One year ago this month, Mark Feehily, member of Irish boyband Westlife, publicly came out of the closet. In the UK, where the band is considered pop royalty, the event was front page news.
Speaking on what was supposed to be the eve of the band’s first Australian tour -“ the tour has just been postponed until 2007 -“ Feehily said he didn’t out himself because the tabloids were threatening to do it for him (as was apparently the case for Stephen Gately from Boyzone, who came out in 1999). He simply felt it was finally time to do it.
I always say I should’ve done it years ago, Feehily told Sydney Star Observer from his home in London. But as for anyone else, it’s about finding the right time when you feel 100 percent happy to do it. And I was 100 percent happy to do it.
The band seemed to be going strong and in order for me to be happy and move forward I just wanted to get it out of the way. And it was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life by a mile, because it’s just made my life so much better.
Most boybands don’t last long -“ technically they are only meant to last three or four years, according to Feehily. Yet Westlife are still hot property seven years after their first hit single, Swear It Again. They’ve sold more than 35 million albums worldwide and their seventh record, Face To Face, shot to number one on the Australian charts earlier this year.
Nobody expected the band to last this long, and I kind of never knew whether or not I was going to have to face up to it and come out publicly, if I was ever going to be asked to do that, he said.
Because the band’s four members regularly grace the pages of Britain’s celebrity-obsessed tabloids, when Feehily became involved in his first proper relationship with singer Kevin McDaid, who was in former British boyband V, he realised the time was right to do it.
Obviously when I started going out with Kevin I thought, I don’t want to sneak around, to go for dinner and be scared someone’s going to see us and put two and two together.
The 26-year-old’s friends, family and bandmates had known he was gay for years and were all supportive. And, to his surprise, after he went public so were his fans.
I didn’t know what to expect from the fans because of the way boybands are designed to appeal. I was bracing myself for any amount of reactions. But to this day, a year later, I haven’t experienced even one word of negative response, which is fantastic.
This is due partly, he said, because he never tried to use sex appeal to attract female fans like some boyband members. Instead he hoped they would just appreciate him for his voice (Feehily is widely regarded as having the strongest voice in the band).
I think Westlife has always been more about the songs than about having six-packs, because none of us do have six-packs anyway, he laughed.
Plus he made a point of not lying about his sexuality. Obviously being in a pop band like this you’re always doing interviews with newspapers and magazines and it was definitely kind of weird or awkward speaking about my love life. But I just tried my best to remain as honest as possible without actually giving away that side of me until I was ready to do it.
Since Feehily came out last year, Lance Bass from NSYNC has followed suit, as has Australia’s own Darren Hayes. And the more openly gay people in the public eye the better, Feehily reckons. He said he’d received lots of letters from young people saying they’d felt brave enough to come out since he had done it.
He and McDaid are still together and going strong, he said, but rumours they were planning a civil partnership aren’t true. Not yet anyway.
If I was, the whole world would know because it’s something I’d be celebrating, he said. I wouldn’t be keeping it quiet.
Westlife’s Australian tour has been postponed. For more info see Ticketek.