Tuesday 22 May 2018

'The kids of today have no idea who we are' - Keith Duffy and Brian McFadden hit the road

Boyzone's Keith Duffy and Westlife's Brian McFadden relive their boyband days with the Boyzlife tour

Keith Duffy and Brian McFadden
Keith Duffy and Brian McFadden

Anne Marie Scanlon

Having been in the United States for the rise and heyday of Irish boy bands, Boyzone and Westlife, my knowledge of the scene is limited to Laddz, the fictional group that appear in many of Marian Keyes's novels.

The real-life lads, Brian McFadden (Westlife) and Keith Duffy (Boyzone), have never heard of their fictional counterparts. But, Brian eagerly informs me, Westlife got a namecheck in Cecelia Ahern's first book. "That's because of Nicky," McFadden explains to Keith Duffy who rolls his eyes, no doubt well aware that Ahern's older sister is married to Westlife member Nicky Byrne.

We're meeting to discuss their upcoming tour as Boyzlife, where they sing each other's songs and tell stories. After their boy band heyday, McFadden became infamous for his very public love life (he was married to singer Kerry Katona, engaged to singer Delta Goodrem and married to model Vogue Williams).

Ireland is a very small country and I'd heard from more than one source that Brian, contrary to his public image, is really a "lovely guy". I found it hard to credit that someone who regularly generates such bad press could be that nice, but within minutes of meeting him, it all makes sense. Brian is a lovely guy, and for someone who has been in the glare of the spotlight for almost two decades, he's strangely guileless. He's very ordinary, down-to-earth and unguarded.

When discussing the current state of pop music, Brian declares "everything that has come out in the last 10 years is pretty s**t. Everything apart from Ed Sheeran and Adele." Both men blame X Factor - where their former manager Louis Walsh is one of the judges.

While Duffy looks like a celebrity - white teeth, trim, leather jacket and still devilishly handsome, McFadden, on the other hand, looks like a dad you'd meet on the primary school run. Although his two daughters are both in their teens, the singer is still quite baby-faced despite, as he says himself, having "more skin and less hair".

I ask him if he thinks the negative coverage of his romantic life impacted on his career - his first solo album, Irish Son, in 2004 was a critical and commercial success yet his subsequent career failed to live up to that early promise.

"Yes," McFadden replies honestly, "it wasn't by choice! My first solo single was the second biggest-selling single in Europe in 2004 and it was all going well until the bad press… The only thing I can say is that I have a great divorce lawyer and it's very comforting to know that my next one will be free," he continues, joking, "every third one is free!"

So are you planning on marrying again, I ask him. (McFadden is currently living in Rochdale with his girlfriend, Danielle Parkinson). Duffy saves him from the awkward question by intervening with "Sure, he introduces his new girlfriend to everyone as 'my future ex-wife'."

Next year Boyzone will mark their 25th anniversary in showbiz. McFadden will be joining the four remaining members of the original line-up (Stephen Gately passed away suddenly in 2009) for the anniversary tour. It's also a quarter of a century since their infamous debut appearance on The Late Late Show. (The video is still very popular on YouTube). "It's great, isn't it," McFadden volunteers, laughing, (easy for him to say as he's not in it). "We show that on a big screen at our (Boyzlife) show - that's where it all began."

"It was cringeworthy," Duffy adds with good humour.

Trying to interview Duffy and McFadden together is like trying to nail jelly to a wall. However, they're great company - the conversation is ceaseless, littered with stories and anecdotes, many at their own expense.

"The kids of today have no idea who we are," Duffy tells me without any hint of resentment. "It's quite bizarre when you've lived with being well known, a familiar face, for a long time."

Duffy goes on to give me an example that has all three of us laughing. "We were flying out of Dublin airport a few weeks ago," he says. "Brian throws me a bottle of water and says 'here, get me that, dad'. I say 'No problem, son'."

At this point, one of the cast of reality show Geordie Shore approached Duffy and asked if he really was McFadden's father. "I said, 'yes, I had him young'. And she says, "you look great, you do!" I went over to Brian and his girlfriend and said 'she actually believed I was his bleedin' dad'."

Later at the baggage carousel at arrivals, various people started asking for selfies and autographs. The Geordie Shore cast member approached them again and announced, "I know you're not his dad, you're from Westlife and you're from Boyzone." The young reality 'star' was surprised that people weren't asking her for autographs and photos and had to enquire who the two men getting all the attention were. "Then she Googled us," McFadden adds, laughing, "and she showed us her phone with the search results!"

McFadden tells me that the Boyzlife audiences are made up of 45pc Boyzone fans, 45pc Westlife fans and the remaining 10pc are Coronation Street devotees who have come to see Duffy's character Ciaran McCarthy in real life. (Duffy appeared on the long-running soap from 2002-2005 and again from 2010-2011, and tells me that he would be happy to return to the famous cobbled street if he ever has time.)

"When you say Coronation Street, they all go crazy," McFadden explains, while Duffy tells me that Larry Mullen once said: "I loved you in Corrie."

Both men are huge fans of U2, Duffy especially. He still can't quite believe that he knows his favourite band in real life. When The Edge once said hello to him at a U2 gig, he was in shock at one of his heroes knowing his name, only to be told that The Edge's daughters had posters of him plastered over their bedroom walls.

"You don't think rock stars live like (the rest of) us," McFadden says. He's got his Vape going, they're both having a mid-afternoon vodka and about to do a TV interview - it sure looks like rock 'n' roll to me.

Boyzlife are touring the UK in December. Tickets and information www.boyzlifetour.com

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