The UK’s biggest pop band tell their complete story in their own words for the very first time.
The biggest pop band in the world celebrate 10 years at the top — telling their full story in their own words for the very first time. 40 million albums 14 UK number 1 singles 7 UK number 1 albums Westlife have had more number ones than any other artist apart from The Beatles and Elvis and with songs that have become modern classics like Flying without Wings, they have ensured their place in the annals of pop history. Westlife — The Autobiography will chart the highs and lows of their phenomenonal career and a unique friendship that has seen them endure as a band for an extraordinary ten years. The book will chronicle the band’s story from the grass-roots of Sligo, Ireland to multi-platinum records, celebrity collaborations and chart achievements. But bubbling under this public face is a private and unseen story never before recorded, crammed with candid personal revelations, including of course the departure of Brian McFadden. Westlife have been a staple part of British entertainment for years, yet the public has no idea of the astounding life they have led — and still live — behind the headlines and soundbites.Here, for the first time, Westlife will take us into their confidence and reveal their lives and amazing ten year journey as the UK’s biggest pop band as never before.
I got some excerpt from the book:
Chapter 10 – Too Much Torro Rosso
Coast to Coast was an insane period, says Kian. That second album was huge. Millions of copies were selling around the world. In the UK, we literally could not walk down the street. Our hotels were mobbed, we were on all the TV shows, all over the radio, the press – it was nuts.
Sonny Takhar had a brilliant idea ahead of the album’s release. They hired a private jet, had ‘Westlife’ splashed down the side and booked in signings in four different cities in one day. We were due to visit Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham and London. The Spice Girls were releasing their ‘comeback’ album, Forever, after Geri Halliwell had left and there was this big chart ‘battle’ between us and them. So this city-hopping promo jaunt was perfectly designed to ramp up our PR that week. Great idea.
The record label invited a load of media onto the jet to fly around with us – it was great craic. The whole stunt was high profile and we had thousands and thousands of fans turning up in each city. It was insane, proper popstar stuff. There were thousands of people in the streets, they were closing off roads all over the place, the traffic was jammed, it was mental.
I was playing junior-team football at Leeds, remembers Nicky, when the Spice Girls were first coming out. All the lads were talking about which Spice Girl they fancied, that was the talk of the football team. They just seemed so famous. Then there I was, in this brilliant band with these brilliant lads, only a few years later, going up against them in a battle of the bands …
…and beating them hands down, continues Kian.
When the charts were announced, we’d creamed the Spice Girls.
We’d shifted nearly 250,000 copies and outsold them three to one.
That week was probably the absolute height of Westlife hysteria in the UK. No one could touch us …
… apart from Bob the Builder, says Shane. ‘What Makes a Man’ was our Christmas single and it was one of our best songs, definitely Top Five Westlife or so. We do it every single year on tour because we still love singing it live so much. It’s a cool song – great lyrics and melody, brilliant. So it’s a real shame that this was to be our first single that didn’t enter at the top.
Those midweek phone calls with our likely chart position were like a ritual by then. And we’d had so many number 1s that there was a burden on us to keep getting the top spot. During the early days, a number 2 became unthinkable.
Oh my God, I couldn’t sleep the night before a midweek. I’d be lying in bed at three or four in the morning, thinking about it. Then you’d get the midweek and it would be number 1 and you’d be like, ‘Oh, Jesus, the heat’s off now … till the next single.’
That might sound extreme, but we didn’t know any different, we had to get number 1s. When we beat the Beatles record that was weird enough, but then we got five, six, seven in a row – it was ludicrous.
And then we only hit number 2 with ‘What Makes a Man’, because of the Bob the Builder Christmas song. The day we found out our midweek, we were gutted. We knew Bob was gonna be big. What was even more frustrating was that it was the biggest first-week sales we’d ever had. That was such a shock, our first number 2. It was the first time that something hadn’t gone perfectly, the first time we’d thought it wasn’t all going to be plain sailing.
It was a pity because – I know I’m being greedy now – the next three singles after ‘What Makes a Man’ also went to number 1, so if Bob hadn’t stuck his oar in, we’d have had 11 in a row.
Nevertheless, we’re all proud of those seven consecutive number 1 singles, and given the changing climate with downloads and all that, I don’t think anyone will ever beat that record. You never know, but it’ll be some mighty effort.
We didn’t tour the first album, explains Shane, which sold 1.5 million copies in the UK alone. Simon Cowell had wanted it this way. Then he didn’t want us to tour before the second album. He wanted us to get even bigger first. And he was right. By the time we came to the first headline shows, Coast to Coast was selling millions of copies around the world and Westlife was massive.
We set up the ‘Where Dreams Come True’ world tour.
It was completely sold out within minutes of the tickets going on sale.
That first night in Newcastle was amazing – our first headline arena tour and 11,000 people there, just for Westlife.
They’d been waiting two years to see our show. We were a big band and although we’d supported Boyzone at big venues and done the Smash Hits Roadshow tour, which was also to big crowds, we’d just been a support act. So now the anticipation was immense.
It was for us too. I’d been looking forward to it all my life.
