Boyzone. We’ve shown that your dreams can come true.
It’s wonderful to hear Steo’s vocal coming in on the chorus. Working on the song was bittersweet, but it was definitely more sweet. It felt like he was there in the studio with us chatting about song ideas, just like it had been back in the day.
After the album comes out, we’re going out on our final tour. We’re already selling out all of the venues which is really exciting. It probably won’t register until the tour is underway, and then we’ll start to realise it’s our last time. It’s going to be a rollercoaster of emotions. We’re absolutely going to go out on a high, though, and we’re sure the fans will be just as excited as we are to raise the roof one more time.
We all have our own little snapshots in our heads of Steo. Those snapshots are of him at his best and they’re wonderful memories as he was always so full of life and energy. There was an amazingly funny side to his nature, and he had a lot of fun with his bitchy sense of humour. He’s probably looking down on us saying, “You fecking bastards, you went and did it without me!”
But seriously, his absolute love of Boyzone means he’d be back with us if he could. And he is still here for us. We’re still a five-piece. Of course he’s not there with us on stage, but mentally we’re all still together. Steo’s always with us.
Boyzone's final album 'Thank You & Goodnight' is out now. Their farewell UK and Ireland tour commences next January.