For millions of devoted Westlife fans the wait is almost over.
Following a reunion tour earlier this year that sold out in just six minutes, the boys’ hugely anticipated new album Spectrum has a release date of November 15.
And with single Hello My Love soaring to the top of the charts in January, plus more soon-to-be released tracks written by James Bay and self-confessed Westlife fan Ed Sheeran, expectations are high.
Whether you love ‘em or think they’re a tad cheesy, more than two decades on from the release of their first single Swear It Again the band’s popularity has undoubtedly endured.
With 55 million records sold worldwide, they remain the only band to have their first seven singles enter the UK charts at No.1. Despite their successes, they have also faced their fair share of challenges, including Brian McFadden’s departure in 2004 and a seven-year hiatus when it looked like they’d never reunite.
We sat down with the boys to hear all about their split, the reunion, life on the road again and juggling the band with fatherhood…
Shane Filan, 40
When the band split in 2012, was a reunion always part of the plan?
No, definitely not. After our last gig at Croke Park [Dublin, in June 2012] that was it, we were done. We genuinely weren’t enjoying it any more. It’s only in the last couple of years that I started to really miss the other guys and performing together enough to want to do it all over again.
Are you doing anything differently this time around?
Before, we worked too much, didn’t have enough time off, didn’t see our families enough, so we burnt out and were sick of Westlife. This time family comes first – we have nine children between us, with one on the way. If we’re on the road, we’re never away longer than 10 days before we have a break. In the future I don’t want my kids [Nicole, 14, Patrick, 10, and Shane, nine] to say: “You were always working, Dad.”
You’ve had a successful solo career, but why didn’t you go down the reality TV route like Kian and Nicky?
I was offered every show two or three times, but it was never for me. All I’ve ever wanted to do is sing and that didn’t change after the band split. Now Mark and I are writing together, which is brilliant. Kian and Nicky always loved reality shows, but it never appealed to me.
Is there still an appetite for bands like Westlife?
I think there will always be a demand for bands that make good music. So much has changed since we’ve been away, though, and our new songs need to fit into this new scene. If we released Flying Without Wings or Swear It Again now, they wouldn’t get played on the radio. These days it’s songs with tempo that get airtime, which is why Hello My Love was such a massive hit for us.
What do you say to criticism that this reunion is just about cashing in?
If that was the case we could have done it years ago. We’ve been asked so many times. But it never felt right – we all only wanted to do it for the right reasons. If it was just about the money, we could have done a nostalgia tour then disappeared again. We wouldn’t have signed a new deal and recorded an album, with plans to tour again.
You and wife Gillian were declared bankrupt in 2012 and 2018 respectively. After such a difficult time, does 2019 feel like a new chapter for you both?
I feel like now it’s time to enjoy life – both family and band life. Everything feels more special this time around. Getting to share it all with Gillian and the kids is incredible.
Nicky Byrne, 40
Why did you decide to go back?
My dad died 10 years ago and something I inherited from him was his work ethic. I’m too young to sit about doing nothing. Also, my 12-year-old sons Rocco and Jay have only vague memories of me performing last time around and my daughter Gia, five, has never known me as a pop star, so I wanted them to see this side of me.
The band has always managed to maintain a squeaky-clean image. Are you just better than other acts at hiding bad behaviour?
We all loved a drink, but falling around a hotel bar after one too many was about as scandalous as it got. I’ve never taken drugs or even smoked a cigarette. Now with so many children between us there are fewer late nights and the beers on the backstage rider have been replaced with Percy Pigs!
Why isn’t Brian part of the band’s reunion?
We tried everything to keep Brian as part of the band in 2004, but he walked away and we s**t ourselves. We realised if we wanted Westlife to survive, we needed to pull together. Him leaving really galvanised us and we became something different. Brian wouldn’t know this band if he stepped back into it because this isn’t the band he left. I wish him all the best, but I don’t know him any more.