I’ll never forget it. I couldn’t breathe for about three songs – I literally couldn’t catch my breath. It was unbelievable. And the heat – it was so intense. Standing on stage in our first stage outfits for the first number was an insane feeling. I was singing the words quite well, but I was gasping, I really couldn’t get my breathing right. The adrenaline was racing through me so much that I could almost feel it in my veins.
I didn’t really smile that much for the first three songs because I was having to concentrate so hard just to remember the routines and breathe. Then a couple of ballads calmed things down and I managed, finally, to catch my breath. I relaxed hugely and, I’m glad to say, have stayed relaxed on stage ever since.
There’s a real difference between singing in front of 3,000 people and, say, 15,000. When there are that many people there, sometimes some of them are so high up you can hardly see them. When you’re singing away to the audience in front of you, you sometimes forget there’s a whole other tier at the top. When there are loads of people, there are a lot more things to look at, that’s for sure!
For our first two headline tours, says Mark, I couldn’t really hear myself sing because of the screaming. We hadn’t really had any coaching with regards to the mics or monitors; there was an element of being thrown in at the deep end. So for those two tours I pretty much just shouted. You get this weird feeling of trying to project your voice to the back of this huge arena – but shouting isn’t going to do it!
Eventually you learn how to work the microphone and the sound system, but that takes time and we kinda learned as we went along. The expectation among some of us was that there would be dozens of people to help with vocal technique, styling, performances, studio work, all that. None of us were from stage school and maybe those sort of people have that head start on us, they’ve already been trained with their voice, in performance, all that. We’d only really sung at school and in musicals, and then on the Boyzone dates we’d be on stage early when the venues weren’t full, and then suddenly, it seemed, we were on stage in front of 15,000 people. I’d be standing there, eyes staring, mouth as wide open as possible, thinking, Fuck me, 15,000 people need to hear this! I must have looked like I was on drugs!
I later developed a trick, or technique if you like, that I use to this day, particularly with TV appearances where I feel awkward. I’ll see someone in the room or in the crowd and I’ll go, Right, you’re the one I’m going to impress now, and I’ll pretty much sing to that person. I won’t look at them all the time, and they probably won’t even notice I’m doing it, but it helps me focus and perform. I might just see a fan in the crowd who looks like someone who I know, for instance, and I’ll pick them.
It doesn’t happen every night, by the way. Some nights I don’t see a person, but then the next night I will see someone and the whole gig will be based on what they are going to say when they get home. Maybe it’ll be someone who just looks like they are enjoying themselves or someone who’s singing along, and that person will make me go for it. It really helps.
One funny aside from that is when we first started I had a bit of an issue with waving. Where I come from, if someone waves to you in the street, you wave back – simple manners. So we’d be playing to, say, 15,000 people and the first 50 rows would be waving. Especially down the very front, girls would wave every time you walked by. So I just had to keep waving back to all of them. I thought how I would feel if I’d waved at Prince or Mariah and they’d caught my eye and then not flickered and not waved but moved on. So I would wave and wave and wave and wave, all night. It was getting ridiculous – there were times when I was spending more time waving back – so as not to be rude – than I was holding the mic!
On our very first concert tour, laughs Kian, once we were offstage, we went ballistic. We felt like superstars and we drank like fucking nut jobs. I’m not even sure I want to explain what went on! We’d been doing two years’ solid promo with no tour and virtually no days off since it’d all started. Then, in typical Westlife fashion, the first tour we ever did was humongous – we did nine Wembleys, thirteen nights in Dublin, six Newcastles, six Manchesters, six nights in Glasgow, three in Birmingham, three in Sheffield and then were overseas for nearly three months. It was four months of the most massive shows. That was only the half of it, though.
Behind the scenes, there was just an explosion of pent-up energy. Young lads, well known, in all the magazines, songs in the charts, money coming in, out on the road together – to be totally honest, we went ga-ga!
We drank very heavily every single night. Vodka and Red Bull was our favoured tipple and we sank it by the gallon. Our security man Paul Higgins reckons Shane and myself drank ourselves into oblivion for over 50 nights straight.
We were like caged animals being let loose. The situation was so different from promo – there was no record company telling us to get to bed or behave ourselves. We never needed to get up early. You’d have all day to relax before the show the following night. All the people on the tour were being paid by us. We were the bosses, so we did what we wanted, when we wanted.
And what we wanted was to party.
Mark: Actually, we were sponsored by Red Bull, so really we were just doing the right thing by our sponsors …
A memorable day in the history of Westlife, says Kian, was in Sheffield on that first tour. I’ll never forget it. We had a run of three shows so it felt like a mini-residence. We found this little bar around the corner from the venue which seemed ideal for our parties after each show. One of our security team went around and spoke to the manager and enquired about letting us use the bar for our after-shows.
It was a great little pub, full of weird and wonderful characters, mostly big stocky dudes who all drove Ferraris. They made us very welcome and we partied there every single night of our Sheffield stay. On one particular night, a lot of us had brought friends over and everyone was absolutely steaming drunk. Even the truck drivers, man, they loved us because they would joke and say, ‘Where’s the party tonight?’ and we’d say, ‘Follow us!’ so we’d race over to this bar followed by all these massive truck drivers ready to get wrecked.
