He's blond, he's pretty, he sings like an angel, he's got a cute Irish accent – and, sadly, he's married with two children. Which is a pity, as Ronan Keating, the ex-Boyzone heart-throb and pop phenomenon, has the power to make a woman fall in love over a plate of sashimi...

By Deborah Ross

Can there be anyone more divinely charming and solicitous than Mr Ronan Keating, formerly of Boyzone, the boy band that, for those who are as muddled about these things as I am, was never Take That or Five and isn't Westlife or A1 or Blue? Mr Keating guides me to our restaurant table with a hand in the small of my back. Mr Keating pulls out the chair for me. Mr Keating constantly enquires as to my well-being. It's: "How is your sole?" And: "Would you like to taste some of my sashimi?" As a middle-aged housewife of no particular charms, I can't begin to tell you how gorgeously thrilling this all is.

Can there be anyone more divinely charming and solicitous than Mr Ronan Keating, formerly of Boyzone, the boy band that, for those who are as muddled about these things as I am, was never Take That or Five and isn't Westlife or A1 or Blue? Mr Keating guides me to our restaurant table with a hand in the small of my back. Mr Keating pulls out the chair for me. Mr Keating constantly enquires as to my well-being. It's: "How is your sole?" And: "Would you like to taste some of my sashimi?" As a middle-aged housewife of no particular charms, I can't begin to tell you how gorgeously thrilling this all is.

You know, I hadn't thought much about Ronan before, and could not have told you, with any degree of certainty, whether he had once been in Boyzone or Take That or Five or A1 or Westlife or Blue. But now? Well, speaking for myself – I could not speak for Mr Keating even if I wanted to, as I do not have one of those delightful Dublin accents, the sort that turns Irish into "Oirish" and Jesus into "Jaysus" – I think we are on to something, and that something might be love. Plus, as I now see it, Boyzone were always the best, and remain so. Blue? Total load of rubbish, I reckon.

We meet, for lunch, in the Charlotte Street Hotel in London. Here he comes. Now, while Keating has never been cool exactly – his crisp, pink, well-scrubbed cheeks speak less of hard drugs and more of major run-ins with Sanatogen Gold – he is wildly pretty, in quite a Beckham-ish way, and obviously has a dedicated haircare regime. Do you think of yourself as good-looking, Ronan? "I don't at all. I don't look in the mirror and think: you're a good-looking fella. But I like to look after myself, and I like clothes." He is wearing a white floaty shirt, Diesel jeans, a limited-edition Tag Heuer watch as seen, he says, on Steve McQueen in some film or other. He insists, though, that he is less into labels than he used to be. When he first started making money, he says, the first thing he bought was a D&G jumper. "Which had 'D&G' on it, in the biggest letters. Awful. Awful. I wore it for a good long time, though." We enter the restaurant. He opens the door for me. His hand finds the small of my back. Even my pop socks are all a-tingle. I think A1 were always rubbish, too, by the way...

We settle at our table, study the menu. "Are you oil-right sitting there?" He is, it turns out, quite a foodie. Even keeps a little notebook detailing his global eating experiences. The best restaurant ever, he says, is a sushi place in Japan. "I ate sushi yesterday, I'm eating it today, and I'll probably eat it tomorrow. I love sushi." The best cook ever, though, was his "mam", who sadly died of breast cancer in 1998. "She made the most amazing chicken curry in the world. No one else can do it. My sister Linda once watched over mam's shoulder as she was making it, and still couldn't do it. Then bread-and-butter pudding. She made the most amazing bread-and-butter pudding. No one else can make that pudding. It must have been to do with always using the same glass bowl, the same raisins. They were home, you know? Chicken curry and bread-and-butter pudding. That's what I thought about when I was on the road. Magic." I'm beginning to think Keating has yet to work on his dark side.

He orders wine. Red. He likes a drink. "I never took hard drugs at all. Never done cocaine in my life. Drink is an Oirish trait, though. I could stop for three months if I wanted to, but I don't want to." Does he recall the first time he ever got drunk? He says it was when he was 13, maybe 14, when his parents were away and his brother Gary, older by five years, was babysitting. "His friends came round with cans of beer, and then we drank a bottle of Frangelico, a liqueur made from hazelnuts. I was sick in my own bed while I was asleep."

I say that when I was growing up, Pernod and Black was the thing to drink. He says when he was growing up, Pernod and Black was, alas, still the choice girlie tipple. We discuss the multiple downsides of Pernod and Black: the black-stained teeth, the purple moustache, "and the smell. You'd ask a girl to dance and she'd had a Pernod and Black, and the stink! That smell always made me want to puke. Couldn't kiss her." I assure Ronan that I do not drink that particular drink any more. No way!

Ronan is now married to Yvonne, a model, and they have two small children, Jack and Marie, as well as two grand houses – one in a prosperous Dublin suburb, one in Surrey. Still, I think it was wise for me to have mentioned having left behind the black-stained teeth and purple moustache phase, just in case his situation ever changes and he should feel in need of a more mature woman. Also, I don't think I stink, unlike Five, who always did.

Keating now writes his own songs – his next single, "The Long Goodbye", is released shortly – and I wonder if he always knew he had it in him. He say yes, in a way. When he was young – when he was young? Jaysus, he's still only 26! – he wrote poetry. Really? Can you remember any of it? He recites: "If all her love were thrust forward in abundance I would feel more love than if I were to touch the sun." Um... what's all that about, then? "It's about me mam, really. I was very close to my mother, a typical Oirish mother, wouldn't let you out the house without a good feed. So warm, so loving."

Before he gets into the nitty gritty of her bread-and-butter pudding recipe, I press on. Was your poetry ever appreciated? "I wrote that poem in school. I always got encouragement in English, but not in any other class. I was rubbish in school. Rubbish. Hardly went. My reports would say, 'Ronan would have great potential if he ever turned up.' English was the one subject I could tap into. Mr Stanley, a very good English teacher. I loved Yeats."

Ronan didn't sit for any exams because, by the time they came round, at 16, he'd already joined Boyzone. He remembers the audition. "I worked in a shoe shop in Dublin and the manager in the shoe shop knew I wanted to be in a band, and he said, 'Ro, look, there's an advert in the paper and they've picked two lads for this band already and want to pick three more and the audition is round the corner.' So I went round the corner and there were three or four hundred great-looking guys there, all tanned, and I was this skinny white fella and I wore quite crazy clothes. You know those old granddad flat caps? I wore one backwards because that was in fashion then..."

"Ronan, that was never in fashion, but if you want to believe so..."

"Thank you very much! But if you do believe in yourself, you're halfway there, aren't you?"

"Did you ever wear your backwards granddad flat cap with your D&G jumper?"

"I did not!"

Boyzone, in their time, notched up 15 top five singles (including seven No 1s) and sold more than 15 million albums worldwide. Wow! And yet... ahem, how to put this... Boyzone, Westlife, Blue, Five, A1, Take That? For those absurd eejits who can't distinguish between them, what advice would you give, Ronan, on telling them apart? None, it would appear. "In all the bands you can match up everybody very easily. You can say: he's the Gary Barlow in that band, he's the Robbie Williams. There is always a wild one, a shy, bashful one, the one who stands at the back and doesn't do anything, the clever one, the hard-working one..." And the heart-throb, Ronan? "Yes, but in our band it was Stephen Gately. The girls loved Stephen, absolutely loved him. We all got our share, but when Stephen sang at live gigs the place would erupt."

Keating's "share" included, I had read, up to 2,000 fan letters a week as well as being mobbed by hundreds of love-hungry girls at a go. "That was fantastic. Frightening, but fantastic as well. Good for the ego. Doesn't happen any more." He had the odd truly spooky fan, of course. "I remember there was one girl who, in the last years of Boyzone, became very heavy and moved to Ireland from Europe and everything and would puncture the wheel of her car outside my house so she could get in to use the phone. Scary stuff." Are you proud of the Boyzone oeuvre? "Yeah, we had six great years and did a great job. We didn't change the face of music, but we did make great pop records."

I am, actually, quite interested to know what defines those who go on to enjoy solo careers. Why, say George (Michael) from Wham! and not Andrew (Ridgeley)? If it's because George was the songwriter, why, then, Robbie (Williams) from Take That and not Gary (Barlow)? Why Ronan – who has had two top-selling solo albums since Boyzone – and not Stephen or Keith or Shane or Mikey, none of whom has had a top-selling anything since?

Ronan says it's about drive. Drive and hunger. "I worked very, very hard, and wanted it more. Gary was a great songwriter, but Robbie had the drive." What did you want, Ronan? Fame? "No, I wanted to be a singer. That's the problem with what is going on in the business today. Kids want to be famous. They don't want to be good at anything any more." Hang on, I say, Boyzone's manager was Louis Walsh. Your manager is still Louis Walsh. Now, isn't Mr Walsh as cynical as anybody? What about Popstars: the Rivals? "I've told Louis how I feel about those scenarios. Those TV shows have no soul. But that's what Louis does and he does it very well." I have to say that, if I were to find fault with Keating, it's his absolute inability to bad-mouth anybody. God knows what we're going to find to talk about in the evenings.

Actually, that's not entirely true. We do nearly get there when I ask what has been the most hurtful thing he's ever read about himself, and he replies: "Some of the things said about me by the band, some of those lies..." I guess he and his former bandmates are not on the best of terms, possibly because Ronan's solo ambitions ultimately led to the demise of the group. What lies, though? "That I'd turned into someone I'm not. Keith [Duffy] said that. I thought, 'He doesn't know me, never knew me, never took the bloody time to know me...' Anyway, not to worry, won't drag up all that crap." Oh, go on. "Done and dusted."

He hates to be rude, was brought up by his mam to be a well-mannered boy. "She taught me to treat people with the same respect I want to be treated with. But if someone does say something rude to me..." What? What? "... I'm not a wimp, but I don't look for fights. I'm not an argumentative person." I think you are, I say. "Do you?" he says. Nope, not the argumentative type. I think we can safely go with that.

The youngest of five children, he was born and brought up in Dublin, where his mother was a hairdresser and his father a trucker. He was brought up a devout Catholic, yes – "Towards the end of mam's life, she went to mass every day" – but no longer has much time for the church. "I do believe in God very much, but don't believe in the actual church and the teachings. I just feel that the way priests are feared is wrong. When I was little I was absolutely terrified of priests. And nuns. And I think that is wrong."

I ask, what's your God like? "That's a very difficult question to answer. I believe many thousands of years ago there was a man called Jaysus who was put on this earth to tell a story. What the Bible says is mostly true. They do say that if you put together the Old Testament and the New Testament and the Koran, the three would tell the real story, if you can figure it out. I believe there is something after this life, something greater than this. It can't just be this."

Refreshingly, perhaps, for an ex-boy-band member, he does have opinions. He is pro-abortion, for example, and anti-war. "I'm against it because innocent people are going to die. Women and children. It's wrong, absolutely wrong. How far have we come that force is still the only way to solve these problems? Jaysus." But you can look at the pictures coming out of Iraq, and still believe in some kind of God? "I know what you mean. It's the way life is. It's the way life has always been. I don't know how to work that out. I'm not that bloody clever!"

Actually, he is bright enough, I think, as well as utterly adorable. Another hand in the small of my back as we leave the restaurant. A kiss on the cheek when we part. My pop socks are practically aflame. Truly, I might never wash that cheek again. Hey, only teasing! I know I'm much too past it for crushes. That said, though, I have been thinking lately about moving to the Dublin area. I do, as it happens, have a car to get me there, although it is quite prone to punctures. Take That? Totally useless, when compared to Boyzone, who, I think we can all agree, rather set the standard.

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