AS one of the biggest boy bands of all time, Westlife’s reunion in 2018 had been a long time coming.
A hit album penned by pal Ed Sheeran proved the catalyst to finally get the Irish four-piece back together in the studio.
But a sell-out comeback arena tour and number one album — their ninth in an astonishing career at the top of the charts — was cut short by Covid, leaving the band’s future unclear.
As Nicky Byrne quips: “Suddenly I was an unemployed pop star. It wasn’t quite as we’d planned it.”
Now the boyband are back for a second time, with a major new album deal with record giant Warner Music.
They also have a brace of huge shows at London’s Wembley Stadium in August — the first gigs at the iconic venue for two years — which promise to reignite live pop after the lockdown drought.
And in an extraordinary giveaway with The Sun, which will be unveiled in full in tomorrow’s paper, the band are generously offering 1,000 free tickets to key worker readers to enjoy a long overdue — and well deserved — knees-up.
Announcing the band’s return, Kian Egan explains: “We’ve signed a deal with Warners which is very exciting, and we know the direction we want to go in. We feel like Hello My Love on the last record, which was co-written by Ed Sheeran, was an amazing song for us, so that’s the sound we want to come back with.
“Having the likes of Ed in your camp and writing for you helps things dramatically. He’s incredible.
“For us, it’s to try to get that same vibe again — anthemic singalong moments. They’re the songs that really work for us and they’re the ones that have stood the test of time — 20 years later in some cases.
“Ed says he wants to be part of the record again and that he really enjoyed working with us on the last one, and we’ve built a bit of a relationship with him over the last year or two which is more of a friendship.
“There’s a lot of love between us and him, and he did say a lot of times that he’d basically learnt to play guitar to Westlife.”
After more than a year without concerts, theatre or live performances, the band hope their comeback gigs will prove an emotional moment for them and fans alike.
A first night at Wembley on August 21 is already sold out, with a second night at the 90,000-capacity venue on August 22 announced today in support of front-line staff who have helped battle through the pandemic.
Frontman Shane Filan explains: “We were just chatting about things, and realised it’s not just for us this Wembley gig — it’s the first gig in two years at that huge stadium.
“It’s massive for us, but also a big moment after everything that has gone on in the world over the past two years.
“It has been a really sad time for some people so we felt giving some tickets to front-line staff was a way that we could turn this gig into us giving something back to those people.
“Hopefully it will be a wonderful celebration.”
Laughing, bandmate Nicky adds: “It might even be full of rap fans, rock fans, people who don’t like Westlife at all — everyone is so desperate to go out and see something.
“Even after the success we’ve had, I could never have imagined putting on a second day at Wembley Stadium. One was amazing, but it feels like a real movement to start live concerts again — it’s fantastic.
“I keep joking about it but there will be people, hopefully, lads, for example, who don’t even know one song but kind of want to go along for a few beers. It’s just nice for us all to get out of the house!
“I just hope we can continue straight on afterwards with more shows, and that Covid will be completely gone.
“I think seeing tens of thousands of people back in one place will actually be quite emotional for a lot of people, including us.”
Shane adds: “It’s been so long I’m nervous, but it’s exciting too — the first night might be a bit of a rehearsal but it’ll just be a great night for everyone to be back.
“For a long time it started to feel like this sort of event may never happen again. It has to be the best gig of our lives.”
This summer marks 23 years since the band were formed in Ireland — and signed up by Simon Cowell.
The extraordinary longevity — punctuated by a six-year break after the band split in 2012 — makes them one of the most enduring successes in UK pop history.
But as Kian admits, they haven’t always appreciated their good fortune.
After spending more time as an item than the average UK marriage, he jokes: “I think the break was a huge part of the reason we are still here, and something that really needed to happen.
“When we got to the end of 2012 when we did break up, we had done 15 years where it was 100 per cent — full throttle, no stops. Loads happened along the way, my father died, all sorts, and we kept going.
“We really needed that break — but even more so when you’re living in that bubble you don’t realise what you have.
