Wednesday 21 November 2018

Westlife: A long goodbye for the boyband that played for the Pope

The remaining members after Brian McFadden's departure in 2004
The remaining members after Brian McFadden's departure in 2004
Westlife's Nicky Byrne, Mark Feehily, Shane Filan and Kian Egan at the O2 in Dublin in April
The lads with Will Smith at the Nobel awards in Norway in 2009
The group with their partners at the Meteor awards in Dublin in 2008
Westlife meeting Queen Elizabeth with original member Brian McFadden in 1999

Ella Pickover

WESTLIFE were one of the hottest boy bands in the business, breaking numerous chart records on their climb up the pop ladder.

And they intend to bow out while they are on top with one last album and a farewell tour next year.

During their career they racked up 44 million record sales, sung with diva Mariah Carey and even performed for the Pope.

The Irish group started life as a threesome, with Shane Filan, Mark Feehily and Kian Egan performing pop covers during intervals in theatre productions in their hometown of Sligo.

Their big break came when they were spotted by X Factor judge - then Boyzone manager - Louis Walsh, who managed to land them a gig supporting the Backstreet Boys in Dublin.

In the audience was singer Ronan Keating, who felt that while the band was special they needed something else. Two more members were sought and when Bryan McFadden and Nicky Byrne joined, the group was born.

Prior to a support tour with Boyzone, the group was called Westside, a name which Walsh, who managed the band for many years, had apparently seen written on the side of a bin.

They then took part in the annual Smash Hits Roadshow, and were handed the best new act award at the Smash Hits Poll Winners Party.

But as a result of legal wrangles over the group's name they were renamed Westlife and released first single Swear It Again in 1999 with instant success.

The song leapt to the top of the charts and the band's next six releases all reached the number one spot, making them the first band to have their first seven consecutive singles reach number one.

Tracks If I Let You Go, Flying Without Wings, double sided single I Have A Dream and Seasons In The Sun, Fool Again, their duet with Carey on the Phil Collins' classic Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now) and My Love all secured the number one spot in the UK charts.

In 2000, they won a head-to-head chart battle with the Spice Girls, with Westlife's Coast To Coast triumphing. But there was disappointment when What Makes A Man failed to take the Christmas number one - held off by Bob The Builder.

They scored a huge hit in March 2001 with a cover of Billy Joel's Uptown Girl, released in aid of Comic Relief. The song sold 750,000 copies and was their biggest selling single.

Later that year they were asked to give a private performance for Pope John Paul II in the Vatican because of the late Pontiff's admiration for their chart-topping music.

In 2004, McFadden broke the hearts of fans by announcing that he was leaving the band. But the group carried on successfully as a quartet, and had nine top 10 hits since his departure.

McFadden, who at the time was married to Kerry Katona, said he wanted to split from the band to spend more time with his family, but later that year his marriage broke down and he was divorced in 2006. He has since had an engagement to Australian singer and actress Delta Goodrem, which was called off earlier this year.

Singer Feehily won admiration for announcing he was gay in 2005 while Byrne is married to former Irish premier Bertie Ahern's daughter Georgina and Egan is married to former Hollyoaks star Jodi Albert, who is expecting their first child.

In 2008, the band marked their 10th anniversary with a concert in Croke Park, Dublin, attended by more than 83,000 fans.

They have released 10 albums - are due to release a greatest hits compilation in November - and in the UK alone, they have sold 11 million albums and six million singles with 26 top 10 hits.

They gained 14 number one singles, the third-highest total in UK history tying with Cliff Richard and trailing behind only Elvis Presley and The Beatles.

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