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Shane Filan: ‘The best advice was to invest in property, well I did that and I lost it all’

Shane Filan said he was happier in life when he had no money

 “I’M here because I have the most amazing wife in the world. She just said to me that my job in life is to look after my children and my family.

“Louis Walsh called me and said, ‘You have your wife, your children and your voice. You can start again.’”

Shane Filan has been through a tumultuous 18 months and has come out the other side of it. After 14 years in Westlife and when he should have been set up for life, he found himself bankrupt and staring at a bleak future.

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One big, bad Irish property investment left him massively exposed financially and, as we talk, he opens up about how he managed to get through those dark days.

“My wife Gillian is an incredible woman,” Filan tells me as we chat over a coffee in central London.

“She kept me positive and focused on what I had to do. You can have all the money in the world and not be happy.

“When I had no money I was actually happier in my life. When I ended up bankrupt Gillian just said, ‘You know what? We will just start again. We have no money, we will live in a cardboard box if we have to.’

“Gillian is the love of my life. When I needed her the most she was incredible. To build up everything and lose it all and then have someone love you even more when that happens… she is the main reason I am here singing.

“It must be a very scary place for someone on their own. You feel like your whole world is crumbling around you.”

His bankruptcy has been picked over by the Irish media for months, but Filan insists that he has come through an extremely difficult experience and is a better person for it.

“The worst thing that could happen to me, financially, happened to me,” he says. “I dreaded the whole prospect of having no money, it scared the life out of me. You are trying to keep things at bay.

“What I tried to do was take the positives out of it, that’s why I wrote the songs so well. They are honest, truthful songs and they are positive.”

When his world imploded, Filan quickly found out who he could depend on. He has a strong family, three beautiful children, good friends and in his own words “an amazing wife” (they’ll be married 10 years in December).

This past year has been the most difficult of his life but he has come through it and has launched himself as a solo artist.

His debut solo album, You and Me, reflects everything that has happened to him in recent months.

Filan could perhaps be forgiven for writing gloomy material, but to his credit there isn’t a hint of bitterness about him or his music.

“Everything to do with that financial situation was negative. You keep blaming yourself, asking ‘why me?’ But there are a lot of children sick in the world and a lot of things going wrong for families,” he says.

Shane was the most high-profile casualty of the property boom

“When it all happened you realise what you have. The first single (Everything To Me) is all about that. “It’s about my life and my family and about being alive. That’s why it’s called Everything To Me. It has happened to me for some reason.

“It has definitely made me very determined. Nobody is going to work harder than me to make this happen.

“I had all the money and all it was, was pressure; pressure to look after it and invest it. The best advice was always to invest in property, well I did that and I lost it all. From now on I will stick to singing.”

It’s what he’s good at. Just look at the list of achievements with Westlife. Fourteen number one singles in Britain, 50 million records sold around the world through the 14 years the band was together.

It was an incredible journey and now he’s setting off on the next stage of his career. And he’s excited.

“It’s like a breath of fresh air. I have nothing to compare it to, it’s completely different to being in a band. You don’t have three other guys around, you have to fill the stage yourself.

“Every interview and photoshoot you do by yourself. This is me.

“I get one shot to make this right. I have nobody to blame but myself, nobody to answer to but myself. It’s me, the record company and Louis Walsh. It’s easier to be a solo artist… you get up last in the morning!

“There’s no ‘scissors, paper, rock’ about doing certain things! We used to do that a lot in the band!”

Leaving the comfort of a world famous boy-band and heading out into the world as a solo artist must be a daunting experience, but Filan reveals that every day he is learning more and more, mainly about himself and what he is capable of achieving alone.

“I have found in myself that, confidence-wise, I have come up a level. You have to come out of your own shell a lot and I have done with my personality.

“I was on Never Mind The Buzzcocks the other night and I loved it. I’m finding out things about myself that I never knew before.

“Maybe I’m funnier than I thought I was; all this stuff has been taken out of me. This is natural progression, I’m finding out so much about myself.

“I presented an MTV music show the other day and it was off-the-cuff, it was so enjoyable. I loved it, reading the autocue and just banging it out.

“I realise you have got to be yourself and not think about it too much. I just answer it like I say it, don’t think about performing, just do it.

“If you think about things too much you can end up being someone who’s not 100 per cent. I’m open to things and I’m excited about it afterwards.”

The album hit the shelves on November 4 and so far the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, much to Filan’s delight.

“It has brought me to a more positive place in my life and I needed to do that, it has made me a lot happier,” he says. “We started in January when I signed with Capitol Records.

