By REBECCA HARDY
'We know now we can just be men': From left: Westlife members Nicky Byrne, Shane Filan, Mark Feehily and Kian Egan
The lads from Westlife would sooner stick pins in their eyes than turn the clock back 12 years. Those early years, says Shane Filan, were 'fecking horrendous.' Manager Louis Walsh was forever on their backs.
There were fights, rivalries and days of deep, dark despair. Not to mention guilt over the sacking of early band members who were their best friends. 'I know the success story seemed to speak for itself,' says Nicky Byrne.
'We were riding the crest of the wave in terms of income and lifestyle. But probably only Take That and Boyzone can ever know what it was really like.
'Louis was always on at you. The first thing he'd say when I walked in the room was: "Your teeth are fecking terrible." What did he want me to do? They were my teeth. I remember saying once: "Your teeth are fecking horrible, too."
He said: "I know but I'm not on TV." I went and got a brace.' Kian Egan chips in: 'We lived in fear of Louis. He was like: "You're done. I'm going to kick you out of the band. I'm going to put you on the next plane home. Only four people can fit in a taxi, not five."'
Shane picks up the thread, breaking into a rather brilliant impression of the X Factor judge: '"Shane, you don't look great. Your hair's terrible. You look fat. Watch yourself, there are only three Bee Gees."
'One Direction have got it all to come': The group pose with the X Factor boyband after performng on last week's results show
'We were definitely scared of him. He was a very powerful man - only a tenth as powerful as he is now - but the best manager in the world for us.'
In truth, he was. In little more than a decade, Louis, along with Simon Cowell, who signed them to his Sony BMG record label, made the boys rich beyond their wildest dreams, with 14 number one hit singles and 44 million record sales worldwide.
Last Sunday, they appeared with Take That and JLS on The X Factor, as Cowell's last remaining act (boy band One Direction) fought to stay in the competition.
'One Direction have got it all to come,' says Nicky. 'When we look back over Westlife, I'm sure there's a movie in there somewhere.'
'We were definitely scared of him': The boys with former manager Louis Walsh
Indeed, but not the happy, clappy version that the music industry has long had us believe. I meet the members of Westlife in a swanky London hotel, where they're sprawled comfortably in squishy armchairs, revealing, with astonishing honesty, the truth about their success - and their true feelings about former band member Brian McFadden - for the first time.
The boys, you see, aren't really boys anymore. They're into their 30s now with wives (Nicky, Shane and Kian are married), partners (Mark Feehily, who came out as gay five years ago, lives with his long-term partner Kevin McDaid) and children (Nicky and Shane are parents). Time enough to tell it the way it was.
'We've always had this squeaky clean image,' says Nicky. 'At the start, we were put in these almost feminine white outfits and given cheesy dance routines, but that's not who we were. Eventually you have to say: "This isn't the way I want to do this. That's not the song I want to sing."
'We're glad he left': Former Westlife member Brian McFadden with his fiancee Delta Goodrem
'We know now we can just be men. That's a lot more honest. Things like Mark coming out make you realise you have to be. We lost dads.' He gestures to Kian who, like Nicky, lost his father last year.
'You realise that life is too short. When my dad died, it was time to grow up and be a man. Having kids changes you too.'
Kian continues: 'We used to slag each other off. It became abusive to the point where people were hurt. Him over there,' he nods at Mark. 'We used to call him fat lips.
'Because he was quiet, we used to pick on him even more. We called him weirdo and used to say: "Go on off to your closet, hang upside down and read your book."
'We went through a huge roll of emotions with each other. We all got upset. We were all in arguments over silly things like who sat in that seat first, and then it would snowball into: "You're fat. You're this or you're that."'
Mark nods: 'Once or twice a week, the public would see us for a few minutes in our perfectly preened and tailored outfits with our perfect hair and make-up, singing this lovely, pure love song that was not urban and not rock. So we'd show this happy, public face, but there's another you when you're in the hotel room.
'Back then, all I wanted to do was go home for a long, long time. It wasn't all bad, but there were a lot of feelings that started to creep into my mind. I didn't want to be there getting picked apart by everyone.
'My weight's always fluctuated from chubby to above normal and I didn't like my bad points being pointed out. I didn't think anyone had the right. There was a time I was very unbalanced.
'I'm involved in charities in Ireland now. One is called Aware and it is based around suicide, particularly in young kids. It's something that's very close to my heart. I'm not saying I ever planned anything, but you go to quite a deep, dark place and there's no one to turn to.
'I'm lucky. I'm living proof it's better to not choose [suicide], and fight your way through it. But it wasn't easy. I buried my feelings of unhappiness deep inside myself.
'We were Westlife, the most famous band in the world, probably, bar America. I couldn't go home. We were the poster children for the big dream coming true.'
Mark was one of the six young lads from Sligo, western Ireland, who dreamed of pop success. For him, he says, it was all about music. He never wanted to be famous. Shane did. 'I wanted the applause, the admiration,' he says.
'I didn't want to just be a pop star. I wanted to be the biggest pop star on the planet.' As did Kian. He was one of seven children and says music was his life. He, Shane and Mark, together with three other local Sligo lads (Derrick Lacey, Graham Keighron and Michael Garrett) put a CD together and sent it to Louis.
Saturday, 20 November 2010
By REBECCA HARDY