Five: Boyband life drove us all to the edge
FRIDAY 8TH NOVEMBER 2013
Breakdowns, break-ups and drink, drugs and fights, who said being in a boyband was living the dream?
It was too much, too young,” remembers Ritchie Neville. “It was like strapping ourselves to a rocket and being dropped back down to earth five years later.
“It’s taken a long time to get over it – 10 years to be honest.”
5ive were the baddest boyband on the block back in the 90s. With One Direction overlords Simon Cowell and Richard Griffiths pulling the strings, teenage girls around the world soon feel for their cheeky banter and catchy songs.
But behind the scenes, all was not well.
Thanks to one of the most gruelling schedules in showbiz, violence, rivalry and emotional breakdowns were commonplace.
“It was just so intense,” continues Ritchie, who hails from Solihull but fled to the other side of the world to start a new life in Australia following the band’s acrimonious split in 2001. “For a starter, our schedule was ridiculous. We’d work 18-hour days and literally go for years without a day off.
“I was talking to One Direction’s manager Richard Griffiths the other day, he used to be our record label boss with Simon, and I said ‘1D have been going for a while now but they still look so fresh, why is that?’, he replied ‘If they work through for four weeks, they get two weeks off straight’. I couldn’t believe it. I was like ‘You what?!’. I think if we’d had that we would probably still be going now.
“I think the music business has learned lessons from the mistakes made with us – we were sort of their Guinea pigs. I think they’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how young you are or how much energy you have, there is only so much a person can take. No one can survive relentless travelling and only two hours’ sleep a night. Sometimes we’d work all day and then catch an overnight flight to the USA and they’d class that as our night’s sleep and as soon as we’d touch down, we’d be straight back to work. So, yes, they have learned lessons and that can only be a good thing. And, speaking to other bands on The Big Reunion, they report similar experiences.”
Ah yes, The Big Reunion, that guilty pleasure of a TV show that saw the likes of B*Witched, Atomic Kitten and 911 reunite for one night and one night only . . . and then for a full-blown tour...and then another TV show . . . and then a number of Christmas concerts.
There was only one problem when it came to 5ive – they were now 4our.
Jason “J” Brown refused to take part in the show. Things had seriously soured between him and the other members, apart from Abz, and allegations of bullying and mind-games were rife.
He refused to appear in the first series of The Big Reunion and only popped up in the second for a rather intense right-to-reply interview, where, aside from speaking about his shock and confusion at the anger aimed towards him, he also revealed a suicide attempt.
“I was quite shocked because I didn’t know he had filmed the interview until much later,” says Ritchie. “But I think it was only right he had the right to reply.
“I mean, I don’t know really, his main thing was with Sean but I had my own experiences with J. All I will say is that I stand by Sean that he was a bully. He would twist things and suppress your confidence and then go out and shine himself. It was really odd. He was good at mind games.”
The fallout from the breakdown of 5ive was brutal. As well as J overdosing and Ritchie moving to the other side of world, Abz endured drinks, drugs, bankruptcy and self harm.
“I was ready to die,” he says. “I was at a gig and smashed a bottle of wine. I saw blood and this sharp piece. I remember slicing myself, just cutting myself quickly, man. It was like trying to get out of this skin.
“While I was partying I met this wealthy woman, she gave me a place to stay. It was party central. I’d wake up in the morning and my breakfast would be every drug and every drink. I had weed hanging out of my mouth and cocaine all over me. It was pathetic.”
Meanwhile Sean Conlon suffered a nervous breakdown, said to be because of J’s constant putdowns, and Scott Robinson described himself as “on the edge” and retired to life as a house-husband.
However, thanks to The Big Reunion, things are looking much brighter. Ritchie, Scott, Abz and Sean are back together and are now set to embark on their own tour, coming to Wolverhampton Civic Hall on November 29. After all, this remains a band that sold more than 20 million records, sold out arenas around the world and picked up Brit and MTV awards.
Abz was also runner-up in this year’s Celebrity Big Brother, while Ritchie has found love with Atomic Kitten star Natasha Hamilton, whom he grew close to while on the Reunion road.
“My initial reaction when The Big Reunion producers contacted me was disbelief,” says Villa fan Ritchie, who went to Bromsgrove School. “I just thought ‘This is never going to happen’. Y’know we talked about getting back together over the years and one minute we were doing it, one minute we weren’t, so-and-so would be up for it and then another one would drop out.
“But in the end it was totally totally amazing. I remember that opening night of the tour in Sheffield taking me right back to being a little boy when I would dream about doing this sort of thing.
“And I tell you what, it is so much better the second time around. We can just appreciate it a lot more. This first time was fantastic, but it was too much, too young.
“The Big Reunion was just one big school trip, we were all on this coach together so there was a lot of pranks – we weren’t always in the middle of them but quite often. But we only did four songs each night so we’re excited about this tour.
“I mean, what an amazing turnaround. One minute I’m chilling in Sydney and the next I’m back touring this wonderful country. It is absolutely fantastic and I mean that from the bottom of my heart.
“When I wasn’t performing, there was always something in the background, something within me, saying ‘You should be creative, you should be performing’. I wasn’t always aware of it but looking back now I realise it was constantly there. This is always something I wanted to do growing up. All the lads are really looking forward to it. There’s a lot of songs we didn’t get to do on The Big Reunion so this is our chance.”
With things going so well again, are there any plans for new material?
“No, not at the minute,” he says. “This is just about reconnecting with the fans and with each other and performing the hits. It may be a discussion we have further in time. But it’s really awoken the creative side in me, I’m back in the studio working on solo stuff called Rags to Richez and I just can’t stop.”
But, with so much water under the bridge, is there still tension among the remaining members?
“We’re all really different characters but we’re like brothers,” Ritchie concludes. “We did argue and fight back then and sometimes we still bicker now but these days it’s settled with handshakes and hugs instead of a massive punch-up.”
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