Louis Walsh has paid a glowing tribute to his friend and Boyzone star Stephen Gately.

The X Factor judge said he was still in shock over the singer’s death at the weekend, while the bandmates were devastated.

“We’re all in shock, nobody can believe it, the guys, me, nobody – we are in shock,” said Louis, who put Boyzone together in the mid-1990s.

The pop guru was with Gately and the rest of the band last week in London and said he’d never seen the 33-year-old in better health or better form.

“The boys are devastated. It’s like they have lost their very, very best friend, and me too,” Louis said.

He continued: “Of all the people I’ve worked with I don’t think anybody thanked me as much as Stephen. He used to always say to me ‘if I wasn’t in Boyzone I don’t know where I’d be today, thank you’. A great, great, great professional kid.”

Louis recalled how Gately phoned him almost every Saturday night when the band first made it big, worried newspapers would out him for being gay.

“He lived in fear. He lived in absolute fear of the media and the media outed him in the end but then it was a fantastic reaction. There was no negativity,” he told RTE. “He loved to go out and party and have a good time but he was very, very good living. He was a one off.”

An X Factor spokeswoman said Louis is continuing to mentor his remaining acts despite his grief and is intending to be back on Saturday.

Gately was found dead on Saturday in his apartment in Port Andratx, on the island of Majorca. A court official said a post mortem had established he died of natural causes.