Westlife singer Mark Feehily has paid tribute to Stephen Gately for helping him find the courage to come out.

Gately, who died in October, came out in 1999 during his time with Boyzone. He was the first boyband member to announce he was gay.

Feehily announced he was with Kevin McDaid in 2005 after seven years of hiding his sexuality in the public eye. The couple are still together.

He said: “Stephen was extremely brave. He was the first member of a boyband to come out, and, in hindsight, it helped me and probably lots of other gay lads to understand their sexuality and come out.

“Every time a celebrity who is admired by millions of people comes out, it’s one more blow to any negative stereotype out there.”

In an interview with the Sun this week, Feehily said being in the closet was a “dark” time for him.

He said: “I didn’t tell the guys when I was 18 or 16 or anything. It took me a long time to sort everything out in my own mind before I was open to anyone about it.

“I just shoved it all down and ignored my feelings and paused, closing the door and leaving it.”

“It wasn’t hiding a secret from the guys or the public. I didn’t have any love life or relationship or sex life at all.

“That’s why things went so dark for me. It was like a ticking time bomb but now I am so happy.”