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The band who sang for the pope

Westlife were one of the hottest boy bands in the business, breaking numerous chart records on their climb up the pop ladder.

During their career they racked up 44 million record sales, sang with diva Mariah Carey and even performed for the Pope.

The Irish group started life as a threesome, with Shane Filan, Mark Feehily and Kian Egan performing pop covers during intervals in theatre productions in their hometown of Sligo.

Their big break came when they were spotted by X Factor judge -- then Boyzone manager -- Louis Walsh (inset), who managed to land them a gig supporting the Backstreet Boys in Dublin.

In the audience was singer Ronan Keating, who felt that while the band was special, they needed something else. Two more members were sought and when Bryan McFadden and Nicky Byrne joined, the group was born.

Prior to a support tour with Boyzone, the group was called Westside, a name which Walsh had apparently seen written on the side of a bin. They then took part in the annual Smash Hits Roadshow, and were handed the best new act award at the Smash Hits Poll Winners Party.

But as a result of legal wrangles over the group's name, they were renamed Westlife and released a single Swear It Again in 1999.

The song leapt to the top of the charts and the band's next six releases all reached the number one spot, making them the first band to have their first seven consecutive singles reach number one.

hnews@herald.ie