Westlife are the most successful boyband the UK has ever known. After a decade of number one hits, multi-million selling albums and stacks of awards Mark Feehily speaks to Female First about his higlights, coming to terms with being gay and exactly what the band think of Brian.It's hard to believe it's almost 10 years since Westlife first captured the hearts of screaming teenage girls all over the world but as they get ready to release their ninth album Mark reveals how things have changed since the fresh faced early days when life was so simple. First of all we're not naive little boys any more, he points out. We're all grown men who've had 10 years experience in an industry that there is a lot to learn in.Shane, Nicky, Kian and Mark have managed to notch up 14 number one singles and sold over 40 million albums since they were first discovered by Louis Walsh in 1998 but they've gained much more than gold discs and Smash Hits awards along the way: We've gained a lot of experience and knowledge so we're a lot more equipped to deal with the different sides of being in the music industry, says Mark.At the start I didn't know the difference between a career and a one hit wonder. All I knew was I liked to sing and I could tell the difference between a good video and a bad video and a picture that I liked and a picture that I didn't like but I didn't have a clue how to make that difference happen, he reveals. Whereas these days I think we're a lot more tuned in on how to get the results we want therefore we can get the results we want a lot better.Westlife have always been seen as the typical manufactured boyband puppets who's strings are pulled by record company bosses and PR agents but it's a different story these days according to Mark: . At the start we had every last person within our record label dealing with every last issue. We were a brand new act, we were very much a priority act so we had every person working for us and attending to every last detail. Now the show is up and running a lot more of the stuff is stuff we take care of ourselves, he says."We have what we need from the record company but a lot more of the other stuff we have to sort out ourselves. They know now that we are reasonably sensible and we're not going to do anything silly. They know we have the same aim as them which is to just have the best quality songs and pictures and videos that we can.
Although the content of their latest album 'Back Home' was mostly decided by the band, it was Simon Cowell who suggested they release their latest single 'Home', a cover version of the recent Michael Buble hit. Mark tells how they weren't too happy about Simon's choice: Initially we weren't crazy about the idea, he reveals, So before we recorded it we said we'll try it out as long as we can do our own version. As long as we can do a Westlife version and it's not a total and utter copy of the Michel Buble version. In fairness we did do it and our version is completely different and it turned out OK. (Make up your own mind by checking out the video on page 2.)
There are lot of really good tracks on the album and the rest of the album we did have more involvement in. confirms Mark. We worked with a company in Sweden called Maritone who did hit like Britney's Hit Me One More Time and a lot of the Backstreet Boys stuff. They are really good producers and they've done four amazing songs. And also there's some great songs with our old collaborator Steve Mac who we've done a lot of our songs with including 'Flying Without Wings' which was one of our biggest.
There's a song called 'Catch My Breath'. It's very up to date, kinda of a pop song. It's a pop song in the way that 'Chasing Cars' is a pop song not in a kind of the Spice Girls circa '95 way. It's still very much pop but a sort of modern pop. There's also a song called 'Us Against the World' that I like. It's just so refreshing to hear our voices produced like that and to hear a backing track like that compared to what we are normally used to.
Westlife shocked fans last month when they revealed they will be taking a year long break after their next tour at the beginning of 2008 but Mark insists that does not mean they are splitting up: We know we're not splitting up and the fans are all like not sure because that's what Boyzone said and whatever but we're just going to take a lot longer to make this 10th album.
This is a big tour coming up and then we're actually taking a year off after that. It's a big one for us and a big one for the fans. So it's not like we're taking a year off- we're taking a year away from releasing an album in November because we've done the 9 albums in 9 years.
So it seems Westlife are going to be around to see their 10 year anniversary after all and they are already making plans to celebrate in style: We're in talks about doing some mega mega gigs in Ireland and possibly in the UK too just to sort of seal off the 10 years with a bang. But we're not sure about them yet. Some are more likely than others.
One thing is certain, if they do get the plans off the ground former member Brain Mcfadden will not be joining the guys on stage as predicted by recent reports: Brian is well and truly gone from Westlife, says Mark.
Who knows what will happen in the future but at the moment Westlife are a 4 piece and Brian isn't one of them. We love him to bits and I'm sure he loves us to bits and we've got very fond memories of our time together but both us have well and truly moved on and there's no plans what so ever to have Brain playing any gigs with us because he's not in our band any more.
Brian decided to leave and therefore we don't feel bad saying that. We had to get over the fact that he left and get used to it and now we are used to it. We're a 4 piece now and that's that.
Brian's decision to leave the band just 2 weeks before Westlife embarked on a world tour in 2004 was perhaps one of the lowest points for Mark and the rest of the band: There was a lot of different emotions. There was fear- fear of the unknown because we didn't know what would happen next, he explains.
