NOW THAT I’VE FOUND HAPPINESS I’M SCARED I’LL DIE YOUNG
He’s still only 40 and has just had a baby with his second wife, but Ronan Keating tells Rebecca Hardy why he fears he might not be around long enough to enjoy it
Ronan Keating has a tattoo of a jigsaw puzzle on his arm. Each piece bears the name of those he loves most. There’s ‘Mam’, who died from breast cancer 19 years ago, ‘Storm’, his second wife, who saved him from the wreckage of a failed first marriage, and ‘Jack’, ‘Missy’ and ‘Ali’, his children from that 17-year marriage to childhood sweetheart Yvonne.
These five lives are inextricably linked to Ronan’s. So much so that after he proposed to Storm, now 35, on a beach in Thailand two years ago, he gathered his children together when they returned to Ireland to ask her, ‘Storm, will you marry us?’ When they wed in Scotland four months later, Jack, now 18, was best man, Missy, 16, the maid of honour and 12-year-old Ali the flower girl. ‘From the time we got together I knew this girl was the one for life for me,’ says Ronan, 40. ‘We were meant to meet and I think Mam put her there. Marriage was in the back of my mind from very early on but getting the kids involved was very important. She wasn’t just marrying me, she was marrying my children. It was always the four of us.’
Or at least it used to be. Now Ronan must roll up his sleeve to add another piece to the jigsaw: the name of his five-month-old son Cooper – or, as he calls him, ‘ Coop’. ‘ Lit t le Coop’s a legend,’ says Ronan, lighting up. ‘ I could burst with love for him. Storm’s given me a beautiful little man. I’m feeling really blessed. All my children are blessings. I love them to bits. They’re my world. That’s why I’m so happy to be doing this.’
‘ This’ is Magic Radio’s flagship breakfast show, which Ronan – who shot to fame with boy band Boyzone in 1993 – is now co-hosting with awardwinning broadcaster Harriet Scott from 6-10am every weekday. ‘I love the music we play,’ he says. ‘It’s classic songs that mean so much to people, all the best music from the 80s and 90s from Queen to Take That and ABBA – you may even hear the odd Boyzone song too if I can sneak it past the producer.
‘Then at 10am I get to go home to our farmhouse in Hertfordshire and spend the day with Coop and Storm. That’s beautiful. I want to slow down a bit with the travel. After nearly 25 years of being on planes, in hotels and moving I want to be here and have a base. I’m looking forward to watching them grow up which they’re doing so fast. Ali was 12 the other week. It’s unbelievable. As you get older the clichés of life ring true. It’s the simple things that matter most: your family, the people you love, your health and sanity. When you’re younger you don’t realise it but...’
He pauses and, for a moment, those mesmeric blue eyes of his stop dancing. ‘Mam died at 51. Steo died at 33,’ he says, referring to Boyzone’s Stephen Gately. ‘When young people die it’s heartbreaking. It still gets to me. It’s still so hard to believe. He was such a bright, shining star.’
George Michael’s death last December hit Ronan badly too. ‘Today, still, if one of his songs comes on the radio it hurts,’ he says. ‘He was one of the greatest artists of all time. He was my hero musically and he became my friend – a dear friend. I could always reach out to him. He was such a warm, generous spirit. I sobbed like a baby when I heard. He was such a brilliant person. He loved his mam and we’d had very similar relationships with our mothers. I think it was one of the reasons we got on.’ He shakes his head. ‘So very, very sad.’
To look at Ronan’s face you know he was truly affected. When I first interviewed him too many years ago to count – before Stephen’s death, before Ronan’s affair with a backing dancer that sounded the death knell for his first marriage – he was a buttoned-up young man in a natty suit, and let’s just say there was a certain cockiness about him. Today, instead of the slicked-back hair and too-cool-for-school get-up, he looks as if he’s just walked off the beach wearing a faded T-shirt and lots of bracelets.
‘ The one that means something is this love bracelet,’ he says, showing me a silver band around his right wrist. ‘Storm has one and I have one. They’re a nightmare in the airport because they don’t come off so they always make the scanner bleep when you go through security.’ He laughs.
