Friday, October 16, 2009

Remembering Stephen Gately, Gay Pop Pioneer

To be honest, up until yesterday, the only thing I knew about Stephen Gately was that his inspiring ballad “I Believe” features on the soundtrack of the film Billy Elliot. I wasn’t even unaware that he was one of the two lead singers in the popular Irish “boy band” Boyzone.

Perusing through a news item about Gately’s recent and untimely death, I noticed a reference to his “long term partner,” which piqued my curiosity. Investigating further, I discovered that for many people, Stephen Gately, who was just 33 when he died, will be remembered for much more than just being a gifted and successful pop star of radio, theatre, and TV.

“He may not have been recognized as one but Stephen Gately was a gay rights hero,” declares Tim Teeman in an October 12 London Times article. “Gately showed that an unflamboyant guy could be a pop star and gay.”

His coming out in 1999, however, wasn’t exactly voluntary. A former Boyzone road crew member approached the British tabloid, The Sun, with revelations of Gately’s sexuality; the paper notified the pop singer who made the decision to preempt being outed by coming out himself. The Sun’s headline read: “Boyzone Stephen: ‘I’m gay and I’m in love’”

According to Teeman, “It was a similar story with Will Young’s outing after he won Pop Idol in 2002. Spiking the guns of an imminent tabloid onslaught guaranteed some kind of control.”

It also ensured that Gately was the first ever boy band member to come out as gay.

Wikipedia notes that “Gately wed Andrew Cowles [pictured above at left], first in a commitment ceremony in Las Vegas in 2003 and more formally in a civil partnership ceremony in London in 2006. Upon Boyzone’s reformation, Gately featured as part of the first gay couple in a boy band’s music video in what was to be his last music video with the band, for the song ‘Better.’”

Gately was discovered dead at an apartment he owned with Cowles in Majorca, Spain this past Saturday, October 10. A source close to the investigation into the singer’s death has said: “All the police know officially at the moment is that Stephen Gately is dead, he was found dead on a living room sofa and there were no signs of violence or evidence of suicide.”

In honor of Stephen Gately and his legacy, I share this evening the video for “Better.” In a 2008 commentary entitled Better Late Than Never: Boyzone Break New Ground for Gay Pop Stars,” Caroline Sullivan notes the following about this particular video:

The storyline [of the video] has each member [of Boyzone] getting romantic with a sexy (fictional) partner, but while four of the Boyz are paired off with girls, Stephen Gately gets cosy with a man. This isn’t just the first time that Gately, who came out in 1999 and is in a civil partnership, has been allowed openly to express his sexuality in a video – it’s the first time any boyband star has done so.

To view the video for "Better," click here.

Stephen Gately
1976 - 2009

If I believe that I could do anything,
Could I spread my wings and say goodbye?
So many people told me I couldn’t win
But look at me now
Here I am in heaven’s sky
And sometimes I say a prayer
Wishing that you could be here with me
Cos I believe . . .

I believe in love, it’s the best of everything
I believe in hope and the changes it can bring
If you believe then nothing can stand in your way
Just say, I believe

If hope’s the house I wanna be living in,
Baby, I’ve got one foot in the door - yes I do
All the years of waiting for your approval, dear
Well I realized I don’t need it anymore
’Cause I’m stronger everyday
Now I’m strong enough to say, I believe

I believe in love, it’s the best of everything
I believe in hope and the changes it can bring
If you believe then nothing can stand in your way
I believe . . .

“I Believe”
Stephen Gately
(from the album
New Beginning)

Links and Updates:
Stephen Gately: Why the Boyzone Singer’s Death is the Biggest Story in the UK - Clark Collis (Entertainment Weekly, October 11, 2009).
Tributes to “Gentle” Star Gately - BBC (October 12, 2009).
Postmortem Shows Gately Died of Natural Causes - Steven Carrol (Irish Times, October 14, 2009).
Stephen Gately Brought Home by the Boys - Ruadhan MacCormáic (Irish Times, October 17, 2009).
Anger Over Daily Mail Column on Gately - BBC (October 16, 2009).
Fans to Gather for Gately Funeral - BBC (October 17, 2009).
Huge Crowds at Dublin Funeral of Boyzone Star - AFP (October 17, 2009).
Stephen Gately’s Funeral - Chris Johnson and Tom Worden (Mail on Sunday, October 17, 2009).
“True Performer Full of Love and Friendship” - Boyzone Members’ Eulogy for Stephen Gately - Sky News (October 17, 2009).
A Fine Farewell: Ireland’s Send-Off to Stephen Gately - Kate Youde (The Independent, October 18, 2009).
Fear Still Felt by Gay People is to Our Shame - Fintan O’Toole (Irish Times, October 20, 2009).
Heartbroken Boyzone Pals Slept Next to Stephen Gately’s Coffin - Kennett Haynes (, November 2, 2009).

Recommended Off-site Link:
Stephen Gately - The Official Website

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Darren Hayes, Coming Out . . . Oh, and Time Travel!
George Maharis: “Man of Courage”
Remembering Dusty
Deborah Kerr, 1921-2007
Heath Ledger, 1979-2008
Natasha Richardson, 1963-2009

Musical artists previously featured at The Wild Reed:
Nat King Cole, Enrique Iglesias, Helen Reddy, Australian Crawl, PJ and Duncan, Cass Elliot, The Church, Pet Shop Boys and Dusty Springfield, Wall of Voodoo, Stephen “Tin Tin” Duffy, Pink Floyd, Kate Ceberano, Judith Durham, Wendy Matthews, Buffy Sainte-Marie, 1927, Mavis Staples, Maxwell, Joan Baez, Dave Stewart & Friends, Tee Set, Darren Hayes, Suede, Wet, Wet, Wet, Engelbert Humperdinck, The Cruel Sea, Shirley Bassey, Loretta Lynn & Jack White, Maria Callas, Foo Fighters, Rosanne Cash, Jenny Morris, Scissor Sisters, Kate Bush, Rufus Wainwright, and Dusty Springfield.


brian gerard said...

What a great video! Thanks, Michael, for introducing me to another artist I would not have met without your wild reed music posts.

Anonymous said...

I just discovered this sweet song -- the response of Irish youth to fear-ridden bishops and popes!