Former Boyzone singer Ronan Keating admits to having done some stupid things in his life. But as he gazed into the blue sea from the balcony of his plush suite at Dubai's Al Qasr hotel, it's his recent swim in the Irish Sea that sprang to mind.
"It was ridiculous. It was a stupid idea — 56 miles (90.12 kilometres). I just hated it," Keating said with an involuntary shiver.
The Irish sensation, who burst into pop consciousness in 1994 with his epochal band Boyzone and followed it up with a smash solo career, took up the celebrity swim-relay challenge to raise funds for cancer research. Joining him in his mission were Olympic medallist swimmer Steve Parry, TV presenters Jenny Frost and Jason Bradbury, and Strictly Come Dancing star Pamela Stephenson.
"We did it in 36 hours and it was hard work. I am not a fan of being in the sea. I like being in a boat — sailing. There was jelly fish of this size," he spreads his arms wide for better effect, "and it could severely sting. A certain shark is in there too. They play tricks on your mind when you are swimming," said Keating, who is close to the cause having lost his mother to cancer.
But his stoic-yet-scary mission paid rich dividends and he's already on his next cause. It's not as daring as swimming with sharks, but the 34-year-old Irish singer was the highlight of Saturday's glittering charity gala, hosted by Dubai International Film Festival and luxury Swiss watch manufacturer IWC Schaffhausen, to benefit Oxfam and Dubai Cares.
"IWC is one of the brands that I am a friend of. I am hosting an event for them, will sing a few songs... I am being the voice for people who don't have one."
Noble causes aside, the When You Say Nothing at All singer is now pouring all his energy into making his next studio album — which has strong folk influences.
"I had a three-year break from making studio albums and studio recordings. But now I am ready to make a new album. It's been a kind of a strange time for me, these last three years."
Strange is an understatement when you look back at Keating's eventful life. Apart from grappling with losing his mother to cancer and his subsequent alcohol addiction, in 2009 Keating had to come to terms with the sudden death of his bandmate Stephen Gately. A year later, his affair with a backing dancer threatened to destroy his 12-year marriage with his longtime sweetheart, Yvonne. All of a sudden, Ireland's favourite pin-up — with a pristine image to boot — fell from the pedestal.
But his life, both personal and professional, seems to be back on track.
"I have been in Australia for The X Factor for the last three months and I have just returned. I have been at home with my children as much as I can. My average day is with my wife and kids in Dublin, doing school runs, grocery store, feeding and walking the dogs," he said.
The father-of-three has also set up a studio at home to be closer to his kids. But he looks back at this tumultuous period rather philosophically.
"This is life. I knew I had made music for the last twenty years and I knew it was time for a break. You know, you just get writer's block. You come up against walls. I am now ready in my head and heart to make albums."
And his best tip to get over this frustrating dark period? "You have got to keep writing, keep working. You have to listen to songs, meet people and listen to other people's music. And produce other stuff, you just got to ride the way and get through it."
Keating applies the same philosophy when asked what went wrong with Boyzone, one of Ireland's first successful boy bands who sold 20 million records in the second half of the '90s.
"You just have to evolve, change and become something new. The word ‘boyband' is a very thin kind of line — you can evolve into something else. Grow with those teenagers. Sometimes, boybands do have a short shelf life, but look at Take That. They are the biggest band in the UK, biggest selling album in the last century and are progressing. So there's still a life for boybands," he says.
Boyzone was created in 1993 by the impresario Louis Walsh — a judge on the UK X Factor — through rigorous auditions. "It has been a roller coaster ride. It has been crazy and we parted ways in 1999 and then came back together five years ago — we have had a rocky road. Stephen passed away two years ago — that was very tough," he explained.
But they will be celebrating their twenty years of existence next year.
"We will have an anniversary album and we would love to come to Dubai. So put the word out and see if people want us back."
His acting debut: "Goddess is going to be featured at Cannes next year. It's romantic comedy. I play a marine biologist who buys his wife a web-cam because I am travelling to Antarctica. And then she starts singing on her web-cam and becomes this big pop star. Later she travels off and I have to come home to mind the children. It's about becoming a real dad and it's very funny."
On Westlife disbanding: "I used to be their manager. They are doing a farewell tour next February and then they are finished."
On singing in Bollywood films: "I would love to do a Bollywood flick. It's amazing with all that energy, passion, colour. I was looking to go to India for the MTV Awards, but couldn't make it."
On his glamorous photoshoot with celebrated photographer Peter Lindberg in Italy for IWC: "We had so much fun in Portofino. It's one of the most beautiful places in the world. But to hang out with Kevin [Spacey], Eric [Dane], Matthew [Fox] and Boris [Becker], was incredible. We were just a bunch of people who were passionate about watches. It was like a dream."
"You try to put it on paper as best as you can. I have lived a crazy life since I was 16, have travelled the world and met some amazing people. And if you can turn that into music, then you are doing something right."