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I would imagine that many, if not most, readers had never heard of Boyzone singer Stephen Gately before the tragic announcement this weekend that he had died in Majorca at just 33. And I would guess that a lot of you would be surprised to discover how much space British newspapers such as The Sun, The Mirror, and even a conservative-minded broadsheet like The Telegraph are giving the story.

Nor is the extensive coverage of his death merely due to the fact that the Dublin-born singer was an openly gay pop star. It is hard to overemphasize quite how hugely, and enduringly, successful the Irish Boyzone and their British boy band rivals Take That have been in the UK and Ireland over the past two decades. I lived in England for the two bands’ first periods of success in the ’90s, and although in truth I was not a fan of either act, I couldn’t help but acquire through cultural osmosis a working knowledge of their hits and various personality traits. Pretty much everyone in the country, for example, could have told you Take That’s Robbie Williams was the band’s resident joker, but that it was the quintet’s chief songwriter Gary Barlow who was destined for solo success. (And thus the entire country had to eat its collective metaphorical hat when the former’s solo career ultimately easily eclipsed that of his former colleague.)

Take That were the first to crack the UK top ten with “It Only Takes A Minute,” their 1991 cover of the old Tavares song. Over the next five years they racked up an astonishing number of hits and no fewer than eight chart-topping singles. Meanwhile, Boyzone broke through in the UK with their 1994 version of the Osmonds’ “Love Me For A Reason,” and would themselves score a half dozen number ones over the next five years, including “Words,” “All That I Need,” “You Needed Me,” and “No Matter What.”

Take That split in 1996 and Boyzone followed suit in 2000, the year after Gately went public with his sexuality. In 2005, Take That reformed without Williams and continued their hit-making ways as if they had never gone away. In November 2007, Boyzone leader Ronan Keating announced that they too were getting back together, and last year they embarked on a wildly successful tour of the UK and Ireland. Their first reunion release, “Love You Anyway,” was, remarkably, their 17th single in a row to reach the British top five.

Given the fame of Boyzone, and the fact that Gately died at such young age, you can be sure this is story that will run for a while in the British press. Anyone still bewildered by the fuss, or anyone who wants to remind themselves what the group sounded like, should check out the clip of Boyzone performing “No Matter What” below.

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