WESTLIFE have opened up about struggling with the pressures of fame as they release their first album in nine years.
The Irish boyband had their first number one single with Swear It Again in 1999, with a further 12 number one singles under their belt.
But the worldwide success they achieved before disbanding in 2012 came with its own downsides for the the four-piece, with Mark Feehily in particular struggling behind closed doors.
Speaking exclusively to The Sun Online ahead of their new album, Spectrum, which is released tomorrow, Mark admitted he was playing ‘a character’ in the early days as he hid his sexuality.
He said: “The danger is, when the character becomes too far apart from the reality and for me, that’s what happened.
“I was playing this boyband character and was all smiles and Smash Hits used to ask ‘what’s your favourite kind of girl?’ and I was answering them thinking ‘Oh my God this is so cringe but if I don’t I might draw attention to myself’.
“I was sick of going out and pretending to be someone I wasn’t.
“I felt like it would have been really wrong for me to ever express that it’s not all fun and games. [But] you need to make sure you’re taking care of yourself as a person as well.
“Now, coming back to 20 years later, I feel like the person that’s here today is the real me and there isn’t much of a difference between the person I am in the band and the person back home.”
Mark is certainly living his best life at the moment, having become engaged to fiance Cailean O’Neill in February this year before the couple welcomed their first child – daughter Layla – in October.
But his life now is a far cry from his lowest moments during the band’s heyday, with Mark admitting he locked himself in a hotel room for five days at one point as he struggled to cope.
Mark, 39, recalled: “I locked myself in a hotel room and didn’t speak to anyone, that was the turning point, I was like ‘this cannot go on, I can’t do a sixth day’. I had this realisation.
“Eventually I slowly realised that I had to do something about it, it was all to do with my sexuality and I slowly started to unravel.
“It was the hotel where we were staying for Soccer Aid and everyone went home as we had a week off and I didn’t even feel like going home and pretending to be this person any more so I just stayed in the hotel room for the whole week off.
“By the end of it, I was confiding in the lads and began the journey of dealing with it. It took a few years to get there.
“I feel quite lucky that I had a good support system behind me and I got through that, but you know, equally we do see people who didn’t have as much of a support around them and they end up in very bad places and that’s what this industry does to certain people.”
Mark came out in 2005, and reflecting on the journey he’s been on since then, he said: “It’s such a huge curve, if I could write a letter to myself when I was that age…but you just have to go through certain things.”
Mark wasn’t the only member of the band who had to go on their own journey, as Kian Egan and Nicky Byrne had to deal with the fact music bosses always chose Mark and fellow bandmate Shane Filan to sing lead vocals on their songs.
Kian, 39, recalled: “In the old days, I speak for myself and Nicky, there was definitely a feeling that we didn’t get enough credit for what we were able to do.
“I think as the years rolled on the confidence was – not knocked out of us – but it definitely suffered and you start to doubt yourself.
“You go into a recording studio and you’re not giving it your all because you think ‘what’s the point? I’m not going to get on it anyway’. That definitely happened.
“I actually remember an album and a conversation with a record label manager and the producer and he just said ‘stick to the vocal formula’. So therefore, me and Nicky could have showed up for one day of recording on the whole album.”
After Westlife disbanded in 2012, all four members released solo albums, and Kian revealed it was the first time he or Nicky recorded an entire song.
He added: “Hearing that back you think ‘hold on, why I was I being told for so many years that I wasn’t good enough to sing on the songs?’
“I think we were young and didn’t want to ruffle any feathers but when you listen to this record we sing on every single song and that’s because number one, we’re strong enough and number two, because it’s a different band [now].”
For his part Nicky, 41, added: “Having been away from the band for seven and a half years and enjoying the other things we were all doing, I couldn’t go back into that band, I said that to the boys straight up.
“It wasn’t because it was an ego because I wanted to sing more, it was because I knew I had more to give and wanted to be a part of it.
“There’s more to a band than just the formula, Shane and Mark are incredibly talented singers, no one is questioning that, but when you get back into it at 40 years of age and have my own children and instilling in them to be confident and ambitious, I couldn’t just stand at the end and pick up the cheque, that wouldn’t be me.”
After reuniting last year and embarking on a hugely successful tour, the boys are excited for the release of their first studio album in nine years, Spectrum.
With songs written by the likes of Ed Sheeran and OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder, Westlife believe they have produced their best album to date.
Shane, 40, said: “We’ve spent 14 months making this album and it’s definitely our best album quality-wise.
“It’s a fun album, it’s enjoyable, it’s very upbeat for Westlife.
“It’s probably 75 per cent uptempo which we probably wouldn’t have done before. But we feel fresher, we feel we have a new lease of life.”
“I think this album is the best album we could have made at this time in our life.”
Spectrum is released tomorrow, Friday November 15.