5ive look back: ‘The label wanted a boyband with an edge – ours was pretty sharp’

Formed in 1997 by the management team who put together the Spice Girls, 5ive were the bad boys of pop known for bust-ups and big hits such as Keep On Movin’ and Everybody Get Up. The band split acrimoniously in 2001, and reformed without Jason “J” Brown for reality show The Big Reunion in 2013. Abz Love left in 2014, so 5ive now consist of Sean Conlon, Ritchie Neville and Scott Robinson. This year they released Time, their first album in two decades.

My memory of this photo is I was glad we were lying down so I could half rest while working. I’m carrying a bit of weight; we were eating a lot of junk at the time, quick fixes. Once we started doing OK, I said to management: “Look, we’re going to die if we keep eating like this.” So they upped the ante on the food.

I came across the advert for 5ive auditions in a newspaper. It was a photo of the actor Paul Nicholls’ head and Peter Andre’s body, and the headline was “Do You Want to be a Spice Boy?” My instant reaction was, oh, give me a break! Then the cogs started turning and I applied.

The auditions were like a circus. Tribute acts, people breakdancing. I swayed from side to side feeling very awkward and sang George Michael’s Freedom. It went from 3,000 people to 14. Once we were all in the same room, they had the final five within 30 minutes. I reckoned Scott was gobby and thought a lot of himself, while Sean was a bit moody and abrasive. Now that I know him, I realise that was his way of dealing with nerves.

I could tell management wanted me to be the Baby Spice of the group. I liked Nirvana and dance music – I ran off to Glastonbury to see the Prodigy when I was 15 – so I wanted to rebel against that role for a long time. The more exhausted the five of us got, the more we would fight – punches and kicks were thrown. I remember walking past a pet shop and seeing this puppy. It was the runt of the pack and all the other dogs were biting and climbing over it. I saw myself, so I walked in and said, “How much for that dog?” I bought it then and there.

After the band broke up, I moved to Australia and we lost touch. I wanted to be anonymous. I shut the door, became a recluse for years and probably had a bit of a drinking problem. One day I was in Pizza Express and Coldplay was playing. I was in floods of tears and felt so mixed up. I realised all I wanted to do was music.

This time 5ive are far more functional and less anxiety-ridden. I know the other two are going to turn up for the gig on time, do the show well and go home having put food on the table for our kids. That’s all that matters.

I would have been 16 when this was taken. I was definitely a lad, and the term boyband didn’t sit well with me at all. Before I joined 5ive, I was writing songs at home. I had an A in GCSE music, but was absent for all my other exams. I joined thinking it was a way to get into the industry, but we ended up getting really big. There was no turning back.

I had a very humble childhood living in a council house. When I joined 5ive, we used to get paid £100 a week – it felt like winning the lottery. It all got spent on alcohol. Being bad was part of our marketing – every time we were in the tabloids, we’d panic, but Simon Cowell would say: “Perfect! It’s going great!”

I found it hard being away from my family. I was only 15 when I left, so I used to cry quite a bit. I was a child, and felt totally overwhelmed. I’d do signings in shops and could barely look up at the fans. The boys knew I was struggling. They were supportive of me, but I had a bit of a breakdown. Eventually, I started to go to counselling and they suggested I shouldn’t go back to the group. The record company told the press I had glandular fever and ended up using a cardboard cutout of me for the Let’s Dance video. After that the band split up.

We’re not as boisterous as we were the first time around. We’re men. Dads. Still like a good drink, though – only now we know when to go to bed.

This shot was done by a photographer who did a lot of our shoots; he’d shut one eye to take the photo, and the other one would look big and weird. I remember him on a ladder above us, his bulbous eye looming over us.

I always wanted spiky hair, but knew I’d never get away with it unless I was a pop star because it’s a bit out there. As soon as I got into 5ive, I said to management: “I know exactly the hairstyle I want.” They said no, but I managed to persuade them. I thought: this is it! I’ve nailed it!

One time I was spiking my hair up in a hotel bathroom before we went to record We Will Rock You. I got Abz to come in and see if it was looking OK at the back. He’d been smoking a cigar in the bedroom and left it unattended. When we turned around, the whole room was ablaze. Using wet towels over our heads, we crawled out, and just as we were about to escape, Abz goes: “No, man, my Timberland boots!” I went: “Leave your boots! It’s not worth it!” We got treated for minor burns and smoke inhalation. Everyone thought it was really funny, but it was actually quite traumatic.

The record label wanted a boyband with a bit of an edge, but ours was pretty sharp. We were all close, but had so much so young, it was always going to end badly. One time I tried to leave the group after a fight with J. In a meeting with management, I told them: “I’m not myself, there’s something wrong. I want out.” Instead of trying to get help for me, they said I couldn’t leave, so I lost it. I pinned Richard [Griffiths, the band’s manager] up against the wall, and Simon Cowell was trying to fight me off him. I stayed in the group a bit longer, but it was tough.

For his own reasons, J didn’t want to rejoin the group, and I’ve got nothing against him. Before the Big Reunion, we went for a pint and I said: “I’m bigger than you now – I’m not the little boy you bullied before.” We had a really open, good chat as men, and I respect his decision to step away. About eight years ago, Abz tweeted saying he’d left 5ive too. I was sad he couldn’t even pick up the phone and tell me. We haven’t spoken since.

Because of the hurt and the pain from my time in 5ive, I never thought I’d be able to sing the songs again. Before the Big Reunion I was doing solo gigs and covering tracks like Sex on Fire. One day my wife, Kerry, said, “Sing Keep on Moving”. I was reluctant, but did it. The crowd went wild. I realised, what am I shying away from? These songs are incredible. I turned my negativity into something positive, and for that I’m proud.

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