Reunited with his old band mates after a decade, the star of Five talks to Shelley Carter about the lost years, his eclectic fan base and how he is reconnecting with his home city
Old Bromsgrovian Ritchie Neville spent much of his late teens and early twenties living in a media scrum of boy band hood. After auditioning along with thousands other hopefuls, Neville became one fifth of the boy band Five and moved to the capital to live the dream. With a pretty face, adoring fans and a reported penchant for the ladies, he became a tabloid’s dream at the age of just 17. That teamed with crippling schedules and tight management took the shine off the experience at times. “Sometimes the industry can take away the fun, although people know what they’re doing so you do as you’re told and get on with it. I mean Simon Cowell for goodness sake. He knows what he’s doing, so you listen,” Neville says. The band enjoyed massive global success with hits such as ‘Everybody Get Up’, ‘Slam Dunk da Funk’ and ‘When the Lights Go Out’. The trophy cabinet was full of MTV awards, BRITs, Smash Hits gongs and the like. When the band split in 2001, Ritchie along with most of the other members went into freefall.
When Five ended, Ritchie’s life was turned on its head. He went from having every aspect of his life tightly timetabled to being left to his own devices. “It’s hard to describe, but I just felt lost for a while. Purposeless sums it up. I didn’t want to be creative. I went to Australia and opened a restaurant. I dabbled a little bit with music when I was there, but largely left it alone. There were times when maybe I made the wrong choices. And there were and still are times when I wonder if I did the right thing being in the band at all. Was it the best thing for me? I don’t know,” he says.
Now, older and wiser, Ritchie is back with three of the original Five line up for the Big Reunion tour and has happily discovered that second time round is more fun. “When you hit thirty it’s like a coming of age, yet you’re still young enough to be a go-getter. We’re all in our thirties, some of the boys have kids and it’s great”. And how is he coping with the energetic dance moves? “Ha. I did wonder if I’d be able to do it. I hadn’t done anything like it in a decade. It’s all good though. There is the occasional ‘Ooh my knee’,” he says.
The band has been able to things this year that they never had the opportunity to do first time round. Festivals weren’t boy band territory 10 years ago, but Ritchie describes this summer’s V Festival as “one of the best gigs I’ve ever done.” There were naturally doubts about stepping out of their comfort zone and into the festival scene. “This was not our usual fan base. We wondered if people would even come and watch at all, but it was so good. The crowd was awesome.”
The eclectic mix of fans has been a nice surprise too. “The nature of the band originally meant that most fans were teenage girls and we were sure we’d have the old fans back, but it’s been a real mixed bag. This fifty-year-old guy came up to me in the street and said ‘Ritchie, it’s so great to see you back together man’ and I just thought that was brilliant.”
A day pupil at Bromsgrove School, Ritchie was able to explore his creative side. “I thoroughly enjoyed school. I was creative and spent most of my time in the music suite. I was into school plays all that stuff. I didn’t really focus on the academic side of school though. I just did enough to get by,” Ritchie recalls. “Now as an adult I’m naturally inquisitive and love learning about science particularly,” he adds.
As he was into grunge and American rock as a teenager it’s surprising Ritchie ended up in a boy band at all. “It was my teenage two fingers up to the world phase,” he says, “Then I saw the ad for the auditions for the band and thought ‘yeah I’ll go for it. Why not?’” Ritchie talks about his mum fondly throughout the interview which is lovely. When he made it into the band she bluntly asked him ‘what will you do if it’s crap?’
RECONNECTING WITH BRUM
Boy bands coming unstuck once they split up is pretty much standard. Not knowing how to get by without management, limelight and adoration must be tough, but thankfully in Ritchie’s case it’s a tale with a happy ending. He’s back in Birmingham for the foreseeable future, as well as back with the band and is relishing getting to know the city again. The Australian twang has gone in favour of his natural Brummie lilt. Of being ‘home’ he enthuses, “I’m rediscovering Birmingham really. I’ve never driven here before. I moved to London at 17 and learnt to drive there, so I get a different perspective of the place now. It’s also changed hugely while I’ve been in Oz. I’m sort of piecing it all together. I’m completely in love with the Bullring. It’s amazing.”