Land of cough syrup

Antonia Quirke listens to Ronan Keating as he breaks out the ballads

On Radio 2, the Boyzone frontman Ronan Keating was sitting in for Steve Wright, playing a set of "the greatest love songs that didn't make it" to number one (22 November, 9am). "G'morning folks, it's Ronan here," he said, flatly, "and here's Roberta Flack and 'Tonight I Celebrate My Love For You'." Then there was Terence Trent D'Arby and "Sign Your Name", Bon Jovi's "Always" (Romeo Is Bleeding) and "You to Me Are Everything" by the Real Thing.

Anyway, we were just happily swimming to the land of Jell-O and cough syrup when I remembered what 25 years of this crap did to Steve Wright. No wonder he needed the morning off. I walked past him on the street the other day - the Amontillado-swilling moustache, the ragged coat weighed down with what one felt certain were old leaves and dirt, the slight confusion of his shuffle, as though he'd recently feasted on a cement burrito. In short, a man long lost in the wake of a playlist that does nothing but soar, a career built entirely on promoting balladeers who wrench their faces away from the microphone stand every third phrase, as though unable to take the exquisite pain. "And iiiii will love you babaaaaay alllwayyys," yelled Jon Bon Jovi. "We could pack up our old dreams/And buy a new house. I love you." Funny how frequently these songs boil down to really tedious things like the mortgage.

“Another great love tune there, from the one and only Stevie Wonder," said Ronan on the back of "Yester-Me", his pulse not rising a jot. (One helplessly pictured Keating's new super-complex, flat-diagonal hairdo, a look that he thoughtfully debuted at Stephen Gately's funeral.) Stevie Wonder. Thom Yorke. Purcell. Corinne Bailey Rae. It's all the same to Ronan: the man is a machine. ("Life is a roller coaster, you've just gotta ride it!" he sang once - and his having to impersonate a delirious love of life in the video to that song remains truly the worst bit of acting I've ever seen, beyond Barbra Streisand in The Mirror Has Two Faces giving a lecture on romantic poetry at Columbia.)

“If you want to get in touch with us, email, or call, but remember standard geographic charges apply. Or the turd and final way is to write." One sensed Ronan was quite enjoying this bit - the pointing out of the small print - because it must be done in the tone of resolutely mid-range positivity, the voice of a person promising to have some Dublin Bay prawns waiting for you when you arrive at the inn, ie, the plastic tone exploited daily on the Irish TV channel RTE (aka Robots Transmitting Effluent).

Meanwhile on the Today programme, the reporter Andrew Hoskin wandered around a devastated Cockermouth describing the various sights and sounds, and came upon some Indian waiters sweeping the water from their ruined restaurant. "It's just like that scene with the big brushes in Fantasia," breathed Hoskin, calling to mind Chris Morris as Austen Tasseltine, the young reporter with enthusiastically wavy hair. What did you use to stem the tide, asked Hoskin, astonished. "Naan," shrugged one of the waiters, with a weary giggle. Questions ought no doubt to be asked about the efficacy of the Bombay Murgh's flood defences, but for its employees' act of mad improv: respect.

Sunday Love Songs
Radio 2

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 30 November 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Left Hanging