I always knew I was different. Unfortunately for me, ‘different’ just wasn’t accepted in an extremely conservative Northern Ireland in the late 90s.
To this day, the party most voted for at the polling stations are the DUP – a party who block marriage equality, have linked being gay to child abuse and have given the LGBTI community labels such as ‘repulsive’, ‘unnatural’ and ”immoral’.
Northern Ireland remains the only part of the UK and Ireland to have restrictions on same-sex marriage.
The message that sends to the LGBTI youth of my home country is that they are in fact ‘different’. It’s heartbreaking. I hope and pray that one day equality can be achieved.
Over the past year I have done quite a bit of reflecting on my teenage years and my school life. I count myself very lucky to live in such a wonderful city like London. Here, I am accepted and loved for exactly who I am.
It certainly wasn’t easy putting my hand up in class to admit to my teacher and everyone around me that all I wanted to do was leave Lurgan to go and be a singer in London. I have always wanted to come to London and pursue my dreams, and I have five women to thank for that.
Their names are Emma Lee Bunton, Melanie Jayne Chisholm, Melanie Janine Brown, Victoria Caroline Beckham and Geraldine Estelle Horner.
Apart from having the most genius pop songs under their belt, the Spice Girls brought nothing but extreme comfort and companionship to my life.
I didn’t really have any friends, was always the last one to get picked for football in PE. No one would ever sit beside me on the bus; I was on the receiving end of horrible, verbal abuse almost every day of my school life. But I always had their music.
I always had their voices ringing in my head and truly followed their positive message and I proudly wore their t-shirt into school on non-uniform day. I was digging my own grave but I really didn’t care!
My bedroom was covered in posters, from top to bottom. Despite not even liking the drink, I made sure I bought and collected every Pepsi pull-ring I could so I could send them away to get limited edition goodies.
I was a genuine die-hard fan. On Christmas day of 1997, I watched their ‘Live In Istanbul’ concert about 10 times on VHS and only joined my family for about entire 30 minutes the entire day. I lived in my own little Spiceworld.
One of the more prominent memories is forging a fake note to go to the ‘dentist’ at 1pm on 3 November 1997. My real plan was to run to Woolworths to collect my reserved copy of ‘Spiceworld‘ the album. Yes. That actually happened.
I ran home and I knew every single lyric by the next day.
I clearly had a lot of time on my hands, having no social life. When Geri left on a Sunday in May 1998, I cried my eyes out and begged for my mum to let me have the day off because I knew I would be tortured in school that Monday. I was prime bait.
I was the butt of everyone’s jokes when Geri left. It was a bully’s paradise. I became a target; the gay boy who adored the Spice Girls, and deserved every insult or punch swung in my direction back in those days in the eyes of those around me. Thank God I had a loving family.
Fast forward almost 20 years exactly. I’m invited personally backstage by Melanie C live on radio to her gig in Belfast.
Having had some success as a singer/songwriter, I have built a friendships and connections with some of the more popular radio DJs and stations back home.
Melanie C was live on air when my radio DJ friend Caroline Fleck on Downtown Radio was promoting her Belfast gig.
Caroline decided to tell Melanie on air that I am a super fan. She said I was unable to make her London gig in Shepherd’s Bush Empire because I was singing at The Troxy in London on the same evening.
Mel immediately invited to her Belfast gig with a backstage meet. I of course jumped around my bedroom for at least 10 minutes.
Standing in the auditorium with my sister and lots of other Melanie C fans a short while later, and about 20 mins before her gig started, one of her management came walking towards me and said ‘Melanie wants you to come back now and say hello’.
I’ve never been so excited in my life. I’d met Mel back in 2007 at a signing of her live DVD release on Oxford Street. But this was a full on one-on-one personal moment.
I could hardly contain my excitement. It was so amazing to have my older sister with me. She accompanied me to the opening night of the Spice Girls World Tour back in 1998 in Dublin.
Mel and I had flowing conversation and she was extremely warm. Firstly we both spoke about the Troxy in London, which is a venue that both of us have performed at. It was so surreal. A really beautiful moment. As I left, I mentioned to her that it would be a dream of mine to cover a Spice Girls/Melanie C track.
A few months laster I won the award for ‘Personal Contribution to the LGBT Community’ at the GNI Magazine Awards in Northern Ireland, voted for by the public. It was the proudest moment of my life.
So here we are. My version of ‘I Turn To You’. The reason I chose this song is because I really did ‘turn to’ the Spice Girls. There is a really important lyric line in the song: “Where would I be, what would I do if you never helped me through?” I often ask how I would have turned out if I hadn’t of had the Spice Girls to turn to.
Words: Conleth Kane