By EOIN MURPHY
A week after his savaging on Strictly Come Dancing, Nicky Byrne is bent on redemption.
They don’t come much bigger than Nicky Byrne. With Westlife he has sold over 50 million albums, filled Croke Park four times and pocketed a personal fortune believed to be in excess of €10m. He is married to the daughter of one of the country’s most notorious politicians and his sons, Jay and Rocco, are rivalled only by Jedward as Ireland’s most famous twins.
But for all that, for the past decade Nicky has lived in a showbiz bubble, insulated from public scrutiny and acerbic comment – until last weekend. After performing a waltz on Strictly Come Dancing with his American partner, Karen Hauer, Nicky received something that his ego hasn’t experienced in over a decade – an utter bruising.
‘We had the waltz down to a tee last week in Dublin,’ he says. ‘Then I walked in for a run-through and I forgot it all as soon as I got on the floor. It’s very intimidating being on the Strictly set but Craig [judge Craig Revel Horwood] deemed the routine “poor” and the lift “illegal” and gave us a bit of a savaging.
‘I thought I went into it correctly and I got slated. I took all their comments on board. Obviously, they were very harsh for the first week. And we did an illegal lift and as a result we are right down at the bottom and, I suppose, rightly so. From then on, I decided I wasn’t going to give them a second chance to savage me like that again.’
The problem, Nicky complains, is that the judges and the general public don’t know the real him. To the 10 million BBC viewers, he is just one quarter of an ageing boyband.
‘Not everybody knows the cheeky performer that is Nicky Byrne,’ he laments. ‘The Westlife fans and the people who came to the live shows know that character. And I suppose, when I stepped out of the band and agreed to sign up to a show like Strictly, it was a chance for me to let all these people know who I really am. Because when we did shows, we sat on stools and we sang ballads. And I wasn’t the lead singer and, to the average person who wasn’t a Westlife fan, I was just some guy who was sitting at the end.
‘That never bothered me but mentally I had to make a decision that if I was out on my own, I had to change that perception for a lot of people and that it would take work. As famous as Westlife the brand name is, it only got me into the competition but it doesn’t allow for the personality.’
Nicky hopes last night’s performance of the cha-cha will redeem him. He spent all week in a dance studio in Dublin’s inner city, secretly practising the high-octane routine to LMFAO’s I’m Sexy And I Know It. I meet him just after lunchtime on Thursday and got a sneak preview of his number. Wearing loose-fitting grey tracksuit pants and a sweat-soaked navy and silver T-shirt, he bursts into a routine so fast and complex it would give Michael Flatley a run for his money. Afterwards, gasping for breath, Nicky flashes his trademark smile and asks: ‘What do you think?’
I have to say I’m impressed. After 14 years following Westlife, the most dancing I have ever seen him do is a glorified version of musical chairs with the band’s ever-present four stools.
‘The cha-cha is such a different dance,’ he says. ‘It is full of personality and that really suits me. I need to get that across to the public. If they get to know me, hopefully they will vote for me. It is a fast dance and there are over 100 more things that we have had to incorporate into the set this week. But there is also the chance to smile and be funny and sexy and hopefully, I can nail it on the night.’
Nailing it on the night was never a problem for Nicky the team player. Now, he admits he is consumed with fear.
‘The biggest fear I get is at the start, just before I go on, when I hear Tess and Bruce introduce us,’ he says. ‘That is the moment when I get that awful knot in my stomach. They play the opening video sequence and then that realisation that you have to go out on your own and perform hits you.
‘It’s like what I imagine it is like just before you go into a boxing match. You can’t show that fear when you go out on stage because you have to put on a show. My biggest fear now is that I will go completely blank and forget everything I have prepared. For the first time, I understand the sort of stress and pressure that Louis is under week in, week out – to be constantly told you are great or you are s***, to be scrutinised for every little thing you do or say. In Westlife, all four of us dealt with it. Now it is just me. It’s tough.’
For Nicky’s partner, 30-year-old Karen, the battle is merging the pop star with the dancer.
‘He is naturally a great performer and I want to keep the Westlife spirit that he has,’ she says. ‘But I need to mix that with the ballroom steps. The most difficult thing was to get him to smile. He has this Westlife pout, this look where he squints his eyes and looks longingly at the camera. That doesn’t work with dancing. It is this smooth criminal kind of look. We need to get him out of that and into the smiling ballroom dancer. If he can nail that, it will really help him.’
He has had plenty of support from home. It was his 34th birthday this week and all of Westlife wished him luck. Shane Filan will take his family to the studio next weekend to offer moral support. Kian and Mark are holding out in case Nicky makes it to the final. But the cornerstone for the former professional footballer is, as always, his family. Georgina is always at his side, scrutinising videos of the day’s rehearsals at home and cheering him on at weekends. It was she who convinced him to take part.
How does Georgina feel about him sweating and grinding with Karen?
‘She has been fine. She was the first person to push me towards it,’ he says smiling. ‘If you can do that show and that dancing and be half decent at it, the exposure can only be a good thing. She has been great. I go home and show her some of the moves on the phone and she gives me her feedback. She comes over every weekend to support me. Jay and Rocco are delighted. I am home every week and then they fly in after school on the Friday.
‘They are glued to the show – when I made the illegal lift, they called me on it. Jay said, “Why did you lift her when you weren’t allowed lift her?”
‘Don’t get me wrong, I was happy in Westlife. I was probably the one who didn’t want it to end – it just became inevitable. But I am very happy at the moment, waking up at home and being able to rehearse in Dublin. My head is in the right place and I am busy and I still have a buzz from the TV side of things. The pressure of live television has replaced the adrenaline rush of the concerts. I’ve yet to meet anyone who has done Strictly and said they regretted it.’
The aspect of the show he is least comfortable with is the wardrobe. Having been dubbed Glitterballs by Georgina on Twitter, Nicky has railed against the frippery – and told the producers he won’t wear spray tan.
‘I really have trouble with the fake tan, the heels and the sequins,’ he said. ‘I keep putting this block up about being dressed within an inch of my life. I have managed to ward them off with the fake tan and I have managed to keep the sequins to a minimum.
‘But as soon as you do the dress rehearsal on the Friday, you go back into the stylist’s room and take off your kit. Then an hour later, the wardrobe girls knock on the dressing room door to let you know that the powers that be want more sequins. You don’t want to go out there looking like a panto dame and I am doing my best to resist but it is Strictly and you have to look the part to a point.’
Nicky, still sweating profusely, breaks off to take a sip of water. He has been off alcohol for six weeks and has taken up kick-boxing for aerobic fitness. He is trimmer than I have ever seen him. Georgina, a fitness trainer by profession, looks after his diet.
He says: ‘Food and fitness Georgina knows really well, so she helps me with all that. But I also have my own trainer, Pádraig Murphy at Involve fitness in Blackrock. He is a former Irish kickboxing champion so I do the pads with him. I will only spar with him because anyone else would kick the s*** out of me.
‘I have never trained as hard for anything in my life. I had to because it is so intense. I knocked the drink on the head as well. I wasn’t a big drinker anyway but I gave it up while I was training. I had a few beers after the show last Saturday but I really needed them after those comments. If you work hard you can play hard. I gave it up for about six weeks coming into the show and I feel now that I am in the best shape of my life.’
Karen returns with a fresh towel and leads Nicky back to the dance studio. Before he disappears, he again flashes his trademark smile and thanks me for making the effort to interview him. If the British public see only half of his natural charm, then he is in with a shot of waltzing away with the title.
Credit/Source: dailymail.co.uk | westlife.gr