As a band, you’ve never been seen as cool. Does it bother you?
When I was younger it definitely did. I was always a cool guy, then I found myself dressed in a black suit singing Mandy and people were slagging me off! Now I don’t care so much. As the years went by we became boring. We weren’t picking the records ourselves – Simon Cowell was doing it, but he’d lost confidence in us and didn’t know how to pick a hit for us. We’d spend months making original music then he’d insist we do a cover. It would be a big hit but wasn’t necessarily what we wanted to sing.
What’s next for Westlife?
I look at Take That as an example of how a band can come back from a split and carry on for years with credibility. I think we can keep Westlife in our lives forever this time.
What do you make of Brian McFadden tweeting last year that ego is destroying the potential for a five-man Westlife reunion?
That’s completely untrue. We started as a five-piece and five years in he decided he didn’t want to do it any more. We went on for eight more years and became a different band, and that’s the one you see today.
Do you sing more lead vocals on the new album?
Definitely. I’m much more confident. In the past we were told Mark and Shane sang the lead parts and that’s just the way it was. Now I’ve had a successful solo album and commanded an audience of 20,000 people on my own, you’re definitely going to hear more from me.
You’ve got three boys – Koa, seven, Zekey, four, and Cobi, 23 months. Any plans for another, or are you and wife (former Hollyoaks actress Jodi Albert) done?
Not right now. It would be crazy to have a fourth when I’m back on the road and working so much again, but it’s definitely a possibility. I love the idea of having a little girl after three sons – it’s hard to think of never getting to walk a daughter down the aisle on her wedding day. But I also believe you get the babies you’re meant to get, so if we did have another, as long as it was healthy, I’d be happy.
How did you feel when the band split in 2012?
I was the one fighting to keep it going, more than anyone else. One night, we were drunk in a taxi after a night out and I blurted out: “This is stupid, lads, I really think we’re going to miss this.” You could have heard a pin drop! But they were right – we had to end on a high rather than see it all dwindle away.
Does it feel different now?
I feel like we’re getting to live the dream a second time around, but this time we’re in control. In the early years there was a lot of fear instilled in us, that if we didn’t do what we were told and keep going it would all fall apart. In the end, we broke. This time we’re making the decisions and it feels great.
Mark Feehily, 39
Your first baby is due later this year – congrats! How are you feeling about becoming a dad with fiancé Cailean?
It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. It’s something I’ve wanted for years, I’ve always been a broody guy, but now everything is so great in my personal life and my career, the time feels right. It hasn’t been a knee-jerk reaction, we’ve been researching the surrogacy process for the last three years.
How involved are you with the woman carrying the baby?
Fully involved. This is something she has wanted to do all her life. It’s as far from a cold, hard commercial transaction as you can get. Cailean and I have been at scans and appointments with her, and when we haven’t been able to be there in person, we’ve Skyped in.
Do you know who the biological father is?
For now we’re keeping that private. I want to wait until we feel comfortable sharing some parts of this journey. The baby’s not even here yet and I’m blown away by how protective I feel of it. Just posting a scan on Instagram to announce the pregnancy felt like a huge step.
You haven’t always been in such a good place, have you?
I’ve had ups and downs in my life, but Cailean has been such a positive influence. In the past I was always searching – for love, a new career after Westlife ended… I never felt fulfilled. Now I’ve found everything I was looking for. I used to be out every night, now I’m happiest at home in Sligo with a glass of red wine and a box set. I wish I could tell my 14-year-old self how content I am now with who I am as a person, my sexuality and the life I’ve built for myself.
What brought you back to the band?
The day after our final gig I got on a plane to America with no idea when I was coming back. I desperately needed to get away and push a reset button in my head. It took a long time, but eventually I missed it – the boys, the crowds, singing my first line in Flying Without Wings and hearing thousands of people lose their minds. I wanted all that again.
Source: The Sun, Eimear O’Hagan