Croke Park: Westlife fans out in force to say farewell
WESTLIFE started what they called "the biggest weekend of our lives" last night with the first of two farewell shows in Croke Park.
The concert in front of 85,000 screaming fans opened in dramatic fashion with four effigies of the band members bursting in flames, before the real Westlife appeared to sing opening number 'What About Love'.
Lead singer Shane Filan was choking back tears from second song 'What Makes A Man' as his band began a last celebration of their 14-year career, which saw them sell 44 million records and rack up 14 UK number ones.
"This is the biggest weekend of our lives. To play to 85,000 people each night is incredible and we want to leave you with the best memory of Westlife," Kian Egan told the crowd.
The band were joined on stage by their parents and children.
Kian described how the band had "started in the west of Ireland, met manager Louis Walsh then record boss Simon Cowell and got bigger and bigger".
"You have supported us not just in our music but in our lives along with our mums and dads and our crew," added Mark Feehily.
The weather was grim: wind howled through the stadium, threatening to whip off sparkly cowboy hats and bunny ears.
But not even an Irish summer could prevent tens of thousands of Westlife fans saying goodbye to their favourite boyband. Fans had travelled from all over the country to see their heroes.
"I was crying yesterday. Westlife mean that much to me," said Jennifer Jones from New Ross, who arrived at Croke Park wrapped in a tricolour cape into which she had embroidered the names of Westlife's 14 UK number one hits.
Lifelong fans Teresa Quinlan (24), from Waterford, and Rebecca Murphy (22) spoke of their "upset" about the group's decision to call it a day after 14 years.
"No one wants Westlife to split up. They have been part of our lives," said Teresa.
Josie Dwyer, Geraldine Murphy and Mary O'Neil, all in their 20s and from Wexford, gave some clue as to the band's appeal by describing them as "grounded guys" as well as pop stars.
"It's a shock that they are splitting up, but I suppose everything has to come to an end," said Josie.
Debbie Larkin and daughter Sophie from Rathcoole, Co Dublin, got a chance to say a personal goodbye at a pre-gig "meet and greet" with Nicky Byrne.
The chance to meet their idol had been a present from a relative who paid €900 at a charity auction in the K Club.
"We're just going to say thanks to Nicky and the rest of the band for all the wonderful years," said Debbie.
They may not have been rock'n'roll, or penned any of their biggest hits, but no one had a bad word to say about Westlife last night.
Louis Walsh's own PA -- Denise Kilbride -- who arrived shortly after gates opened at 4.30pm, was also full of praise.
"In all the time I dealt with Westlife, they were never rude. They were always lovely guys," said Ms Kilbride.
Speaking earlier, Nicky said: "We took on the world as a boyband. We worked hard. In 14 years we never took more than a month off.
"The hardest part about tonight is knowing at some point we would look out into the crowd and realise we would never be seeing this again. That's a very tough thing to accept."