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Lifelong fan Laura Butler on the day the music died as Westlife call it quits

I LOST my heart to Westlife 14 years ago -- today I've been left broken hearted by Westlife.

The boyband was the teenage soundtrack to my life and the sad news that they are no more brings me back to younger days with fondness and nostalgia.

A besotted fan from the get-go, I first heard of the then five-piece group when they burst onto the scene in 1999.

As a first-year secondary student, I was holidaying in Connemara with pals, and we were instantly in favour of them and declaring them to be better than anything else in the charts.


A welcome change from Boyzone and the Spice Girls, Westlife garnered lustful sighs from us as we listened to Swear It Again for the first time on the radio.

Animated debate over what their real name was -- "is it Westside or Westlife?" -- quickly followed and my friends and I promptly chose our favourite band members.

After buying their first single and taping my A2 sized poster of Sligo native Shane Filan to my bedroom wall, my adoration for the chart-toppers was firmly cemented when tracks If I Let You Go and I Have A Dream followed.

A year later, when I was 13 and they had almost become a household name -- I spotted them at the baggage area in Dublin airport.

Overcome with a fit of nervousness and the giggles, myself and my shy cousin indiscreetly wandered over in their direction to get a closer look at them -- and managed to find a pen and a scrap of paper to bring with us.

I couldn't have been happier to return from holidays, as I left the airport that day with four out of five autographs -- Brian McFadden failed to impress -- from the group before they were swarmed by excited teens waiting in arrivals.

I seem to have been very lucky when it comes to this band -- I managed to bump into them on a number of occasions over the years, from randomly seeing Nicky Byrne shopping on Grafton Street, to literally walking into Brian McFadden in a Greystones newsagents -- where he lived up the road with ex-Kerry Katona and that just confirmed how cool I thought they were.

From seeing them at the Childline concerts and cheering to turning on the telly to cheer them on at the MTV Europe music awards, their ballads failed to hit a sour note with their adoring fans, myself included.

Although my interest waned in their later years, I've always had a soft spot for their easygoing music, with -- admittedly -- Flying Without Wings in my top five favourites.

I still enjoy belting out a few of the cheesy numbers and tend to always revert back to them when compiling my Christmas playlist for my iPod.

When the lads announced the release of a greatest hits album last week, I had a sneaky suspicion that news of a split would follow.


They've gone from being a fresh-faced boyband to a more mature looking manband and I suppose it was only inevitable after 14 years of a hard slog in the business.

And for those of us who grew up with Shane, Mark, Nicky, Kian and Brian, it definitely reminds you of your first dance at the local disco or pretending to be a backing vocalist with a hairbrush as your parents had to suffer Uptown Girl yet another time.

Teenagers now have the likes of Justin Bieber to scream and shout over, but no-one can compare to Louis Walsh's denim-jacket wearing, floppy-haired hopefuls who crooned their way into the lives of many Irish girls and seemed so down-to-earth that we thought we could always walk over and say hello.