Mark Feehily sold 55 million records as part of record-breaking Irish boyband Westlife, clocking up 14 UK number ones across 14 years.
Now Mark is back with his first solo offering in two years and preparing for a Christmas tour with pal Mariah Carey.
His new album, Christmas, out 1 December, is something he has wanted to release for a long time, as he bids to follow in Mariah’s festive footsteps.
Speaking to PinkNews, Mark is keen to dispel the diva reputation that follows Mariah – she is, apparently, easy going.
“She was really laid back, I mean really chilled,” he says of their time recording Against All Odds in 2000.
“We literally had a couple glasses of wine in the studio we were laughing and gossiping about the other big American stars and stuff like that.
“It was really like we already knew her, like catching up with an old friend. We were all quite taken aback with how fun she was, and I’m really not just making that up.”
Working with queen of Christmas Mariah has inspired him to release a festive album.
“I’ve always loved Christmas songs, it’s that one time of year when you can get your Christmas albums out.
“Mariah Carey was one of my favourites since I was a kid and just, you know, all those songs that become relevant once a year just for a little while, and I’ve tried to pick really strong songs for the record.”
He adds: “I felt like I was getting a little separation and anxiety from the fans and I try to keep in touch with them as much as I can on twitter and stuff. It’s actually been two years now, so it’s the right time to release something.”
Mark was propelled to fame while still a teenager, working with the likes of Mariah and racking up number one records into his 20s.
But while working as a popstar adored by millions, privately he was battling his own sexuality.
Mark didn’t just have to come out to friends and family – there were millions of fans, the tabloid press and record execs watching.
“Honestly, it was probably the most difficult experience of my entire life, by miles it stands out further than everything else,” he reveals to PinkNews.
“I suppose I became paranoid that press were gonna be after it, I was really scared so I thought the only thing to do here was just to get in the closet, lock the door and swallow the key.”
For years he avoided his sexuality at all costs, eventually resorting to seeing a therapist.
“She just sort of stuck a pin in it and all the air came flying out, you know?
“One weekend I was going back to Ireland, and she said, well your homework for this weekend is just to go home and come out to your parents. And then I was like, okay then, that’s happening then. It’s weird when you just hand something over to the counsellor.”
Things changed in 2004 when, age 24, he finally found the strength to tell Westlife and band boss Louis Walsh.
He was out for drinks with bandmates Kian Egan and Shane Filan when it all came to head, with the boys insisting he tell them why he was struggling.
“I just thought, ‘F**k, well I can’t hold back anymore, I’ve already come out to my friends and family. So I just said it to them.
“And in five minutes they were asking me, ‘Who do you fancy? Do you fancy Justin Timberlake? And obviously I said yes.”
It was over drinks that he finally told Louis, too, after bandmates struggled to keep such big news a secret from him.
“We were out again at a club with Louis and everyone had had a few drinks and the lads were like ‘will you just f***ing tell him? We’re dying to talk about this!’
“So I just turned around to Louis, and they all knew I was going to do it so they all turned round like a little audience, so I turned around to Louis and said, ‘Louis I’m a big old gay’.
“There was this moment when we were in the club and we all had our arms around each other jumping up and down for joy, because a lot of people will know this, it was affecting me so much that it was sort of seeping out into the atmosphere.
“People could physically, tangibly feel my sadness or unhappiness and so everyone was relieved, not just me.”
What happened next is unclear, Mark confesses, but there were shots involved.
And while Louis and record bosses welcomed his coming out, Mark reveals that behind closed doors the bubbly X Factor judge is anything but soft.
“There was one time when we were doing a chat show in Dublin. It was a big Saturday night chat show and the presented was a little bit lippy.
“And Louis was there and Louis just stormed off the stage on live TV and sat down and grabbed the mic and he’s like ‘nobody f***ing watches this show, don’t f***ing say that about these boys, these boys are the hardest f***ing boys in the business and your just a grumpy old man.’
“All this kind of stuff. that was a true example of how Louis protected us and stood up for us.”
“There were times where Louis heard something and literally get on a flight to Dublin, get in a taxi, go straight to the label and say, ‘I don’t care about security, I don’t need a pass,’ and go to the label and just start screaming at everyone.
“Because we released 13 albums some of them at the label were more taking them for granted and stuff. He’d always just go in and read the riot acts and that’s, as I say, that’s priceless, you can’t buy that you know.”
Westlife parted ways in 2012 – something Mark says he has no regrets about – but the calls for them to reunite are stronger than ever.
Simon Cowell is even proactively trying to make the reunion happen, he reveals: “Once every six months, we’ll get some sort of call, whether it’s from Simon or from Louis, or from somebody going, ‘Right okay, should we all meet up?’”
“Theres a reality we could get back together, all of us want it to happen,” he admits.
“You know, at the end of the day it’s completely down to the four of us and we all know in our heart and souls all of us want to do it.
“We’ve been approached and been offered for the red carpet to be rolled out, the whole lot. It’s very important to us and we wouldn’t just do it until we’re all ready.”
Mariah Carey and Mark Feehily will be performing at the Manchester Arena, 10 December and London’s O2 arena, 11 September.
Mark’s new album, Christmas, can be pre-ordered here, along with tour details.