He loves a pint, cars, his family and Louis Walsh ('Well, not love him. I miss him'). On the golf course in Portmarnock, Ronan Keating tells Róisín Ingle about learning to sing, his hopes for his new album and his deep fear of being misunderstood. Photographs: Bryan O'Brien

Portmarnock Hotel & Golf Links, in north Co Dublin, doesn't scream rock'n'roll. But then, neither does Ronan Keating. He's in a room where a group of mature golfers are tucking into a soup 'n' sandwich buffet. Wearing white trousers and a smart golf top, he's all "Pleased to meet you" and "God bless" and "Would you like a cup of coffee?" and "Don't get up". Not being used to such extreme chivalry, I find it slightly disconcerting. Keat­ing seems almost fanatical about opening doors for women. Con­fused, you find yourself doing a little jig around the door with him, and eventually you just let him open it, because you realise that's his style. After the third or fourth door it becomes quite enjoyable.
Later, riding in a golf buggy - he drives a mean golf buggy - it's a relief to discover he can laugh at himself, because in the past Keat­ing has given the impression of taking himself more seriously than any pop star should. I comment approvingly that he has grown his hair longer, saying that it's different to the style on the cover of his third solo album. Turn It On, from 2003, where he was pictured with defined biceps and a shaved head, wearing a manly white vest. That was a more, um, edgy look, I say, diplomatically, as he manoeu­vres the buggy over a hill. "Ah, yeah, well, as edgy as Ronan Keating gets," he says, laughing. For now, anyway. Later, when we sit down to talk, the nice boy of pop seems sometimes to hover refreshingly close to the edge. But more of that later.
Ronan Keating
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Keating has just turned 29. He was 16 when he sang Father and Son, the Cat Stevens song, at a Boyzone audition for Louis Walsh. He was playing golf even then, and the other members of Boyzone would slag him for it. "The funny thing is most of them play golf themselves now," says Keating, getting ready to show off his swing for our photographer. So was he a bit of a young fogey? "Young fogey. Yeah, I like that. I suppose I was."
The slightly longer hairstyle, a boyish barnet the colour of straw, seems to signal a move back to the days of Life Is a Rollercoaster and When You Say Nothing at All, two worldwide hits that silenced those who said Keating would sink without trace after quitting Boyzone. His new single. All Over Again, from his fourth solo album. Bring You Home, shows a new maturity to his voice, which long ago lost the when-you-shay-noshing-at-all twang the nation loved to hate. It was an affectation bred by insecurity. "I couldn't sing that well when I joined Boyzone," he says, laughing when I sug­gest gobs will be smacked across the country at his revelation.
All Over Again is a quiet gem of a song, featuring a secret credibil­ity weapon in Kate Rusby, the darling of English folk music, and it will probably sell by the truckload. He'll be singing it live at a Prince's Trust concert in London next Saturday, when the promo­tion for the album officially kicks off.
There are faint bags under Keating's big blue eyes, and a weari­ness about the singer, as we sit in the bar of the hotel. He politely (of course) requests biscuits with his coffee, because it's too early for lunch. He has changed out of his golfing gear and is looking more rock 'n' roll in jeans and a maroon leather jacket. The father of three has been in househusband mode for much of the past year, bringing seven-year-old Jack and five-year-old Missy to school and looking after eight-month-old Ali. "I was taking out the bins the other night, and I thought to myself. Yeah, it's definitely time you went back on the road," he says, smiling.
He is nervous about how the album will be received, even though he feels it's his best work. "I'm a worrier. My mother was a worri­er," he says, in a reference to the late Marie Keating, in whose name he and his family have done laudable work to raise awareness of breast cancer in Ireland and, more recently, Britain. "I feel pressure coming up to every album. I can't sleep; I am a mess. I think you can get sick from worrying," he says.

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