WESTLIFE’S Mark Feehily is set to reveal his festive album on Mariah Carey’s UK tour. He tells Kirsten Jones about his comeback year.
It may be five years since Westlife split up, but Mark Feehily can still hit the high note in their smash hit Flying Without Wings.
“I used to give myself hell over that high note,” laughs Mark, 37.
“People ask me to sing it all the time and I’m like, ‘Not right now, I’m in the pub.’”
The 90s ballad won record of the year in 1999 and kick-started Westlife’s rise to fame to become one of the biggest boy bands in the world.
They sold over 50 million records, scored 14 number one singles and sang with legends such as Diana Ross, Sinéad O’Connor and Donny Osmond.
They outsold the Spice Girls, toured the world and hit Christmas number one with I Had A Dream. But even Mark admits there can only be one Queen of Christmas, and that’s Mariah Carey.
“I remember hearing her voice for the first time,” he says.
“I was just a kid, but I was blown away.”
Luckily, Mark didn’t have to wait long to hear her again. As Westlife fever spread, the boys were shipped off to Capri to record Against All Odds with the lady herself.
“We got on so well at the showbiz parties. That’s never changed,” he smiles.
“When we meet it’s not ‘two kisses and see you later’. She runs down the hallway with open arms.”
Seventeen years since their song hit number one, Mariah and Mark are back in business.
Tonight, Mariah takes her festive hits on tour to Manchester, followed by London tomorrow, and lucky Mark is warming up the crowds with hits from his brand-new Christmas album – no pressure.
“As a youngster I was a big fan of Mariah’s Christmas album. Every year it would come out of the closet… out of storage, I mean.”
A lot has changed since 1999. Mariah is still at the top of her game and now has twins in tow, while Mark tried his hand in catering and has now gone solo. He’s been hard at work on his Christmas album, singing in a very different style to his boy band days.
“I feel most at home singing in the style of jazz, blues and soul,” he admits.
“Mariah has massive gospel influences in her songs. She’s still my idol.”
Mark will sing his own versions of some big festive hits on stage before Mariah’s big moment. His favourites are Merry Christmas Baby by Otis Redding, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas and Joni Mitchell’s ballad River.
“I had recorded a couple of Christmas songs last year but something told me to hold on to them. Thankfully, I did. When I got the call to support Mariah I thought, ‘This is it. This is the year to release my Christmas records.’”
His seasonal tunes come two years after his first solo album, released in 2015.
Die-hard fans will be pleased to hear that it’s not just Christmas music on Mark’s radar. He’ll be back next year with more tunes and they won’t be too dark, either.
“Fire was a dark album. A lot of songs were about break-ups because of Westlife ending,” he says.
“I’ll never lose that melancholy though. You won’t hear me singing Is This The Way To Amarillo anytime soon.”
With Westlife rifts tucked away in the past, Mark’s been inspired by something completely different. He’s a self-confessed family man back in Sligo and is a doting uncle to his niece, who he takes to school everyday.
“The last five years have allowed me the space to find out what I care about in life. Running around the world trying to chase what Westlife achieved is not a focus for me. That’s a battle that will only ever be lost.”
So there’s no chance of a Westlife reunion in 2018? Apparently not. While five years may seem like a lifetime to the fans, it’s not quite enough for the boys.
“In some ways it feels like a while, but in other ways it doesn’t feel that long at all,” he muses.
“I think we all agree that it would be fantastic to be back together to live that magic again. We’ll look forward to it when the time is right.”
Next year marks 20 years since the boys met manager Louis Walsh.
The music mogul supports new talent on The X Factor every year so perhaps Mark could join him? Well, he wouldn’t say no.
“I’d love to meet raw, upcoming talent and guide them on their journey, but there is part of me that says, ‘Stick to the singing.’”
While many boy band members and soap stars hit the stage for panto season, we may have to wait a year or two for Mark to sign up.
“A bit of a laugh always interests me,” he says.
“I’d never frown on a role.”
Besides, he has panto memories of his own.
“In my teens I was part of a boy band called Pantozone,” he laughs.
“I got pulled in at the last minute as no one else could sing.”
As Christmas creeps closer, Mark is looking forward to switching off from work and settling down with family and friends.
“I’ve spent many years whipping back and forth for Christmas. This year is about being at home,” he says.
“With Westlife I worked myself into a mess at the start of every year. Now I’m solo I want to enjoy the holidays and get that fire burning in 2018.”
Mark Feehily’s new album Christmas is out now.