Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Keating takes a beating at the box office

Keating takes a beating at the box office

Keating takes a beating at the box office

Irish pop singer Ronan Keating, is set to make history when he performs at

Olympic Stadium on May 9 as the first major international popstar to perform in

Cambodia. But despite massive marketing efforts, ticket sales have been

sluggish, raising concerns that "the nicest guy in pop," will be singing to

empty seats.

The former Boyzone frontman, with more than 20 hit singles

to his name, will now sing to a scaled-back audience of 7,000 inside an

undercover arena instead of in the full stadium, which has a capacity of


Glen Felgate, general manager of local television network and

concert organizer CTN, claimed this was in order to avoid interruption from the

encroaching rainy season.

"The initial plan was to do an outdoor

concert, but because of the potentially very heavy rains that could be a risk,"

Felgate said.

Keating's concert is part of an Asian Tour, which includes

performances in Bangkok and Taipei. Tickets to the event are priced at $15, $25

and $65 - slightly cheaper than the Bangkok concert where tickets are priced

from $30-90 - but still pricey in a country where civil servants make an average

of $35 a month and a large proportion of the population live on less than $1 a


The event's organizers predicted tickets would sell out within days,

but less than a third of the 7,000 tickets were sold nearly month after they

became available on April 12. Felgate remained confident the show would sell


"Based on past experience, people seem to buy late. They leave it

right up to the event," he said on May 3, adding that the telephone ticketing

hotline was receiving an average of 200 calls each day.

But the lack of

sales has prompted organizers to open a ticket booth at the stadium itself and

intensify their marketing efforts. Over the last week, a number of Phnom Penh's

university campuses have had mini-vans - plastered with Ronan posters and armed

with loud speakers playing his hits - stationed nearby in an attempt to bolster


Felgate said Cambodians are accustomed to free concerts and will

need to get used to the idea of paying for entertainment.

"It's the only

way to get Cambodia onto the tour circuit," he said. "Because concerts do


Felgate said local singer Lida, who stars on the reality TV-show

"Girl Band Quest" - a Cambodian version of the popular "American Idol" talent

contest - will open the show.

Keating's performance is in line with

previous CTN promotions, such as Danish band Michael Learns to Rock's

performance in Phnom Penh in 2005. Hugely popular in Asia, the band's single

"Take me to your heart," was a hit in Cambodia and spawned local Khmer cover


But Keating's celebrity is of a far greater scale - at least in

the west.

Boyzone was formed in 1993, with five members chosen from

hundreds of hopefuls and became one of the UK's most successful "Boy Bands,"

with 16 top five singles and 15 million albums sold worldwide.


was plucked from his job as a shoe assistant and thrust into celebrity life, but

the devout Catholic managed to maintain a clean cut image in the UK tabloid

press, and was often called "the nicest man in pop."

In 2005, Keating was

appointed as a UN Goodwill Ambassador and he has worked as an ambassador for

Christian Aid.

Felgate said Keating would be visiting some local charity

organizations in Phnom Penh on his whistle stop visit, mirroring the efforts of

other Western celebrity emissaries on their trips to the


Keating, 30, has recently tried to toughen his image, confessing

last year to the "rock'n roll" lifestyle he led when touring with


"We weren't throwing TVs out of windows but we'd be up all hours

drinking every night. Next morning we'd get on the plane drunk," he told the

Daily Mail in June 2006.

In the same interview Keating also denied

speculation that he was still a virgin when he married, and revealed that he had

tried marijuana in Holland.

"I think people would be shocked if they

heard Ronan Keating took drugs," he said. "But between you and me, I've tried it


Keating launched his solo career in 1999 and his eponymous debut

album went on to sell 4.4 million copies worldwide.

His latest album

"Bring You Home," released last year, entered the UK album charts at number


But Keating seems little known in Cambodia, despite marketing

efforts by Mobitel, who have had his 2002 hit song "If Tomorrow Never Comes"

available for download as a ring tone.

Kunthea Yem, 23, a waitress who

earns about $60 per month, is a huge fan of the song and has almost mastered the

chorus in her broken English. But when asked who the singer was she had no idea

- nor did she know Keating was about to play in Phnom Penh.

"I remember

someone said an international singer was coming here," she said, as the song

crackled out of her mobile phone. "Runarn Keytarn? No, I don't know him. Anyway,

I guess the concert will be too expensive."


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