Words: Jamie Tabberer; picture: Matt Holyoak/@Markusmoments
"Does that include people who are not out?! I’d probably be bumped down the list a bit if not!"
Such is Westlife's Markus Feehily's modest reaction to learning he's (according to our research, at least) the top LGBTQ performer on the UK singles chart.
But come on - are you surprised the 41-year-old's response is anything but gentlemanly?
The "statistic", as he calls it, makes sense: he and Shane Filan, Kian Egan and Nicky Byrne have been pumping out hits like 'Flying Without Wings' and 'You Raise Me Up' for 22 years... and they're not done yet.
"I didn’t know that," he adds of the chart fact. "Of course, it’s an honour that somehow I managed to sneak in the back door on that one. It’s also just a statistic and I’m under no illusion that it reflects my importance in the history of the UK Singles charts! I mean, I’ve sung lead vocals on 14 number one records and I am an out gay pop star so I have done a little bit, but I could never compete with the Eltons and Georges - Michael and The Boy - or various others!"
As the band ready themselves for their 12th (!) album Wild Dreams, we chatted to Mark about his favourite Westlife song, working (twice) with Mariah Carey and life with fiancé Cailean O'Neill and their two-year-old daughter, Layla.
Hi Mark – what can fans expect of the album?
We wrote a huge percentage of Wild Dreams and that felt like a very natural progression for us. It was very important for us to make upbeat positive and exciting music which is what we felt we needed and what our fans might want too! And after the last 18 months, we wanted to create something feel-good which is what we’ve done with the first single ‘Starlight’.
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What's your favourite song on the album?
'Wild Dreams' is one of the first songs we wrote with the amazing Rami Yacoub. The sound and production of that song really paved the way for the rest of the album.
What's your favourite classic Westlife song?
'Flying Without Wings' - to say this song is ours and it’s an original is a blessing for me as a singer. I simply never tire of singing it and each time I do, I sing it slightly differently according to whatever mood I’m in.
Why do you think Westlife, and a few other select acts of your era, have experienced longevity and continued success while others have faded away?
I think we came along at a sweet spot where we were able to learn from the musical and financial mistakes many acts before us had made. Also, we came before a time where music completely changed and became heavily focused on extreme production styles. Musically we always stick to great songs and great vocals.
Who is the biggest LGBTQ music icon you've been lucky enough to meet?
Honestly, I’ve had to pinch myself so many times! I have sung in the studio and live on stage with Mariah Carey, Diana Ross, Donna Summer, and others, and I was lucky enough to sit and chat and have dinner and drinks with them.
Those are the moments I will cherish and the moments that I would love to go back in time and show my 14-year-old self. Those are the best memories when dreams come true. It is more important than chart positions and album sales for me. Mariah was the most fun out of all of them, although Diana was so kind and I learned so much vocally from Donna! I mean, she was so beautiful and powerful.
You worked with Mariah in 2000 and 2007. What was her most-Mariah moment, when you thought 'this is exactly what I imagined Mariah would be like!'
She was so great! Mariah had us laughing the entire time we were with her. She is very witty and she used to banish all her entourage from the studio and from the dinner table as she wanted to just sit with us and get to know us on a personal level.
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Your daughter recently turned two - and toddler age is the best age! How has your parenthood journey been so far?
Myself and Cailean [below] are madly in love with her. She grows and progresses nearly every day. Sometimes we look at her and think “who is this little woman and where did our baby go?!”
So far we have enjoyed every last bit of it and we have great support from our families and friends, and ended up having so much extra time with her in lockdown. I can’t describe just how much we love her!
How do you and Cailean juggle work and parenthood, particularly during busy periods like around the release of a new album?
Cailean is the best parent I could have wished to do this with. He is so amazing with her and when I’m away I know she’s safe and happy with him. Our mothers and close inner circle help us out a lot, too.
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What is your advice to LGBTQ people who dream of becoming parents?
Years ago, the idea of getting married and starting a family was not really something we thought could happen in our lifetimes. For me, starting a family at 40 has been a huge part of my progression as a human. 'Settling down' is not something I saw gay people doing growing up, so I’m glad to live in a world where there is plenty of visibility around marriage equality and same-sex parents. It is so important, otherwise some folk would be at risk of thinking: 'What’s the point? I’ll just keep partying and living like I’m in my 20s/30s until I’m 85!' Which might be fine... but also might not end well! Settling down and starting a family will not be for everyone, but it is crucial that it is seen as an option for anyone who does want that life.
Wild Dreams is out on 26 November 2021.
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