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Sunday 22 October 2017

I owed €23m but the lads in Westlife didn't have a clue

Bankruptcy brought his darkest days but Shane Filan is feeling happy again

Shane Filan with his wife Gillian. Photo: Brian McEvoy
Shane Filan with his wife Gillian. Photo: Brian McEvoy

HIS bandmates knew nothing.

In fact, it wasn't until after Westlife had made the decision to split that Shane Filan sat down with Kian, Nicky and Mark and confessed to the lads what he'd been holding back for a couple of years.

Shafin Developments, the property company that Shane had established with his brother, Finbarr, had gone bust.

The singer was faced with a bill of €23m. And his best friends hadn't a clue.

"I didn't say a word," says Shane. "Because it wasn't their problem.

"It was only right before the start of the last tour that I sat them down and I explained how bad it was. They were quite shocked."

After 14 years as a Westlife superstar, Shane was practically broke. It's no surprise, then, that he regularly asked himself why this had happened to him.

"But then, you also quickly answer yourself: 'Why not me?'" he explains. "It happened, there's no recipe for why and why not.

"There were a few very difficult years where I was quite worried and scared. But you take yourself out of the bubble, and you realise it's happening all over the world, especially in Ireland."

Shane (34) tried to avoid bankruptcy, but he struggled to pay back interest on the loans that he'd taken out for the company.

"I put all my eggs in one basket and invested in property," he recalled. "I didn't do anything internationally – it was all in Ireland.

POSITIVES

"I suppose you try and take the positives out of it, but at the time, it was very difficult to do that."

The father-of-three admits that it was his wife of ten years, Gillian, who kept him focused.

"Gillian was amazing. You shouldn't end a band like Westlife and not be financially secure to some extent, but I wasn't at all – it was the complete opposite," he said.

"But you look at stuff then, 'Well, what do I have? I don't have money but I have a great marriage, three healthy kids, and I have my voice. I'll just start again.'"

In June 2012, Shane – having moved his family to the UK where they had already owned a home in Surrey – was declared bankrupt. A bankruptcy in the UK lasts for 12 months compared to 12 years in Ireland.

But Shane readily admits that these were still his darkest days.

"For every reason, it was the best decision for my family, and for my career, to be in the UK," he says.

DEAL

"You obviously have the whole other side of it, then, where you lose your family home in Ireland. That was the worst day of my life, without a doubt."

It was re-teaming with manager Louis Walsh and signing a new record deal that started the Sligo man back on the right track. He also turned his hand to song-writing.

"After Westlife, I was in a scared place, you know, you've three children and I worry about providing for them, and I had no guarantees going forward about the future," he revealed.

"It was a very weird place to be in, but once I got into the studio and once the record label and Louis started telling me, 'Right, we've got some really good songs here', I started to feel a little bit of release."

It is a "massive week" for Shane. He's nervous about the release of debut album, You and Me, this Friday, but he's also confident that he's got a strong collection of pop songs under his belt that will see him through to the next chapter of his showbiz career.

"It's very important that this does well," he nods.

But after selling 44 million albums and topping the UK singles charts 14 times with Westlife, Shane said there was no feeling of being let down after his first solo single Everything to Me stalled at number 14 in the UK in August.

"I genuinely wasn't because there was no massive expectation," he said.

"Westlife were very famous for having number ones, but our last number one was seven years ago.

"I'm happy. It was a top-20 hit. If it was number 50 in the charts, I would have been disappointed. This is all new territory to me."

Westlife ended at the just right time, he reckons. Sure, nobody wants to walk away from a successful boy band, but the guys had always said that they'd go out on top.

"And it was the best tour we ever did," says Shane of their 2012 farewell jaunt.

"It's funny. Financially, I didn't get paid for it (his performance fees went towards payment of his creditors) – that's the truth. But it was probably the best time I've ever had on stage."

Shane is under no illusion about how things may pan out. A recent guest appearance on The X Factor raised a few questions about whether we might one day see the singer take up a position as a judge on the show.

"You know what? Right now in my career, if I was asked tomorrow, I probably wouldn't do it, because I couldn't commit to it," he said.

"And that might sound crazy, but for me, the next two years is all about giving my career the best possible chance. Down the line, though, you never know."

For now, he's surrounding himself with positive people. That includes the aforementioned Louis Walsh who he says has been like a mentor to him.

"In the music world, he is a bit like a father figure to me," says Shane. "I do respect him like I respect my dad."

You and Me is released on Friday. Shane will be signing copies of the album at HMV Dundrum on Saturday at 11am.

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