EVEN with three platinum albums to their name, the four boys from Blue were thrilled to get a personal invite to Milan from “big fan” Donatella Versace.
The multi-millionaire designer kitted them all out in her flash suits, paid for their plane tickets and booked them front row seats for her catwalk show.
And after the models had sashayed away and the flashbulbs dimmed, Donatella regally approached her special guests — only to ignore their outstretched hands, glare with contempt and turn on her heels.
Antony Costa turned to bandmate Simon Webbe to mutter, “That was a bit rude, I thought she liked us.”
The reason for her bizarre behaviour is now revealed in Blue: All Rise, the band’s hilarious biography, which is out on October 19.
Antony explains: “It turned out Donatella was furious, thinking she’d been stood up by her favourite British band after laying on plane tickets and all her best clothes. Apparently, she’d always been a massive fan of Blur.”
The boys are now releasing a tell-all anecdotal book about their time in the industryAs their anecdote-packed book reveals, this was not the biggest crash-landing for their growing egos.
Duncan James, Lee Ryan, Antony and Simon, put together by manager Daniel Glatman, were the golden boys of pop in the early Noughties.
They were the hapless band, loved as much for their daft antics as their music — which saw them rack up 16million record sales, two Brit awards and three No1 singles.
Fame also gave them access to a world of private jets, serious amounts of drugs and sex on tap.
Lee, 34, who was named The Sun’s Bizarre column Shagger of the Year two years running, said of his past: “I dived in that pot, swam around in it and took a big, happy bite.”
Even Duncan, 39, who later came out as gay, admitted: “I had more than my share of beautiful women on my arm back in those days.”
They had staff to buy their underpants, pay for their drinks and Lee even had a Porsche with L-plates on his drive, bought before he’d passed his driving test.
But it was the drugs that tipped Duncan and Lee over the edge.
Duncan who “was stoned — day in, day out”, was once given chocolate laced with magic mushrooms by a crew member on one of his birthdays.
He said: “He kept saying, ‘Just one square.’ Well, within minutes I’d had two squares and Lee had eaten the rest. Trying desperately to find a spot where we wouldn’t be recognised, we ended up on a roundabout in the middle of a main road.
“It felt like days we were sitting on that roundabout, although it was probably 20 minutes.”
In their heyday Blue met Michael Jackson, performed with Stevie Wonder and were pals with Elton John. Though they weren’t always aware of just how famous people around them were.
On watching a “sweet, smiley fellow” speak at a concert with Elton in South Africa, Lee whispered to the person next to him, “Who is that?”
“Archbishop Desmond Tutu,” came the reply.
Nor did Lee always gel with the big names he encountered. Once while drunk at a hotel in Newcastle he let off a fire extinguisher and aimed it at other guests.
He said: “I sprayed them all from the fourth floor. Down below, Alan Shearer got soaked. Dale Winton was running for cover.”
And during a charity event at No10 he played a prank on the then PM’s wife Cherie Blair, who accepted his offer of chewing gum.
He said: “I hadn’t mentioned it was trick chewing gum. Half an hour later she came back, her mouth, her lips, even her teeth, all bright blue.”
As their fame and arrogance grew Lee insisted on having his own dressing room, then chose to go solo — after a tarot card reading.
Blue split up in 2004, but going solo brought its own stresses and humiliations for the four.
Duncan who got a job hosting the National Lottery Live on BBC1, recalled: “What follows is arguably the most embarrassing incident of my life. I farted and, somehow, was unable to stop following through.
“So I stood there, a boyband star turned prime-time TV entertainer gazing out at the country’s biggest audience, eating their dinners, and I’m having a panic attack, secretly gay, taking anti-depressants to cope with stress and I have just soiled my underpants, live on air.”
Life was getting tough for them all but somehow the lads, still looked on with affection, all muddled through.
Despite a spell in theatre and appearing on I’m A Celebrity . . . Get Me Out Of Here! in 2005, Antony was unable to pay his mounting bills.
His dream home in Hertfordshire was eventually repossessed because he couldn’t afford his £7,000-a-month mortgage and the tax man hit him with a £600,000 demand.
