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The Daily Mail
By Paul Scott
Last updated at 9:46 AM on 12th October 2009
During the height of their fame in the late 90s, the five members of pop band Boyzone sat around discussing their various plans for a rare weekend off.
Their respective agendas involved some resolutely testosterone-charged classic rock star behaviour – car racing, several celebrity parties to attend and a spot of mandatory nightclub excess.
Throughout the discussion, Stephen Gately remained unusually quiet. When, finally, his band mates demanded to know how he would be spending his free time, Gately, always the most introverted of his famous cohorts, announced somewhat sheepishly he was planning to stay at home, reading horoscopes and indulging his latest interest in New Age crystals.
‘That was so Stephen,’ his friend Kevin Fennell told me last night. ‘I used to give him a lift after shows and while the other boys went out on the town to celebrate, all he wanted to do was go home to see his mum.’
But, then Gately never quite fitted the stereotypical image of your average boyband member.
In truth, that was a role that never sat easily with him and threatened for a time to destroy him as he sought to hide his homosexuality from the heartthrob group’s millions of adoring girls fans.
And when he did finally come out in a blaze of publicity ten years ago, it coincided with him becoming hooked on drugs to deal with a bout depression so severe he became a virtual recluse who confided to friends his suicidal thoughts.
Andrew Cowles and Stephen Gately after their civil partnership ceremony at the Goring Hotel in London
International fame came to him at an exceptionally young age. Gately, the fourth of five children brought up in a tough district of Dublin’s city centre, was just 17 when he applied for a band being put together by Irish impresario Louis Walsh in 1993.
up by record label Polydora year later, the group’s teen-friendly ballads proved a commercial hit, chalking up six No1 singles and selling in excess of 15 million records.
It was everything the fame-hungry lads had dreamt of. But just as they were hitting the big time, showbusiness was rife with rumours about Gately’s private life. At the behest of the svengali-like Walsh and the others, the singer went to incredible lengths to keep his homosexuality a secret for fear it would alienate the group’s largely female audience.
Boyzone meeting the Prince of Wales after performing in the Party In The Park, in aid of the Prince’s Trust in 1998
The bands’ PR handlers put out smokescreen stories claiming he was dating a series of female pop stars, including Emma Bunton of the Spice Girls and Mandy Smith, the ex-wife of Rolling Stone Bill Wyman. Gately himself would play along with the illusion, routinely telling interviewers about the famous women he fancied.
But behind the scenes he had begun a relationship with Dutch singer Eloy De Jong who was himself a member of Europop boyband Caught in the Act.
De Jong regularly travelled with his boyfriend on tour alongside the wives and girlfriends of the other members of Boyzone, but was required to book into hotels under false names, travel on different flights from his partner and in different cars.
The charade was finally exposed, however, in June 1999 when a bodyguard working for the group on their European tour approached a tabloid newspaper with the true story of Gately sexuality.
Knowing he was about to be outed, the singer agreed to come clean in an interview in which he announced he was gay and that de Jong was his lover.
The feared backlash from the group’s girl fans did not materialise, but Gately later admitted he was subjected to homophobic abuse in his native Ireland and pulled out of plans to buy a home in Canterbury, Kent, because of anti-gay chants by local teenagers.
Stardom beckons: Gately (second left) was only 17 when he applied to be part of the new band that was being put together by Irish impresario Louis Walsh
His admission is also said by friends to have been the trigger for a rift between Gately and his Catholic parents Margaret and Martin.
It was also to coincide with a series of fall-outs with the group and less than a year later Boyzone split amid barely concealed fallouts and jealousies, with Gately blaming Ronan Keating for orchestrating the split in order to launch his own solo career.
Gately, who at 5ft 5ins with an elfin-face had always been the ‘cute’ one of the band, launched his own solo career too and scored a couple of minor hits. But although his first single got to number three in charts, subsequent releases flopped.
At the same time and unbeknown to his fans, he was suffering from acute depression he had first fought when the band were riding high, but which had kicked in with a vengeance during Boyzone’s acrimonious break-up.
Doctors put Gately on antidepressants, but he quickly became addicted to his medication and later admitted: ‘I was a zombie. On these anti-depressants you can’t even laugh or cry.’
At the time, friends of Gately were privately talking of their fears that he might try to kill himself as he admitted to he had begun to have secret suicidal thoughts.
Stephen Gately with skating partner Kristina Lenko on Dancing On Ice
A member of Boyzone’s entourage who met him by chance at the time said: ‘I was really shocked when I set eyes on him. He looked vacant and spacey. He said he had given up the drink and was going to the gym five-times a week. But he looked like he was out of his tree.’
It was Elton John whom Gately credited with bringing him back from the brink after the pop star heard of his plight and invited him to stay at his South of France villa.
After regaining his confidence, Gately returned to the lakeside home near Amsterdam which he shared with de Jong and began immersing himself in the Eastern mystical art of Chakra. But the relationship was already unravelling and the couple split in 2002.
Stephen Gately stars as Joseph with Kay Murphy in Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in 2003
Gately set out to reinvent himself as an actor and musical theatre star and was chosen by Andrew Lloyd Webber to take on the West End lead role in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat in
2003. This led to his participation in a series of minor reality television shoes, including Channel Five’s All Star Talent Show and ITV’s Dancing On Ice.
A month later, he mysteriously pulled of the UK tour of the musical Godspell, in which he was starring as Jesus, after just three weeks, blaming contractual problems. Then, last year he appeared in low-budget horror movie Credo.
But if his professional career was stalling, then his personal life was flourishing. Gately had been introduced to internet entrepreneur Andrew Cowles by Elton John’s partner David Furnish. Within weeks of their meeting in 2003, they ‘married’ while on holiday in Las Vegas.
Three years ago, the couple had a civil partnership ceremony in London, during which they exchanged £20,000 rings.
Last performance: Stephen Gately (second from right) and the boys perform at the Bath & West Showground on September 25
Sadly, Gately’s parents, who still live in a Dublin council house, were not there, as his mother admitted she had not known about the wedding until the day of the ceremony.
Friends of the family revealed at the time that Stephen had not visited his parents home for several years, despite the fact his painter and decorator father needed 24-hour care after suffering a fall from a ladder two years earlier.
Nor was his relationship with Cowles without its share of storminess. Just two months after tying the knot, Cowles was photographed allegedly beating Gately after they had a row while dining at The Ivy restaurant. Gately subsequently laughed off the incident saying: ‘Boys will be boys. We were both tipsy and tired.’
Gately had pinned his hopes on a Boyzone reunion to help reclaim the success of his youth, but when Keating eventually relented last year, it was not an unbridled success with a tour this summer often playing to half-empty arenas. At the time of Gately’s death, the group were still working on a ‘comeback’ album.
‘Stephen had so much to live for,’ says his friend Kevin Fennel. ‘The boys had 60 songs they had written and were whittling them down for an album.’
As they mourn their ‘friend and brother’, the question for the remaining members of Boyzone is whether they can carry on without him.