Stephen Gately: Singer with Boyzone and solo star who 'came out'

Sunday 23 October 2011 05:12

With cloying, sentimental ballads like "All That I Need", "You Needed Me" and "Everyday I Love You", revivals of past pop classics such as the Osmonds' "Love Me For a Reason", Cat Stevens' "Father And Son", and the Bee Gees' "Words", and albums aimed at mums and teenage girls and released with the marketing muscle to match, the Irish group Boyzone dominated the British charts throughout the second half of the Nineties. Indeed, they ran close seconds to Take That, their nearest rivals and arguably the blueprint for their success.

Stephen Gately sang lead on "No Matter What", the fourth of Boyzone's six British No 1 singles, and seconded main vocalist Ronan Keating more convincingly than fellow members Keith Duffy, Mikey Graham and Shane Lynch on their four chart-topping albums – Said and Done, A Different Beat, Where We Belong and the By Request collection.

Gately was the group's undisputed pin-up and, for many people, its sole redeeming feature. However, he also hid his homosexuality for the first five years of the group's career. "It was so stressful," he told The Independent in 2001. "You had to think of completely hiding your sexuality. All those questions that you had to dodge. 'Who's your favourite girl?', 'Which girls do you fancy?'– So I can't express what a weight it was off my shoulders," he said of his eventual "outing" by The Sun in 1999.

Boyzone had been assembled by Louis Walsh, the Irish svengali and current X Factor judge, and Gately exemplified the way former members of such manufactured acts can go on to careers as all-round entertainers. After Keating went solo with "When You Say Nothing At All", the ghastly theme song from Richard Curtis' Notting Hill movie, in 1999, Gately scored three hit singles of his own the following year, including "I Believe", from the soundtrack of the Stephen Daldry film Billy Elliot, and a cover of "Bright Eyes", the Art Garfunkel hit composed by Mike Batt, revived for a new TV adaptation of the Richard Adams novel Watership Down. But Gately fell victim to the vagaries of the teen market and was dropped by his record company Polydor after his only album, New Beginning, spent just a month in the charts, while Keating's debut Ronan stayed on the listings for over a year.

Undaunted, the proactive Gately took the lead role in a new production of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and earned rave reviews for his stints in London's West End in 2003. The Independent reviewer even claimed: "Gately makes all of the audience fall for him." The next year, Gately insisted he be cast against type and excelled as the evil child catcher in a musical version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the London Palladium. He also appeared in pantomime as Dandini in Cinderella in 2005 – and played the scarecrow in a production of The Wizard Of Oz in Canterbury in April 2006.

Gately was game enough to participate in an All Star Talent Show for Channel Five in 2006, and the second series of ITV's Dancing On Ice two years ago. In 2008, Gately joined Keating and co in a revival of the Boyzone franchise, which proved less successful than Take That's comeback despite the Top 5 single "Love You Anyway".

Born in 1976, Gately was one of five siblings and grew up in small flat in Seville Place, a run-down housing estate in Dublin. "My dad used to be a painter and decorator, which was a nightmare for me, because sometimes I had to go to work with him, for a pound a day, and scrape about 20 walls. But my dad kind of taught me, and that was nice," he recalled in 2001.

A shy boy, he came alive on stage and showed promise as teenage member of the Gaiety Theatre Group. In 1991, he appeared as an extra in Alan Parker's The Commitments. His big break came in 1993 when he and his friend Colin Farrell spotted a newspaper ad placed by Walsh who planned to form "the Irish Take That". Despite his diminutive stature, Gately impressed with his ability to dance and sing his way through four separate auditions as the manager whittled away the 250 applicants down, eventually, to five.

After issuing a remake of the Four Seasons' hit "Working My Way Back To You" in Ireland, the group signed to Polydor in 1994 and began their assault on the charts. Gately was singled out for attention and sang "Shooting Star", the theme tune for the Disney film Hercules, in 1997, as well as "No Matter What", from the Webber musical Whistle Down The Wind, which became Boyzone's biggest hit, selling over a million copies in the UK in 1998.

After admitting to The Sun he was "gay and in love" with Eloy De Jong, of the Dutch-English boy band Caught In The Act, in 1999, Gately expected a backlash but was pleasantly surprised by the rapturous reception Boyzone enjoyed at a live appearance at Hyde Park for Capital Radio's Party In The Park. In 2006, he became a vice-patron of the National Missing Persons Helpline charity, and married his partner Andrew Cowles, in a civil ceremony. He had been working on a children's fantasy novel entitled The Tree Of Seasons.

Paying tribute to Gately, Alan Edwards, the CEO of PR company the Outside Organisation, said: "Stephen was a gentle soul without a bad bone in his body. Always full of enthusiasm, and a pleasure to spend time with."

The band said in a statement: "We are devastated by the loss of our friend and brother, Stephen. He lit up our lives. Our love and sympathy go out to Andrew and Stephen's family."

Pierre Perrone

Stephen Patrick David Gately, singer, songwriter, actor: born Dublin, 17 March 1976; married Andrew Cowles (civil partnership, 2006); died Port d'Andratx, Majorca, 10 October 2009.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments