THE multi-platinum selling Irish star has big plans for 2012, including a tour down under, writes Lynn Cameron.

Ronan in Australia, 2011Many former boyband members have struggled to shake off the schoolgirl pin-up image and resell themselves as a respected artist for grown ups, but one who has undoubtedly made the successful transition is Ronan Keating.

The ex-lead singer of Irish teen idols Boyzone, created by X Factor UK judge Louis Walsh in the early 1990s, has not only reinvented himself as an industry-acclaimed musician but branched out into acting, TV presenting, X Factor Australia judge, band manager and UN Goodwill Ambassador.

On top of all this, Keating is heavily involved with charity work, for which he has run the London Marathon twice and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.

Following the death of his mother, Marie, in 1988 at the age of 54 from breast cancer, he set up the Marie Keating Foundation in partnership with Cancer UK, which raises money towards cancer research.

And, when it comes to raising funds, Keating is up for anything. A recent sponsored event saw him and some celeb mates, including Olympic swimmer Steve Parry and UK personality Pamela Stephenson (aka Mrs Billy Connolly), swim 90km across the Irish Sea in a relay race which lasted 35 hours, 18 minutes.

"It was the stupidest thing I've ever come up with," he laughs over the phone from his home in Dublin. "I'm not a great swimmer so I don't know why I agreed to it. I was definitely out of my comfort zone in a massive way."

Now back on dry land, Keating's next venture is to travel Down Under for his Australian tour, supported by former member of The Corrs, Sharon Corr, which kicks off in Sydney at the end of this month. Unusual for many tours, Keating will be playing several dates in each state, which is something he plans to enjoy.

"I've had great times in Australia before," he says, "and this time I get to spend two or three nights in each venue. I'll get to spend time in every city and I'm looking forward to that."

Keating's last performance in Adelaide was at Penfolds Winery for A Day on the Green in 2009, and the singer has fond memories of the event.

"Especially the wine," he laughs. "I'm a fan of the Penfolds red."

Accompanied by his seven-piece band, the singer says the shows will be "a mixed bag, with something for everyone," including tracks from his recent collaboration with legendary American pianist, composer and music producer Burt Bacharach.

Titled When Ronan Met Burt, the album reached No. 3 on the Australian charts and was recorded at the legendary Capitol Studios, along with a 40-piece orchestra - and Frank Sinatra's microphone.

"It was quite intimidating working with Burt," Keating confesses.

"Burt had favourite songs that he wanted to push and I had ones I was passionate about. I can't say I overly enjoyed the experience - it was too nerve-wracking - but I was very happy with the finished result."

Australian fans will also be treated to tracks from two albums closest to the singer's heart: his 2009 solo release, Songs for my Mother, commemorating the death of his mother; and Boyzone's 2010 album Brother, a tribute to their ex-band member Stephen Gately, who died tragically in 2009.

Does immersing such painful issues in his songs mean he regards music as a form of therapy?

"I guess I do," he says. "Music is always a release, a way of communicating with everyone. But I've spent the last three years working on those concept albums which meant I took a sabbatical from creating; it was like writer's block in a way.

"Now I have a new lease of life and I'm ready to write and record. I'm working on my first studio album in five years, which will feature brand new songs. I hope to release it later this year.

"You could say I have new ears."

The singer also has new skills to add to his already impressive resume, with a role in upcoming movie Goddess, which is due to open in cinemas later this year. Filmed in Sydney and also starring Laura Michelle Kelly, Keating says he "loved every minute" of filming.

"It's a romantic comedy," he says. "I play a marine biologist who buys his wife a webcam because I am travelling to Antarctica. She starts singing on the webcam which leads to her becoming a huge popstar, so I have to come home to mind the children. It's about becoming a dad and it's very funny."

The film resonates with Keating on several levels. Most obviously, there is the musical storyline but also, as a father of three, he appreciates the difficulties of balancing fame with family life, having to leave his wife and children for three months at a time to film X Factor Australia.

"That's the hardest part, being away from my family," he says. "I can't bring them with me as the kids are at school."

But, despite the difficulties, Keating is eager to remain as judge on the talent show and defends the need for shows such as X Factor in today's industry.

"Ten years ago, I would have agreed that these shows were the easy route to the top but not now," he says. "Nowadays, there are no scouts out looking for new talent so you can't be discovered. The X Factor is a conduit for great talent to be seen.

"I've been there as an artist and a judge, so I've seen both sides. It's a great way for me to give back to the industry."

Ronan Keating, Adelaide Festival Centre, February 13-14. Book at BASS.

Source: Adelaide Now

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