Date published: 27th Nov 2009
As part of one of the most successful Irish boy bands of all time, Mark Feehily has always vocally been at the forefront of Westlife. They're the third biggest selling pop group worldwide, have had 14 number one singles in the UK, and show no signs of stopping yet.
Before Westlife formed, Mark, Shane Filan and Kian Egan were three of six members of a group called (IOYOU and they released a single called "Together Girl Forever". It wasn't until Shane's mum alerted Louis Walsh, the manager of Boyzone, that the group began taking the steps towards success. Instantly calling for a line-up change, auditions were then held where Nicky Byrne and Brian McFadden were recruited to work with Mark, Kian and Shane. The first big break for Westlife came in 1998 when they opened for the Boyzone and Backstreet Boys' concerts in Dublin. From them on they took off, achieving international success with their catchy and melodic ballads.
Despite living the dream, Mark was harbouring a huge secret. Unlike his other band mates, he refused to discuss his private life in interviews and was shown with girlfriends in the press in order to avoid speculation. As the only gay member of the group his sexuality was kept a secret for years. It wasn't until 2005 that Mark felt publicly ready to come out and announced his relationship with Kevin McDaid, a member of another boy band called V. The public reacted positively and Mark has since said it was the best thing he'd ever done.
Now, having spent a year off working on their 10th studio album, Westlife are back and Mark has rebuffed claims the group were ever going to split. Despite their success, the group have so far not been able to break into the US market but in a recent interview Louis Walsh said this would be an aim of their comeback.
In this interview Mark speaks reveals his true feelings on Louis and Simon Cowell, speaks openly about his commitment for Kevin and thanks the late Stephen Gately for all he's done in breaking negative gay stereotypes.
Q: So Westlife are back. Why did you have the break?
A: It felt like things were going too far with just getting an album out every year and that being the priority, with the song quality coming second to that. We had nine albums in nine years and I think it was only healthy we get away from it. Things were getting a bit stale. How can I say that when we had the biggest records, but it's true. You can have millions coming to see you but that isn't the be all and end all.
Q: Did you think about splitting up?
A: All that speculation is just nonsense. Everyone's always going to ask us if we're splitting up, especially when we haven't been around for a year but I suppose its part and parcel of us being a band that's been around for a long time.
Q: How is Louis Walsh coping with the death of Stephen Gately?
A: We all talk to Louis on the phone, we keep in touch. That's the same with Boyzone. We came along ten years ago; Boyzone came along twenty years ago. We're close but he's even closer to them because he's known them longer. At the end of the day someone has passed away and that was someone who he was a very close friend of... anybody in the world would be devastated.
Q: How are you dealing with your grief?
A: Nobody has got to terms with it yet. Luckily Louis's got us, he's got Boyzone... Boyzone have each other and Stephen had a great family.
Q: When did you last see him?
A: We've bumped into them umpteen times over the years, we've supported them and we've had Smash hits tours. I knew him well but the last time I saw him was about a year ago, when we performed on 'The X Factor' last Christmas. We were on the same night on the final. We were doing the duet with JLS.
Q: Has it made you think about your own life?
A: After the news broke, I spoke to Louis and one of the first things he said was 'You have to get out there and live your life, don't take anything for granted.' You can't sit around putting things off; you have to get out there, nobody knows what's round the corner.
Q: You're still with your long-term partner Kevin McDaid, any weddings on the cards?
A: We literally got on from when we met five years ago, we're very happy. We live together; he is literally the other half of me. Finding Kevin really completed me. When I look back at interviews all I see is the big hole, like there's something missing, that I needed to find somebody. He's made me very happy and I feel lucky to have him but marriage is not something we've considered.
Q: Stephen must have done a lot, coming out before you did?
A: When someone in the public eye who is admired by millions comes out, it's one kind of blow to the negative stereotype and one more block built for the reality, which is that gay people are no different to straight people. When I came out I got a lot of letters saying 'oh when you come out my mum was a big fan and it kind of broke her image of gay people down.' It helped me when Stephen came out, it helped when I came out; I think it helped when Will Young came out.
Q: You must have found it difficult hiding your feelings for so long?
A: I just put it all aside. I didn't have any boyfriends. It's the main thing in my life I put off, but it's behind me now.
Q: If you were going to get married would Louis be your best man?
A: No! I think my best friend would be my best man. But Louis would definitely be at the wedding, with the rest of the Westlife boys and everyone else I work with.
Q: Do you think shows such as the 'X Factor' or 'American Idol' are good for the music industry?
A: The 'X Factor' can't always be about the next Whitney or Mariah, it's about entertainment. There's the pantomime element of it so characters like John and Edward have just as much reason to be there. It's about finding entertainers.
Q: Do you find it frustrating that they can do so well through reality TV?
A: We got our break through luck and trying hard, but other people get theirs in different ways. We can't complain because it gave us a chance to get the whole country hearing our new song. Money cannot buy that sort of exposure.
Q: Do you think they'll find another star?
A: They're very lucky they found Leona; she came at a crucial time because it was starting to get to the point where credibility was starting to diminish. Leona comes along and 'The X Factor' has found the newest, biggest star in the world, so it's respected again.
Q: You performed on 'X Factor' recently. Were you nervous?
A: We know we're all fine and that none of us act scatty and none of us are not going to speak to Dermot O'Leary. The worst thing that could have happened was that we would be a little nervous! But that's what you get when 15 million people are watching you.
Q: Do you think some people were waiting for you to fail?
A: I wasn't going to let that get to me. I wasn't thinking, oh look what happened to Whitney last weekend. I was thinking I want this to go well. Seeing the contestants every week, they don't look nervous, they don't realise how many people are watching.
Q: Did you get star struck?
A: Yes, because I watch it at home and it's like jumping into the TV. I think with Robbie Williams, and then me when I was nervous, is I watch the 'X Factor' every week and it's really strange, a bit like jumping into the TV. That's why he looked so nervous.
Q: Do you feel Westlife get unfairly criticisied for releasing so many covers?
A: We're a little bit misunderstood because we're not only doing covers. Our record company don't want to take risks so they'd be happy to do covers. If you listen to our album, I would say to anyone who criticises what we do, it kind of proves we don't just do covers. We do a lot of pop songs and a lot of our number one singles are actually pop songs.
Q: You've still had a lot of number ones...
A: We definitely did go too far, we did too many covers. That's something we allowed to happen and shouldn't have. There's a place for covers, some of the best songs in pop are covers, and it's just that we allowed ourselves to go a bit too far.
Q: What's Simon Cowell like? Does he really wear his trousers that high?
A: We met Simon in 1998. He came to Ireland to audition us and basically has the same outfit now. He's got the same trousers, up to his moobs, but he goes to the gym now so he doesn't have the moobs anymore...and he has the haircut. He had the same black top. I think he's kind of loosened up a bit and his style sense has changed. He wears jeans now; he doesn't wear the high-wasted trousers.
Q: He wears grey t-shirts too...
A: He likes to mix it up. To be honest, that's what he's like in real life. He's a very charming man and very interesting. I think the level of success, it's amazing, you can't deny that he has something very special. He's obviously an intelligent man.
Q: What don't the public know about Simon?
A: He's got a big side of him that's interested in psychology. Honestly, you go into his office and there are books on psychology and stuff. He's a business man and business men need to know all of that sort of stuff but he's a very nice man and there's a lot more to him than what the public see. I think he's also a very private man, as famous as he is, and he doesn't show that side of him.
By Laura Hinton