‘We just hope there are enough years in our life to enjoy each other. That’s the fear me and Storm have when we speak to each other. We can’t believe we’ve found this love and the tragedy would be not to have the next 40 or 50 years to enjoy it. I can’t believe someone can make me feel like this and vice versa. I just want to feel it forever. The fear is you don’t get to have all the years you think you have ahead of you. We work so hard with cancer charities. You hear the stories all the time and you just hope you have a long life together.’
Ronan has always been something of a worrier. He says he gets it from his mother – following her death he established the Marie Keating Foundation in her name – but I suspect it has more to do with growing up in the blinding spotlight of fame. Take when he was 16 years old and a reporter asked him if he was a virgin. He should have told him to
‘I want to slow down after 25 years of hotels and planes’
mind his own business, instead he said yes. He actually lost his virginity on the road as an 18-year-old. He didn’t dare tell a soul so remained Ronan Keating, the nice, polite Catholic virgin from Dublin until he married his girlfriend Yvonne in 1998. Everything was manufactured.
‘Being in a boy band you’re not allowed to be good at anything,’ he says. ‘You’re not allowed to be talented. You’re not really allowed to be a song- writer. You’re not allowed to be that good a singer. You’re just one of the guys who fills a suit and that’s what’s drilled into you by the record company and the management – “You’re lucky to have it. Now shut your mouth.” ‘I get where that comes from but it takes time to shake it off. It’s only in the last couple of years I can walk on stage and think, “I’m a good singer. I deserve to be on this stage.” I have that confidence now, but I didn’t back then. None of us did. So it’s not just me, it’s all of us. That’s what we were made to believe.’ He frowns, then smiles. ‘It’s Storm that’s given me that confidence.’
Ask Ronan what you will these days and, it seems, everything leads back to Storm. She was working as a producer on the Australian X Factor where he was a judge when they met in 2010. Ronan was still reeling from the death of his dear friend Steo the year before and his marriage was in trouble after Yvonne discovered his seven-month affair with a backing dancer from Boyzone’s 2009 UK tour. ‘Storm understood,’ he says. ‘We were friends and that friendship led to other things a good 18 months later. She left The X Factor to work on MasterChef Australia but we stayed in touch. I really enjoyed her company and our conversations. She knew me and I knew her. It was that bond, that friendship.’
Today Ronan regrets the unhappiness he caused when his first marriage ended, but he doesn’t regret that it did. He and Yvonne finally divorced after four years apart in March 2015 and he proposed to Storm on that beach in Thailand the following month. He says he’s had ‘a bit of a rebirth, a career renaissance’. ‘I’ve never known love like this,’ he says. ‘She’s my best friend. When I got my first movie role in Goddess in 2013 I didn’t think I was able to do it but Storm said, “You can.” Her belief in me gave me confidence and that opened so many doors.’
Next year marks Boyzone’s 25th anniversary. There’s a new album, which they hope to finish in the next two months. ‘We were kids the first time around. Our testosterone was pumping and we had our moments of fighting with each other,’ says Ronan. ‘I was 16, a baby. I had a lot of growing up to do and I did it in public. They were tough years but brilliant too.’
After six years and 16 Top Ten hits, they disbanded in 1999. ‘When we broke up we were guilty of saying this and that about each other, but we were kids. There was a little bitterness but I think we needed to be apart. When we decided to get back together in 2007 we met in a hotel in Dublin and had it out. It’s like family. When we’re together now it’s like we’ve never been apart. There’s just something very special about being in a band. I grew up with these guys. It’s like brotherhood.
‘We realise what’s important in life now – not sweating the small stuff. We’ve all got things that are more important in our lives than the band so it’s not the be-all and end-all any more.’ He touches the tattoo. Smiles. ‘I am who I am,’ he says. Which, finally, makes him happy.
The Magic Radio Breakfast Show with Ronan Keating and Harriet Scott is on every weekday from 6am-10am. Visit magic.co.uk.
‘You’re not allowed to be talented in a boy band’
Ronan and (inset) with second wife Storm