Blast From The Past -- Ritchie Neville

9th June 2005 - Manchester Online

THE music is blaring and girls screaming as Ritchie Neville gyrates across the stage with his guitar. But this is not a reunion of his former boy band, Five, or a scene from one of their videos. It's Ritchie's latest incarnation as an actor in The Last Detective (ITV1, Sunday, 9pm).

The 25-year-old makes his TV acting debut this weekend playing Gerry Jameson, a seventies pin-up and member of chart-topping band, The Overnite Sensations.

Drama unfolds when, fast-forward to the present day, the band's front man, Teddy O'Connor, played by Tony Slattery, is found dead in mysterious circumstances after a comeback gig in a pub. Offbeat detective Dangerous Davies (Peter Davison), is called in to investigate, revealing a 30-year revenge plot in the process.

Look very carefully, and you might just be able to recognise Ritchie dressed as a seventies rocker sporting a huge curly wig during flashback scenes, which also star Nigel Planer, Tim Healy and former Coronation Street star, Philip Middlemiss.

"It was great fun, I'm really pleased with it," says Ritchie. "Tony Slattery - what a nice man! They were all really lovely, it was a great atmosphere. I'm used to the music industry. Television seems like a much calmer industry - not quite as many egos."

Ritchie is, of course, referring to his time in Five with bandmates J Brown, Scott Robinson, Sean Conlon and Abs Breen. The boys became instant pop pin-ups when they burst on to the music scene in December, 1997, going on to sell more than 7m albums worldwide before splitting four years later.

Ritchie was only 17 and just three months away from sitting his A-levels at a public school near his home in Bromsgrove, when an advert in a national newspaper calling for people to audition for a band caught his eye.

"I was reading it because of the pure naffness," he recalls. "It said, 'Do you want to be a Spice Boy?' And I thought, you have to be joking, they're actually going to make a band called the Spice Boys?"

But something made him respond. Two weeks later, Ritchie found out he'd made the group. Turning his back on his A-levels, he left home and moved into a house in London with his new band mates at the start of a four-year frenzy of sell-out gigs, tours, and record promotions.

Instant fame

The pressure that came with instant fame was immense.

"It does get to you, at that early age," he muses. "Having pop star girlfriends - you can't really do anything. You breathe and it's in one of the columns the next day."

The pop star girlfriend in question was Doctor Who star, Billie Piper, who Ritchie dated between 1998 and 2000 after they met on a Saturday morning children's TV show. A teen chart star herself at the time, nobody understood the pressures Ritchie was experiencing better than Billie.

"We lived together for a year and a half in a hectic time of our lives. We helped each other mentally to get through everything. We were the only two people for each other that understood what we were going through. We were each other's solitude for a little while.

"Then, as relationships do at that age, we just drifted apart. There'd be months when we wouldn't see each other because we'd be on tour, so it kind of fizzled out."

Ritchie and Billie have lost contact over the years, and he is now happily living with his girlfriend of two years, whom he met on holiday in Ibiza."It's nobody you'd know," he insists. "She's a normal girl, not connected with the entertainment industry."

After four years at the top of the charts, the boys decided to call it a day in September, 2001. Ritchie has since dabbled with various projects, including a university tour with a new rock band he's involved with, and an appearance on Five's The Farm.

"It wasn't what I was roped in for," he says now. "I was told it was going to be a factual-based programme about British farming and organic methods.

"I can't watch any reality TV because I know how the editors can fictionalise a conversation by editing things together when actually it didn't happen like that."
Despite this, it's clear Ritchie's TV career is far from over.

"I'm going to get back to it now and I'll be going for castings. There are definite possibilities."