“You don’t realise how successful things are and you just take it for granted. As the years go by, I remember sitting at home when Westlife had all ended and One Direction came through, and they blew up.
“I remember talking to my wife and saying, ‘Were Westlife that big?’ She was like, ‘Oh my God, Westlife was bigger than that in the UK’.
“It’s not until you step out and look back in at it all and realise what it was that you had, that you go, ‘Oh my God, we need to do that again’. ”
'FRONT-LINE WORKERS NEED A GOOD DANCE AND A LAUGH'
And with each starting a family, the band are excited at the prospect of introducing their pop careers to many of their children for the first time.
Kian, who has three children with wife Jodi Albert, adds: “We were watching the Grammys the other night and Harry Styles came on and it was amazing.
“My little fella has gotten really big into Billie Eilish and he was looking back on the Grammys before and was like, ‘Billie Eilish won seven Grammys’, then my wife said, ‘You know your daddy’s won loads of awards like that as well?’ He was like, ‘What?!’
“It blows their minds. It’s so important for us all to realise that the life that we’re living is not normal.
“We’re extremely lucky and fortunate to be living in the world that we’re living in and the life that we’ve managed to carve out.
“The other thing I really want to say about the Westlife thing and the reason why it has gone so long is how genuine the relationship is between the four of us.
HOW TO GO TO GIG FO FREE
AFTER a bleak 12 months for the entertainment business – with no concerts, theatres, cinemas or festivals since last March – finally here’s some VERY exciting news for fans.
As lockdown restrictions ease over the coming months, some of music’s biggest stars are gearing up to get back on the road – and one of pop’s biggest names WESTLIFE are leading the charge with two packed-out performances at London’s Wembley Stadium.
The Irish chart-toppers, who boast 60million record sales and an astonishing 14 UK number ones, have already sold out one night on August 21.
Today they are unveiling a second gig on August 22 – and have generously donated 1,000 tickets for an incredible giveaway with The Sun to say thank you to the nation’s key workers.
Our competition opens on Saturday to all front-line staff who have helped to keep our country going during the Covid-19 pandemic – with full terms and conditions listed online.
To be in with a chance of winning a pair of tickets for this incredible event, check tomorrow’s paper and here on thesun.co.uk, and you could be under Wembley’s iconic arch this summer for what looks sure to be an emotional night packed with hits.
“We had probably the best fun that we’ve ever had in the band on the last tour, the reunion tour.
“There was a lot of stress involved at the start, some production issues, but it was an amazing experience.”
The band plan to celebrate at an after-show party with friends and family, but joke that the days of fancy parties at nightclubs and sinking £20,000 on booze have been replaced by early nights and school runs.
Singer Mark Feehily explains: “I think for us the gigs themselves are the party, really. Nothing is going to top that.
“The emotion of being back together with so many people is going to be very special. It is almost as if it is bigger than just Westlife.
“This is a music industry and cultural moment that we are lucky to be a part of when it finally goes ahead after so long.
“We are honoured to hang that flag up again.
“It will be a very proud moment for me and for us.”
Kian adds: “We’re all going to have that huge moment of like: Wow, is this really actually happening?
“Nowadays the celebration, the party and stuff has all kind of gone. But I think that’s right — the celebration is the gigs.
“I’m sure we’ll have beers and pop a bottle of champagne afterwards.
“But the days of fancy parties at big nightclubs where you spend 20 grand on alcohol, those are all gone. I’m in bed by 9pm every night now.”
After filling Wembley, the lads hope to take to the road on another global tour — as soon as travel restrictions allow — including a major American run for the first time.
But first, as Mark puts it, the focus is on putting on a celebration for deserving key workers.
He explains: “Everyone knows someone who has been affected by this — thankfully not in my immediate family, but friends have done — and I have some people close to me who are nurses themselves.
“I’ve heard their stories, and along with other front-line workers I think they need a good drink, a good dance and a good laugh.
“They have helped people to get back to normal and have held people together.
“Now we want to give something back.”
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