Heartbroken Boyzone bandmates slept next to tragic Stephen Gately’s coffin on the night before his funeral.
The 33-year-old singer was found dead at his home in Spain 12 years ago today after suffering a pulmonary oedema from an undiagnosed heart condition in 2009.
Bandmates Ronan Keating, Keith Duffy, Shane Lynch and Mikey Graham immediately flew out to his home to bring his body back to Ireland after hearing the tragic news.
And when Stephen’s mum told them that he ‘didn’t like to be alone’, they set up their sleep bags next to their bandmate’s coffin in an overnight vigil at St Laurence O’Toole Roman Catholic Church in Dublin, reports the Mirror.
Speaking to Sky News, Ronan Keating said: “We cried and we laughed and we could hear him telling us jokes and we could hear him answering back.”
Afterwards, they emerged from the church and gave their sleeping bags to fans who’d spent the night outside, with 3,500 showing up to pay their respects to the Irish star.
At Stephen’s funeral, the friends he’d made as a celebrity – including Westlife, Louis Walsh, Jason Donovan and Vanessa Feltz – mingled with the friends he’d known since childhood.
Messages of condolences were received from George Michael, David and Victoria Beckham, Take That, U2, Simon Cowell, Robbie Williams, Cheryl Cole, Sharon Osborne and Colin Farrell.
Elton John – who had introduced Stephen to his husband Andrew Cowles – was touring in Switzerland but sent a large bouquet of yellow flowers, and his partner, David Furnish, said Elton was ‘completely bereft’.
Inside the chapel, every aisle was adorned with lilies – Stephen’s favourite flower, and pictures of the star throughout his life were displayed in the walls.
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Loved ones left gifts at the alter, including a Mickey Mouse teddy to signify his love of Disney and “belief in fairy tales”, moisturiser to reflect his love of beauty products and a microphone as a symbol of his voice.
But it was the eulogy from Boyzone that proved to be the most heart-wrenching, with Ronan desperately to speak through his tears.
“We have lost a brother and I have lost my wingman,” he said, his voice cracking.
Steadying himself, he continued: “He will live on in our songs and whenever us four are together, his spirit is alive. But it will never be the same without him.
“A beautiful man who is now the perfect angel. Forever young and never forgotten. A man, a friend, a brother, a son, a husband and a hero.
“I’m going to really miss you brother, I love you, we always will. But we know you’ve found peace. Perfect peace.”
He promised to finish the fantasy novel Stephen had been working on, titled The Tree of Seasons, and sang the hymn Happiness before the tearful band lifted Stephen’s coffin and carried him out of the church for a private cremation Glasnevin Cemetery.
That night, they gave their brother one last knees-up, remembering their beloved friend in an emotional late-night meal with manager Louis Walsh, Westlife and David Furnish.
They sang songs, drank bottles of vintage champagne and shared stories about Stephen at Dublin’s Four Seasons hotel until the early hours.
One onlooker told The Mirror: “Ronan, Keith, Shane and Mikey arrived together after the funeral and looked down-hearted. The strain of the day had taken its toll.
“But they decided Stephen deserved a good send-off so they picked themselves up and celebrated his life with some of his closest pals.
“It was like a who’s who of the Irish pop world with the Westlife lads and Louis Walsh at the head of the table. Louis later put a card behind the bar and told everyone to drink whatever they wanted because it was on him.
“It was great to see everyone with a smile on their face at the end of the night. They obviously got a lot of strength from being together.
“At one point some of the lads were sitting in the corner of the room and they started singing ballads and swapping funny stories about Stephen.”
Shane told how Stephen would live on in the four members of Boyzone.
“The past week has been terrible for us. But we want Stephen to live on through every one of us in everything he does. He is with God now. He is in a better place,” said Shane.
“He was our brother and we will miss him for the rest of our lives. We will never forget him.”