It was so important to sing for Gerry.. we rented a jet to make sure we got to the funeral on time;
WESTLIFE EXCLUSIVE: THEIR SADNESS
Byline: RICHIE TAYLOR
WESTLIFE were so desperate to sing at their friend Gerry Ryan's funeral they hired a private plane to bring them to Dublin in the morning and back to Nottingham afterwards for a gig that evening.
Singer Shane Filan revealed how they had become very close to him over the past few years and were determined to give him a vocal send-off in the church.
He said: "It was one of the hardest gigs we ever had to do. Standing by his coffin with his children in front of us, I found myself getting very emotional.
"I get emotional when I see kids in situations like that, probably because I now have three of my own. It changes the way you look at things - the way you look at the world.
"His daughter Bonnie and her pop band had also toured with us before.
"Gerry always supported us and he was very proud of us being Irish. We met him over the years, going on his programme and all that and he was a very sound guy. We became very close over the last few years. He was always brutally honest and would tell us in no uncertain terms if he didn't like a certain song.
"It was a lot of hard work to get back for the funeral, and even though there was a gap in the volcanic ash cloud, we didn't want to rely on an airline. We didn't want to risk it. It was worth every penny to hire the jet.
"After the funeral we went straight back to the airport and within a few hours we were performing on stage in Nottingham."
Ironically, Westlife had never sung at a funeral until Kian Egan's dad died in Sligo last year. Then Nicky Byrne's dad passed away and they performed at his father's funeral in Baldoyle.
And the third one was Gerry's send-off. Shane added: "We have sung at three funerals in the past 12 months, and had literally never done one before.
"They say that bad things happen in threes, don't they? Let's hope that's it for now. I think it also brought it all back for Kian and Nicky, they started remembering their own family grief."
And the singer said he thoroughly enjoyed the 12 months the band took off last year. "For me, a holiday was staying at home with my family.
I've spent most of my adult life so far t r ave l -ling on planes. Our last child was on the way and it was great to be at home. The only trip we took was to Kian and Jodi's wedding in Barbados.
He added: "I also set up a soccer team with my mates and we played every week, I played a lot of golf with my father-in-law and also did some planning and organising with my brother Finbar in the construction company we've set up.
"Three of the four planning applications we put in for have now been granted. It's a good time to build, things are half the price they were a couple of years ago.
"We're about to start building a nursing home and a small shopping centre, so it's going very well."
Shane was astonished after the band took a year off to discover they were probably more popular than ever.
When we spoke Westlife were in the middle of a three-night run in London's O2 arena, playing to 18,000 people a night - and getting fantastic reactions. "After 12 years it's quite incredible.
The average age of our fans now seems to be between 25 and 30. Looking out at the audience recently I realised that the fans are now so much older. There were people in their 30s and their 40s.
"It used to be all children, now only about 10% of the audience are kids. It's all changed over the years. Every night they hold their camera phones up in the air and sing along to Flying Without Wings. It's mind-blowing.
"As for the future, we just want to continue selling out concerts and making hit records.
"We're actually having a meeting today with Sony to discuss the next album, we're that far ahead of ourselves.
Louis Walsh has already come up with half a dozen songs for it, and I'm pretty sure that several of them will make it onto the album. But we all have an input into it, ourselves, Louis and Simon Cowell.
"It's always a team effort. Except I remember when Louis suggested that we record You Raise Me Up, I didn't want to do it at all. I felt it was a bit too gospel or something for us. But he told me to just trust him, that it was going to be one of our biggest ever hits. And he was dead right. It just goes to show.
"We'd like to branch out sometime and do a live album or an Unplugged album. In fact we might kill two birds with the one stone and maybe record a live Christmas album. I think then fans might like that. But it's going to be a regular album this year. Then we'll think about doing something different for 2011."
And two highlights for Shane this summer will be the band's return to Croke Park on June 5 and at Lissadell House in Sligo on July 30. It's seven years since Westlife - then a five-piece with Brian Mc-Fadden - performed at the local stadium in Sligo.
"But this will be a real homecoming in the grounds of then historic house that was closely associated with WB Yeats. They will be performing to a crowd of around 12,000 fans.
"I'm looking forward to both gigs, Croke Park last year was one of the highlights of my life. I had to keep pinching myself on stage to prove that it was for real. But this will be the first time we've performed in Sligo since Brian left.
"So it will probably be a bit emotional because of that and the fact that it's hometown for three of us - myself, Kian and Mark. I think the promoter John Reynolds is trying to turn it into something like a mini Slane, with Leonard Cohen performing there on two other nights. I know the place well, only six months ago I did a tour of the house with my mother.
"At the time I had no idea we were going to be playing there this year. It's a really beautiful place. I love the whole idea of concerts there, and it will all be great for Sligo."
He also said he would love to meet up with former member Brian Mc-Fadden, who is back in Ireland at the moment and wants to try to catch one of their shows and meet up.
He added: "We haven't heard from him for a while so it would be great to see him. He's always welcome, we still love to see him. We have a brand new stage show at the moment and have considerably upped the ante. You need to keep improving and developing all the time.
"It's like a new band. You have to give people something new every time you go out on tour. You have to keep it fresh."
And he laughed while recalling Nicky Byrne's recent accident after a spot of horseplay in their hotel with Kian Egan went very, very wrong.
"Kian is always up for messing, for doing things like arm-wrestling. He can get a bit rowdy at times. Basically, what happened was that he had Nicky in a headlock and tried to lift him up. But Nicky fell and landed on this glass table. His head swelled up like a balloon and there was blood everywhere.
"I started to panic and took him straight to A&E at six in the morning.
They fixed him up there, gave him an injection to reduce the swelling and stitched up his wound. I was very worried, but I told him it was more about all the gigs we had coming up! He now thinks he's some sort of a tough guy with his scar!" And the singer also revealed how they spent two weeks rehearsing their stage moves at a dance studio he set up in his Sligo home.
He said: "The guys were moaning about having to go to London to rehearse in a dance studio there so I suggested this huge room with wooden floors I have over my garage.
We installed some mirrors and it was perfect. Everybody was happy. Nicky and his family came up form Dublin. He actually loves being in Sligo, even though he's a real Dub.
"We then decided to do the full dress rehearsals in City West in Dublin, so we didn't have to leave the country at all to prepare for the tour. And no, I don't use the dance studio to rehearse by myself. No solo stuff involved there at all. We actually only used it for the Westlife moves. There's definitely no solo Jacko thing to it."
And with his eldest daughter preparing to start junior school later this year, Shane revealed how he actually gets back home more these days than he used to in the past.
He added: "Nicole is getting ready to start school and I definitely want to be around more than I used to be. We can fly to Sligo and spend a few days there at a time now. We haven't been affected much yet by the volcanic ash. Let's hope it stays that way!"