Wednesday 17 January 2018

Tears, smiles and surprises as Westlife bring curtain down on dazzling career

Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

As Westlife brought the curtain down on their illustrious 14-year career by playing to 160,000 people over two nights at Croke Park, there were fireworks and pyrotechnics and lots of laughter and tears.

This morning, as he reflects at his Malahide home, singer Nicky Byrne will be experiencing mixed emotions at the ending of the band who have been at the top of the music business since 1998, notching up 45 million in album sales.

"It's bittersweet," he admitted earlier this week, in an exclusive interview with the Sunday Independent. "It's going to be strange because we were like a mini army or football team, and nobody could get inside the circle really.

"That's all gone now and we're very much out there on our own.

"There are positives and negatives to that, of course. Positives, because you're making your own decisions and can do whatever you want, whenever you want, but sometimes I think you have to be careful what you wish for!"

The concerts in Croke Park got off to a dramatic start on both nights when the four lads appeared on stage behind a see-through curtain, to deafening screams of joy from the 82,000-strong audiences.

And then the four figures dramatically went up in flames, and the audience's shock turned to relief as the flesh and blood versions of Nicky, Shane Filan, Mark Feehily and Kian Egan then bounced on to the stage.

"We've had an amazing time, an absolute whirlwind 14 years, and in all that time I think there has probably been a burning desire within all of us to try something else at some point," says Nicky.

"Our friendship is intact, which is really important to us and always has been. We didn't want that to suffer, so while it was a big decision, I think we made the right one."

While he has a great voice, Nicky has revealed that he doesn't plan to pursue a solo career in music for the foreseeable future as he has his sights set on television presenting. And judging by the aplomb with which he entertained the crowd during a delay in rounding up family members to come on stage last night, he's a natural.

"It's all meetings, meetings, meetings at the moment, both here and in the UK, which is very exciting, but there is nothing set in stone yet, if I'm honest," he says.

And what if his dream presenting gig came up abroad? Would he be prepared to move to the UK?

"I wouldn't rule anything out but I'd hope not to because I've always seen Ireland as my home," he says.

Family is very important to the Westlife lads and during Queen of My Heart, they announced that their children would be joining them on stage accompanied by their own parents.

There was a slight frisson of anticipation as we wondered if Nicky's five-year-old twins Jay and Rocco would be accompanied on stage by his father-in-law Bertie, but they came out holding hands with Nicky's mother Yvonne.

Mark Feehily's parents Oliver and Marie stood proudly beside their son, as Shane Filan's parents Peter and Mae led out his three children Nicole, Patrick and Shane. Kian Egan's baby Koa nearly stole the show in the arms of his grandmother Patricia.

The timing of the band ending is perfect for Nicky on the family front, as Rocco and Jay start school in September.

"I've always said that when you have twins, it's like being a referee," he laughs. "They're great lads and great friends, but they beat each other up as well and that's part and parcel of it all."

Nicky is quick to pay tribute to his wife Georgina, whom he first met at school when they were only 15. An expert in fitness and nutrition, she recently launched her own blog. "Georgina has always been brilliant and very, very supportive and we're still madly in love," he says.

And as the visibly moved band waved farewell for the final time, there was a real sense that this was a happy and meaningful celebration of a long and illustrious career.

The lads may have hung up their Westlife boots for now, but we're sure to be seeing a lot of them, individually, in the near future.

Sunday Independent

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