There was sadness. We all asked him 'don't go, please don't go' and tried to see if there was some other way around this but he was adamant he wanted to leave. When you go through a mental kind of ride that we went through for the 4 or 5 years we went through when he was in the band and then all of a sudden one is just gone it's definitely a weird kind of situation to be in.
But there was a very very small element of release. We knew that things weren't happy for the band at that time and that maybe this is what the unhappy thing was and that now that it's gone we could move on and get our act together again. We had a world tour to put out in two weeks and we had to prove more than ever on the first night that we were just as good without Brian so we had to get down to business and get on with it.
But despite the initial shock the band managed to battle on through and came out stronger than ever: I'm not cocky or arrogant or anything but I think we totally proved it and I actually think that Brian leaving kicked us into being tighter than ever and more professional than ever.
The lads were only teenagers when Westlife hit the big time so they've learnt a lot about life as well as music over the last 9 years. Mark has perhaps struggled most with growing up in the public eye as he came to terms with his sexuality while under the glare of the media: . I was just going through everything myself and it's not like I knew when I was 18 and all sorted in my head about it and hid it. he says explaining the reasons why he waited until 2005 to tell fans he is gay.
The fact that I was in the public eye definitely slowed down the pace of how fast I dealt with my sexuality. I think that it took me a bit longer and wasn't able to just go out and test the water easily. I mean I was in Westlife and no matter where I went or what I did it would be like 'there's the guy from Westlife in the corner, look he's gay, let's tell the papers.'
I wouldn't lie about the fact that there was some moments where I wished so much that it was all sorted out but I can't complain because now I'm in the best situation I've ever been in my life and if that's the way it happened for me then that's that. I can't look back and want to change the past because now I'm happy.
Mark's happiness has lot to do with long term boyfriend Kevin McDaid, formerly of failed boyband V: Kevin is my first and only relationship. He used to be in a band as well and we were both on a charity concert in Dublin for Childline and we just met at the after party, recalls Mark.
I used to see Girl's Aloud quite a bit and they were at the party so I was just chatting to them and Kevin lived in the same apartment block as them so he just came over chatting as well and we just started chatting and the rest is history.
Although they are now blissfully happy Mark says the couple have no plans to take advantage of the recent civil partnership laws just yet: It's just simply not something we are looking into at the minute and I think when we do, if we do, we'll be the first ones to be shouting it from the roof tops.
Despite the ups and downs Mark and the band have been through they have managed to stick around for longer than any of their counterparts. While the Spice Girls and Take That are reforming and Boyzone are making plans for a come back Westlife have been performing non stop since their creation. So what's the secret? : I think that Take That were very sort of experimental at the start. There wasn't a sort of English boyband around before that so I think it was all trial and error with them. I think they made some mistakes but they made a lot of really good decisions as well but for us I think a lot of bands had gone before us and we were fortunate enough to learn from some of the mistakes they made that may have led to the demise of the group or whatever.
Friendship is also key to the Westlife story: Myself, Shane and Kian went to school together since we were 11 years old so we made friends before we put the band together so our relationship is build on real friendship and we weren't like put into a room and made to get along with each other. We are genuinely compatible because we got together as mates naturally.
Throughout the last 9 years the band have travelled all over the world, won Record of the Year four times and even made the notorious Christmas Number 1 spot but what is Mark's highlight so far: I definitely think that one of the best things that I never thought I'd achieve was doing a duet with Mariah Carey, he explains.
Over the years we've spent quite a bit of time with her- not a lot of time, I don't want to exaggerate- but if I was to tell my 10 to 15 year old self that I was to meet her, never mind collaborate with her and hang out with her at her house, I think I would of literally crumbled into ash on the floor to be honest.
She was really really friendly and there was no sort of power thing going on where she was like 'I'm Mariah and your Westlife and you're lucky to be here' sort of thing. It was a lot of hanging out and going for dinner and being mates. I mean we weren't liking up to her and in a world where she is surrounded by people that lick up to her and brown nose her I don't know if she just thought it was nice to have a genuine time hanging out with a bunch of lads or whatever.
Although they he enjoyed hanging out with stars like Mariah in the past life isn't quite so rock and roll for Mark now. These days he's more likey to stay in on a Saturday night and catch a bit of X Factor: I don't have a favourite yet to be honest. I think it's yet to unfold as to whether or not I like anybody in it this year, he says.
My favourite performance last week was the lad from Scotland who did the swing number. I thought he was electric. But then all the judges slated him so I'm quite confused because for me that was by far the best performance.
To be honest with you it takes a few weeks before I start getting my favourite. Every now and then one of them will do an amazing performance but then the next week they sound like a cat getting hit with a baseball bat.
It's definitely clear that after almost a decade in a business that is known for sending even the most level headed people flying of the tracks Mark Feehily still has his feet firmly on the ground. Here's to another 10 years.
Westlife's new single Home is released next Monday 29th October, and the album Back Home is out on 5th November. Check out the video below......
Female First- Caz Moss
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