Westlife’s 23 years in music – original name, Brian snub and devastating split

Under Simon Cowell’s label and X Factor judge Louis Walsh’s management, it’s no wonder Ireland-born group Westlife was so popular over the years.

Even as The X Factor launched, Louis fought hard to find themselves the next ‘big boyband’ to follow in Boyzone's very successful footsteps.

Releasing albums across three decades so far, the group remains a pop sensation as they raked in millions of pounds and album sales – but it wasn't all roses and sunshine behind closed doors.

As the iconic boyband marks 23 years since they first formed, what has their career looked like in those 23 years?

Name Change

Most fans wouldn’t imagine calling the group anything other than Westlife, but did you know that they were originally called Westside? Another group already hosted the name, so they had to change it and ended up at Westlife.

But… even before then, Kian Egan, Mark Feehily and Shane Filan performed in their school musical Grease together and decided to form a band, according to Westlifeweb. In fact, the group even brought out a single – they were called I.O.You and brought out a single Together Girl Forever in 1997.

Louis Walsh and Ronan Keating then stepped in and changed some of the original members from the band before holding auditions in Dublin which eventually saw Nicky Byrne and Brian McFadden join and ‘Westside’ was born.

In 1999, Westside became Westlife and they released their first single under their new name in April 1999.

Shock Exit

Westlife fans were left devastated when just six years into the band, Brian McFadden made the decision to leave.

The group managed to make five albums as a five-piece band before they became a four, with Brian’s exit confirmed just three weeks before the group headed on their fourth world tour.

In a bid to spend time with his family, which at that time, was his wife Kerry Katona and daughters Molly and Lilly-Sue, Brian left before the tour, making his last performance at a club in Newcastle in February 2004.

At the time, Brian said: "It’s very hard to juggle two lives when you’ve got a family."

Bandmate Egan added: "We’ve shared laughter, tears, success, weddings and babies, but most of all we’ve shared our dreams."

Devastating split

Although the band carried on as a four-piece – releasing eight further albums throughout their career – they did go their separate ways in 2012.

In a statement, the group said that Westlife had become a family to them, indicating that there was no bad blood between the group.

A source also told The Sun at the time: "There's no bad blood in the band, they're still great pals. But all good things come to an end and they are all keen to do their own thing.

"It's not something they have done lightly as they are still at the top of their game. They could carry on making albums into their old age the way their career has gone, but none of them want to do that."

Their time apart

Around the time of the split, lead singer Shane saw his property empire go bust, resulting in debts of £18million – but despite tremendous loss, Shane kept his head high as he reduced his debts and worked as a solo artist.

Three albums were released during his solo career, including You and Me in 2013, Right Here in 2015 and Love Always in 2017.

Mark also tried his hand at a solo career, releasing music under the name Markus Feehily, and released his single, Love Is a Drug, in February 2015.

Nicky completed on Strictly in the months that followed the split from Westlife and later had a successful TV and radio career, including becoming the host on the Irish version of Dancing With the Stars.

Kian proudly won the 2013 series of I'm A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here and released his solo album the following year.

While the four reunited following their individual success, in 2018, Brian told the Irish Sun that he was offered a multi-million pound deal to return to the group, but said: "It was the other boys in Westlife who said no, they didn't want me back."

The reunion

When Westlife finally reunited in 2018, fans were overjoyed to see their favourite boyband back on stage.

Prior to their first gig at Wembley Mark Feehily said: "The best thing for our career that we've ever done is split up.

"We would not be standing here today announcing we're playing Wembley Stadium if we did not split up.

"Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. This is magic. Westlife is like a holiday, and you shouldn't be on holiday all the time."

Their most recent album, Spectrum, was released in 2019, but their next album will be available to buy in November 2021 – this will make it the fourth consecutive decade in which they have released a new album.

Although many shows were cancelled last year due to Covid-19, Westlife plan to be back on the stage on touring as soon as they are able.

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