They were once the biggest name in pop, with almost 60million record sales and a fanbase desperate for more.
Now, six years after they last left the stage, Westlife are back — thanks in part to Ed Sheeran, who has penned their comeback single.
The band admit superstar Ed was a major factor in their decision to finally return after years of rumours.
And in their first interview since I revealed their plans, the group insist this is much more than a trip down memory lane.
Nick Byrne reveals: “We’ve got a five-year plan.”
Shane Filan says they hope to emulate fellow boy band Take That in reinventing themselves second time around – and they were determined to get Ed and hit songwriter Steve Mac to help.
Shane adds: “If it was just for the money, the option to tour and make a load of cash was always going to be there but we all sat down and agreed we just didn’t want to do that.
“We wanted to go and do new music, and honestly the two people who could make it happen were Steve Mac and Ed Sheeran.
“We thought, ‘If we can get them, we hear they might be interested, then this is the way to take Westlife on, the way Take That came back.
“They were nearly better the second time round than they were the first. And that’s where our ambition is.”
He adds: “It’s a bit like sport — you look at your rivals, and we looked at Take That, who came back with Shine, Greatest Day, Rule The World, Patience. It was unbelievable, and we have to see that as a benchmark — but obviously getting Ed and Steve on board gives us the best chance of that.”
And the collaboration has earned the parents among the group credibility with their children, with Nicky joking: “My kids said to me, ‘Dad, if you’re doing this reunion you’re not doing all those crap songs you did the first time!’ And I said, thinking, ‘Jesus, that’s a bit harsh’, I said, ‘Lads, Ed Sheeran’s written it’ and they were blown away — so it’s finally made me cool to them too.”
The comeback record, released in weeks, sees Shane and Nicky reunited with Kian Egan and Mark Feehily — with the band today unveiling a huge 2019 tour to coincide with their new music.
The boys are also working with former manager Louis Walsh again alongside Simon Cowell’s former right-hand man Sonny Takhar — but insist things are different second time around.
Kian says Louis is like the “fifth member of the band” and jokes: “Amazingly Louis has managed to keep it secret.
“He normally can’t help himself when he gets excited but do you know what? It’s a dream team now to be fair. We’ve known Louis since we were 16, 17 years of age.”
And Nicky believes they may well work with former boss Simon again in the future, adding: “We did go and chat to him. We owed it to him and we’re forever indebted to him — there’s no two ways about it, we wouldn’t be sitting here now if it hadn’t been for him.
“In time we will probably do something together — what that is who knows. Maybe even a documentary. He’s the biggest TV producer in the world now.”
Original fifth member Brian McFadden won’t be returning, but the band say that despite a rift they are back on good terms with their ex-bandmate — who is set to appear on ITV’s Dancing On Ice early next year.
But they admit they will only get one shot at making the comeback a success — with a new generation of Spotify music fans to win over.
Mark adds: “We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t have that anxiety. We’ve been so excited to see the reaction. The new track is an anthem and exactly the sort of song that a band like Westlife needs to come back with. It needs to surprise people.”
The band have spent much of the year keeping their comeback under wraps, but almost gave the game away when hosting secret reunion talks at Nicky’s Dublin home, when his bandmates accidentally arrived at his next-door neighbour’s house.
And despite admitting the return will land them a substantial payday, all four members insist money was never the motivation for getting back together.
Nicky explains: “We’ve had a lot of calls offering us the chance to do things — even just turn up somewhere and singing Flying Without Wings, but we never entertained it until the timing was right. I think some bands do that. Well, let’s be honest, I think every band does it to make money — it’s not like we’re doing this for nothing — we will do well out of it. But I think with us, we had a legacy and we want to preserve that.”
Marking the band’s 20th anniversary, the foursome will first hit the stage in Belfast on May 25 next year, before touring arenas across the UK for six weeks and ending in Dublin on July 5. And they insist returning to the road will be the highlight of the reunion.
Kian explains: “It’s probably the main thing I’ve missed, to be honest.The four of us on the road together, just having a great time as friends.It’s going to be quite emotional the first time. It could end up just being four grown men stood on stage sobbing. But we can’t wait.”