Boy to man: Keith Duffy talks to BBC ALBA about Boyzone and beyond

In the latest episode of the Cuide ri Cathy series, presenter Cathy MacDonald spends the day in Galway with pop star, successful actor and a former resident of Coronation Street – former Boyzone band member, Keith Duffy.

The story is told in Cuide ri Cathy – Keith Duffy, aired by BBC ALBA on Monday 15th October from 22.00 – 22.30.

Even in Ireland, Galway is unique, a small and highly creative European city whose local faces still show the genetic inheritance of the Spaniards whose Armada ships were wrecked on the dangerous Atlantic coasts in this part of the world.

Cathy MacDonald went with Keith Duffy on a busy day in the city where he was raising funds for charity as well as performing on stage, touring in a major theatre production.

In the interview, Duffy reflects with candour on the success he gained in his youth whilst performing in the famous boy band, explaining how this impacted on his life.  He says: ‘It was crazy from the word go, growing up in the most vulnerable years of your life inside of a bubble. Travelling all over and having an amazing experience, but when you come back home to Ireland then, you kind of forget what normal is.

‘Now I was lucky, I’ve got a great family and my mother and my wife would be quick to drag me back down to earth if I was to get a bit full of myself or to lose the run of myself.’

He talks of the difficult upbringing in Dublin that could have led to a different direction in his life, had he not found security with Louis Walsh and Boyzone.

‘You know, coming from where I came from in Dublin, I didn’t have much drive, I didn’t have much ambition and I didn’t have much confidence. I was quite insecure growing up.  It was the success that I got from Boyzone that gave me the belief in myself which then brought on the ambition and the drive that made me want to go on and do all the things that I was interested in and be honest about what I’m interested in.’

Duffy goes on to speak openly about the personal relationships between the band members, dispelling the myth that Ronan Keating was the leader of the group.

‘There’s no leaders behind closed doors, you know we’re all equal – a band finds its own direction and that’s the way it’s going to be successful, nobody dictates that, that just happens. Amongst the five of us there were no leaders, we were all mates.’

During his period with Boyzone, Duffy thrived on the personal and financial security travelling in a commercially successful band offered. The decision that the band would split came as a blow.

He explains: ‘I was quite content to keep going with the band, we had done all the hard graft and we were selling out these arenas and we were actually coming to the peak of our career – to break up at that point is bad business you know. Taking away anything else, you have to earn a crust – you have to pay your bills. At the time it did come as a blow, it wasn’t my decision and I wasn’t behind the decision.

‘Initially it was Ronan’s decision.  He was having a tough time, he was the youngest of five kids and his best friend was his mother Marie – she was an angel, she was a fantastic lady and she lost her life very young to cancer and that really had a bad effect on Ronan. And he kind of lost his way, I suppose, and didn’t know what he wanted really.  He just needed a break but then when he said that he kind of felt it was time for us to take a break, Mikey and Steven said, “Well, we wouldn’t mind recording some of our own stuff as well.” ‘

The band reformed in 2007 for a special performance for Children In Need and enjoyed an exciting period together before the tragic death of Stephen Gately in 2009. It had a devastating effect on Keith.

‘We all lose people and it’s difficult and it breaks your heart, but when it is someone so young, so vibrant and so in love with life and very content in their own life – it was a real, real tough time.   Time is a great healer but I remember at one point thinking that this feeling is never going to go away.

‘Things are good now, thankfully, but you get moments – waves of emotions that come across you from time to time and memories kick in and the whole feeling is still so raw and unbelievable – you still can’t believe he’s gone.’

Following Gately’s death, Duffy found solace in Coronation Street, the producers welcoming him back on-set earlier than anticipated to help him deal with his grief.

Away from showbiz, Keith dedicates a lot of time raising funds to help children with autism, a condition his daughter suffers from.

‘I try to encourage people that are affected by Autism – parents with children with autism – to get out and make a difference and to do these marathons and triathlons and whatever it needs to be to make the funds. My frustration was that I wasn’t able to personally help my daughter. I thought I’d go out and help her on a bigger scale.  Now that she’s doing great, she’s fantastic, I can’t just throw in the towel and say “I’ve done my bit now, it’s over”.  There’s still an awful lot of children in the country that need that guidance and that help and that intervention.’

At a personal level Duffy seems to have found his niche, performing in theatre in front of a live audience.

‘I’ve tried everything from the days of the band – I went into television presenting and nothing really made me have that hair raising feeling of performing on stage. I’ve performed in front of 125,000 people in Hyde Park in London, which was an amazing experience but performing in front of a theatre of 75 people is just as electric and exciting and I found an area in the entertainment business which I actually love and I’m doing an okay job so long may it live and I’m looking forward to more experiences.’

So which show is Duffy in? Which theatre company is it with – and do he and Cathy MacDonald meet Nick Leeson during the fundraising day in Galway?

Tune in to BBC ALBA on Monday 15th October at 22.00 and find out.

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