It was pure carnage. Someone was going around on a leash; one of Nicky’s best friends, Skinner, was drunkenly pretending to be a priest, taking a bucket of water around and blessing people; folks were running around absolutely slammed on the bar; music was on full blast all night; Nicky was standing on the bar with shades on pretending to be Bono – it was nuts. All our dancers, all our crew, all of us, all our friends and family went mad. The barmen were just chucking drinks at us and we were chucking them down our gob. By throwing out time, we were cuckoo.
One of the bar owners offered to give me and my brother Gavin a lift home in his Ferrari as he hadn’t been drinking. It was only a two-seater, but we weren’t missing out on this.
‘Come on, Gav, lesh get in, it’ll be fucking greeaaatt!’
Gavin sat in the passenger seat first and I basically sat on top of him, completely bladdered. Then I had one of those moments of seriousness that you only get when you’re blind drunk.
‘Hey, Gav, whereshfuckingsheatbelt …?’ I wrapped it around him and me and said, ‘At leasht if we die at 150 milesss an hour, we’ll die together, eh, Gav?’ This didn’t seem to comfort him too much.
The bar owner then proceeded to do about 130 mph down the motorway with me and Gavin absolutely ossified out of our faces in the passenger seat. We made it back to the hotel and continued the drinking at full tilt. Gav was actually a secondary school teacher and by about 4 a.m., he was absolutely fucked. We bundled him off to bed – for a guy who is ten years older, he did pretty well!
We got up around one in the afternoon very much the worse for wear. I had to abandon some promo interviews because I couldn’t stop giggling and I was still drunk. I knew Shane was doing some interviews in his dressing room, so I headed for there, thinking he would be organized and sober and might calm me down and get me back on track.
I walked in to find him sitting slumped in the corner on his own, wearing only his boxer shorts and a pair of white sunglasses with blacked-out lenses … and on his head was a pair of deely-boppers with flashing stars at the end of each bouncy wire.
‘Hey, Kian, what’s the craic?’ was all he could muster.
We were due on stage in about five hours.
He was still completely twisted from the night before, off his chops on 20 shots of vodka and Red Bull. I sat next to him, laughing out loud, and thought we could both sit there and sober up together, when Paul Higgins, our security man, raced in and said, ‘Kian, Kian, you’ve got to come, Brian’s acting all weird, you’ve got to sort him out …’
To be fair, I was in no fit state to sort anyone out, but if the choice was either me or Shane, then it was gonna be me. I went out to the tour bus to find Brian also twisted on vodka and Red Bull, telling everyone that the walls were closing in on him and that there was something wrong with him.
‘You fucking eejit, sit down will ya …?’
We walked around a bit and Shane came out of his dressing room, still with his bouncy stars on, saying, ‘I think I need some sleep …’
Eventually, we all surfaced from the drunken stupor and prepared ourselves for the show that night. Shane got some sleep, we all sobered up and started to feel human again.
As I followed Shane up the steps to the stage, where 12,500 people were waiting for us, he leaned over a bucket and vomited.
‘Shit, are you OK to go on, Shane?’ I asked.
‘Yeah, yeah, it’s OK, it’s all out of me now. Let’s go.’
He jumped up onto the stage, said, ‘Hello Sheffield!’ and we all proceeded to play a blistering show.
I have to say, in my opinion, the partying never affected our shows. We were kids – well, 21 – and we were bullet-proof. Plus, we were from the west coast of Ireland, so we had a background of heavy drinking, you know.
The drinking carried on the next day.
And the next.
And the next, and so on for the whole tour.
And the tour after that.
Shane: I don’t recall being sick right before I went on stage, but perhaps I was still in no fit state to remember. I didn’t learn my lesson, either. We just went on drinking, as Kian says.
That night in Sheffield, I had trouble breathing in some of the songs and I probably should have gone to hospital and got it all pumped out of my system. I remember being in an interview with Sky News the next day and I had big dark glasses on. People probably thought I was on drugs, but I wasn’t, I was still very, very drunk from the vodka and Red Bull.
Vodka and Red Bull is a mad drink. I was a nutbag on it. I’d go out with Gillian to a club and I’d be drinking it and forget about her for an hour and a half, just be chatting to people, having a laugh, and eventually Gillian would be like, ‘Where were you?’ So, eventually I stopped drinking it, because it just didn’t agree with me.
But, come on, we were young fellas, we were 20, 21, out having a laugh and we were famous. We were in this band, it was amazing, we were selling out everywhere, we had money in our pockets, it was like pure joy.
What’s the point doing all the work if you can’t enjoy the benefits?
We just kinda enjoyed them a bit too much.
Okay, Westlife has always been my favorite, don’t ask me why, and knowing that they’re releasing their autobiography excites me, I wanna get the book, hopefully some bookstore would release them here in Indonesia, I don’t know when, as the releasing date in UK is today, June 16th, 2008, it’ll probably be released here next year *shrugs*, but that’s okay, I’ll wait *is excited*