Pop: Mad about the boy

So Boyzone's Stephen Gately is gay... But will the fans really care? By Fiona Sturges

In comparison with most tabloid outings, the Boyzone star Stephen Gately's was a decorous affair. His admission of homosexuality may have been forced on him, but the Sun headline "I'm Gay And I'm In Love" pales next to George Michael's spectacular "Zip Me Up Before You Go-Go".

Despite the media frenzy, teenagers have been startlingly unfazed by the revelation that their heart-throb has fallen in love with the Dutch pop star Eloy de Jong, formerly of the boy band Caught In The Act. There have been no helplines to counsel grieving fans, no grand statements from their record company. Not so much as a tear has been shed in front of cameras.

The sympathetic reporting that has accompanied his declaration suggests that even the tabloid journalists knew that the news would not come as a shock.

"It's been an open secret for the past few years, so it's surprising that it hasn't come out before," says Adam Mattera, editor of Attitude, a gay monthly. "All things considered, it has been a positive revelation, and it probably comes as a relief to the fans to have their suspicions confirmed."

But then Boyzone have always been the thinking teenager's band. Amid the plethora of preening boy bands, they have set themselves apart with their grown-up preoccupations. Their chart-hugging ballads rest more happily among the ranks of Barry Manilow and the Bee Gees than their trendier counterparts, while their stoical refusal to grease up their chests and do the usual crotch-grabbing dance routines has earned them a maturer following.

Since boy-bandhood is the stuff of fantasy, the revelation that Gately is gay is unlikely to dent his popularity with girls. Just as teenagers don't dwell on the fact that their favourite boy bands may not spend their time hugging sick children or, God forbid, writing beautiful songs, it is equally easy to ignore the fact that, by virtue of their idols' sexuality, they don't stand a chance of bedding them. And even the most adoring female Boyzone fan would have to admit that the band's name hardly denotes a group of rugged heterosexuals.

Issues of sexuality have taken a back seat in the music industry in recent years. Even after the gender-bending antics of the Seventies glam rockers, the likes of Boy George, Jimmy Somerville and the Pet Shop Boys were deliberately ambiguous about their proclivities throughout the Eighties, for fear of alienating their heterosexual audience. In the Seventies, Tom Robinson was compelled to politicise his sexuality ("Glad to be Gay"), though he has recently been "outed" in the tabloids for living with a woman and fathering a child.

Now it takes a seedier type of scandal to turn the tide of public opinion against gay pop stars. Having been caught literally with his trousers down in public, George Michael has been deemed a hero, and has even capitalised on the incident by calling a song "Let's Go Outside". A matter of days after his declaration, Gately has already been declared a martyr to the cause by opening up his private life for public inspection.

Until now, scandal has eluded Boyzone. While the likes of All Saints and Robbie Williams parade their love lives and drug habits in front of the media, the band have managed to cultivate a sickeningly wholesome image.

During their early years, members of the band claimed they did not have girlfriends, but that image was shattered when it was revealed that Mikey Graham and Keith Duffy had both become dads. Ever since then the band has been keen to extol the virtues of family life. Duffy and his wife Lisa Smith have a two-year-old son, Jordan, while Graham has a two-year- old daughter with his girlfriend Sharon Keane.

The blond bombshell Ronan Keating's pronouncements concerning his sex life bordered on puritanical when he announced several years ago that he was still a virgin and would remain so until marriage. He is now the picture of domestic bliss with his wife, Yvonne Connolly, and baby son, Jack.

Since Ronan's marriage, the onus has been on Gately to provide the band with some much-needed sex appeal, a role that he clearly relished. And despite being linked with a series of glamorous women - from the Spice Girl Emma Bunton, to Miss Scotland, Isla Sutherland - he remained conspicuously unattached.

The idea that he may have inadvertently become a gay icon as well as pin-up fodder for teenage girls is hardly surprising. There is a section of the gay market that overlaps with the requirements of 14-year-old girls - a factor that was clearly taken into consideration during the marketing of Take That - and Gately's boyish good looks, glistening grin and mischievously twitching eyebrows have tickled the fancy of both.

Gately's sleaze-free declaration may have been forced upon him by the tabloids, but it will earn him even more more adulation and, ultimately, will sell him more records. As teenage girls tearfully embrace his courage and sensitivity, gay men can openly slaver over his pecs. And Boyzone's marketing team can busy themselves drawing up a whole new campaign.

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