Antony, 36, said: “So I moved to my new home, also known as my Uncle’s George’s sofa. The truth was I couldn’t buy a bus ticket. Everything was gone.”
Similarly, Lee was left skint by a bad record deal and a tax avoidance scheme gone wrong.
He said: “I was sleeping in Duncan’s attic in Ealing. By the time the offer of Celebrity Big Brother arrived, I was up in the attic like Quasimodo, worrying about the future and drowning all my sorrows in a serious amount of alcohol.”
On CBB in 2014 he tried to bed models Casey Batchelor and Jasmine Waltz.
But the public backlash over his love rat performance led to him drowning his sorrows, culminating in his arrest for drink driving and suspected possession of cocaine.
He unleashed a foul-mouthed volley of abuse at the arresting officers, shouting: “F*** off, f*** you, you f****** c***, f*** off!”
The Sun exclusively revealed that hours after being detained Lee threw a tantrum and peed “all over” his cell, to the disgust of cops.
He says in the book: “The truth is, I was hoping they would beat me up so I may well have been taunting them to fight me.”
Lee decided to clean up his act and went to rehab. But by now the Blue boys were something of a joke.
He recalled: “I was at an airport with the boys. I was trying to hide it with big clothes, but a woman came up to me just to say ‘You’re a lot fatter in real life, aren’t you?’”
16 YEARS OF HITS… AND MISSES
- March 30 1978: Simon Webbe born in Moss Side, Manchester. Raised in Birmingham by his mum.
- April 7 1978: Duncan James born in Salisbury, Wilts. His dad walked out when he was a baby.
- June 23 1981: Antony Costa born in Barnet, North London. His dad is Greek Cypriot, his mum Jewish.
- June 17 1983: Lee Ryan born in Chatham, Kent. Raised largely by his hairdresser mum.
- May 1999: Antony, 17, and Lee, 15, meet while auditioning for a boyband being put together by Simon Cowell. The group never takes off.
- 2000: Lee, Antony and his pal Duncan are put together as Blue by manager Daniel Glatman – Lee’s flatmate Simon joins later.
- May 2001: Their first single, All Rise, reaches No4.
- August 2001: Follow-up Too Close tops the charts.
- October 2001: A month after the 9/11 terror attack, Lee sparks a backlash after telling The Sun: “This New York thing is being blown out of proportion.”
- December 2001: Debut album All Rise, pictured above, makes it to No1.
- October 2002: Second album, One Love, is No1.
- September 2003: Third album Guilty hits No1.
- January 2004: Antony starts dating topless model Jordan.
- November 2004: Their Best Of Blue compilation album peaks at No2, and the band announce a hiatus to pursue solo work.
- November 2005: Simon’s debut album, Sanctuary, sells more than 600,000 copies. Antony appears on I’m A Celebrity.
- February 2006: Antony’s only solo single, Do You Ever Think Of Me, peaks at No19. June: Duncan’s debut single, Sooner Or Later, fails to make the Top 30.
- April 2009: Blue announce they have reunited.
- May 2011: Finish 11th in the Eurovision Song Contest in Dusseldorf with the song I Can.
- January 2013: The band star in the ITV reality show The Big Reunion.
- August 2016: Duncan joins Hollyoaks as policeman Ryan Knight.
- February 2017: Duncan is devastated by the death of best pal Tara Palmer-Tomkinson.
- April 2017: Lee joins EastEnders as Woody.
Simon, 39, had most solo success but, by 2007 he was partying six days a week. And he was not immune to the odd gaffe.
After Blue reunited in 2009 he suffered a major Borat moment in Kazakhstan.
He said: “I was being really aggressive, walking around without my shirt on asking people for fights. Security called our manager at 6am after they found me on the floor of the bar, ready to fight the world.
“The most frightening thing was I couldn’t remember one moment of it. I’d had so much to drink I’d had a blackout.”
Thankfully, he was sobered up by a stint on Strictly.
Thankfully, these days the band have calmed down considerably.
Duncan concludes: “Despite all the mayhem, the madness, the money problems that have come with it, I think we’re incredibly grateful.”
- BLUE: ALL RISE: Our Story by Antony Costa, Duncan James, Lee Ryan and Simon Webbe, with Caroline Frost published by HQ on October 19 at £18.99.