“They asked me if I wanted to write and I didn’t know if I could write, if I would be any good at it. They wanted to find out what was most natural to me. Everything To Me was the first song.

“I found the writing process very therapeutic and easy. I was writing about stuff and there was no pressure on me. I just wanted to do it. I was writing about my life, about being alive, being happy.

“I wrote the whole album in six months and got some really great, positive songs. They all have little individual stories. Every single on the album I know where I was when it was written.”

That first single is a catchy tune that radio stations across Ireland and Britain seem to love playing and Filan admits he has been delighted with the reaction so far.

Westlife at the Meteor Music Awards a year before the band split in 2011

“It has been an amazing response from people, it really has. The two singles are on the playlist at Magic FM and it is great hearing your songs when you are in the car.

“Radio was something that Westlife struggled with a little bit. The fans seem to love it too. It’s upbeat and it’s positive, just like the album.

“I’ve had a great start. You have to start convincing people. There are going to be five or six singles all the way to next Christmas.

“It’s completely different to Westlife and I’m starting again in lots of senses. It’s brand new, it’s Shane Filan and even hearing my name and saying it is weird!”

Anyone who has ever watched a Westlife performance, in the flesh or on TV or DVD, must surely have marvelled at their confidence.

Yet Filan insists that he still gets nervous, especially now that he is by himself on stage, without the other band members for support.

“I am very nervous, I am absolutely cacking myself! Especially when it was coming up to the week of release.

“The interest in me and the reaction on iTunes was amazing. To be No.1 on iTunes was an amazing feeling. It was my first song so I have nothing to compare it to.

“I hope my album goes into the top 10. I think the album sales will be more physical, in that sense. Single sales nowadays are as much as 90 per cent downloads.

“I have some great songs to come, I’m just so excited about it. About You is the big mid-tempo ballad, I can’t wait for people to hear it. It’ll be out in the spring.”

Embracing social media is something Filan has taken to as well, something he enjoys, because it connects you immediately with the fans.

“I have a bit of fun on Twitter, I like it. It’s a good way of connecting with people. The more you get into it the more you can have a laugh and that’s important for me. Social media is the best way of getting to as many people as possible.”

As much as his wife Gillian has held everything together over the past year-and-a-half, Filan has also been able to rely heavily on his friend and mentor Louis Walsh.

It was Walsh who put Westlife together and it was Walsh who was there for the Sligo man when things went wrong for him.

“Louis is a friend and he has been my manager for 15 years. You need him fighting for you in your corner,” he admits.

“He has been very protective of me, he has been amazing. When I needed that phone call or that message he said to me, ‘It’s only money’.

“That was his comment. He says the right thing at the right time, that’s what’s great about Louis. I trust him 110 per cent.

“He has been a great manager to the Westlife boys and a true friend. When I do a performance on TV he will be the first person to text, after my wife. He might say something like, ‘I didn’t like the jacket’, something like that.

“He is very excited about what we are doing, it reminds me of the start of the band. He’s trying to do everything right. Louis is one of those people who have supported me all the way.”

There is one question that Shane Filan must get asked every day of his life and he is happy to answer it again.

Will Westlife ever get back together again? “You’re right, it’s a question I get asked a lot! Right now we would all say, ‘Probably not’. It’s more a case of we have done it all — more than we could have dreamed of.

“We went out at the top and we went out at the right time. It was still the right decision.

“The band started so big, we were almost breaking every rule in the book. Those two nights at Croke Park were a fairytale ending. Of course I miss it, but would it be the same? It’s hard to answer that.

“Ten years down the road, you never know. Will we ever be a full-time band again? I doubt it.

“We’re all still good friends and that’s important. We’re all finding out where we are going in life. We really have to start again and carve out our own careers.

“It’s an added pressure too. I’ve had an amazing career already, I was in Westlife. I’ve had a dream life already and now I’m having this second chance.”

Filan’s journey started in his hometown of Sligo and he remains hugely proud of his Connacht roots.

“I’m very proud of being from Sligo, it’s a town I lived in all my life. I’m very proud of being from the west of Ireland, it’s why the band was called WESTLIFE! Three of us were from the west, that’s why we beat the two Dubs!

“I go home and visit. I lost the house and all that (as part of the bankruptcy proceedings). That was the worst day of my life leaving that house.

“It’s tough but you get on with it and move on. My family are in Sligo and I miss being there. I’ll always fly the flag for Sligo because it’s where I am from.”

You and Me is out now on Capitol Records. Shane Filan tours Britain in February.

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