Shane Filan: a man with nothing and everything

15/08/2013 11:09

Article posted : August 10, 2013

The success of Westlife was fast and vast and band member Shane Filan sought to bank for the future by investing in property. He lost everything spectacularly, including his reputation. Here, he puts the record straight

B y Shane Filan’s estimation, he’s been interviewed about 10,000 times. Ballpark. That happens when you’ve sold 44 million records with Westlife. Popstars are tricky to interview. Their answers can sound like press releases. They’ve been on the promotion road for so long that interviews are an autopilot setting. You generally don’t come out of an hour-long conversation with a heap of gossip and a remarkable insight. But since Westlife wrapped in June 2012 and Filan is now launching his solo career, he has no choice but to be honest.

In Croke Park last June, the last night of Westlife’s career, Filan asked everyone in the crowd to raise their phones. Nearly 80,000 lights blinked back at him. He was transported back to his sitting room as an eight-year-old, showing his mother a video of a Michael Jackson song, the part where all the cigarette lighters glow at a massive concert. He wanted that. He wanted to be a popstar.

It was his mother who started it all, ringing Louis Walsh and banking that, considering they shared a home town in Kiltimagh, Co Mayo, he might listen to her.

In 1998, Filan queued from 5am for tickets to the Backstreet Boys in the RDS. A few months later Westlife, under Walsh’s stewardship, opened for them at the same gig.

Playing basketball backstage with what was then the biggest boyband in the world was the first truly surreal moment of Westlife’s early fame. Their first tour included 13 concerts at the Point Depot and 10 at Wembley.

They went on to have massive hits with Swear It Again, Flying Without Wings, Uptown Girl and What Makes A Man. “It was so big so quickly that everything in your life changed. Dealing with business people, lawyers, accountants. You go back to Sligo and people look at you differently: ‘There’s your man from Westlife’.”

If he could keep only two memories from Westlife’s decade-and-a-half journey, it would be those phones in the air – “It was the most beautiful thing: a starlit sky” – and repaying his mother for her initiative by getting her to meet Pope John Paul II.

But behind the legions of fans and huge fame, Filan was in trouble. Deep trouble. Shafin Developments, a property company he established with his brother was at the wrong end of letters and phonecalls from the banks. They had one housing estate built in Leitrim, but other projects on green-field sites in Sligo had stalled. Clogged-up in planning for a few years, the second half of the bank loans never came through.

“I was paying out paying out 40, 50, 60, €70,000 some months: €90,000 some months. And it was just interest payments. It wasn’t even fixing the problem. That was the killer.”

He clasps his hands when he talks of declaring bankruptcy in the UK. A large wedding ring glitters on his finger: the same wedding ring he had to buy back instead of handing it over. He handed over the keys to his house, a home he built for his family and remortgaged four times. He told Ryan Tubridy that, at one point, he had €470 in his bank account.

This week it emerged that Filan won’t share in the €2.382 million windfall the other three members of Westlife will receive following the voluntary winding up of their entertainment firm Bluenet Ltd. His share – estimated to be between €476,400 and €595,500 –will go directly to his bankruptcy trustee.

He’s sitting in a box in Croke Park eating tomato soup at a coffee table with a vase of red roses. “You go through stuff and you get very frustrated. Why me? Why did this happen? How could I be in Westlife and then have nothing to show for it financially at the end of it? But it’s like, why not me? That’s just life. It’s tough.