‘I’ve never known fear like I’ve felt on Strictly’: Nicky Byrne says singing to millions in Westlife was a cinch compared to dancing on TV
When Nicky Byrne was feeling miserable as sin following a verbal kicking from the BBC1 Strictly Come Dancing judges for an illegal lift during a waltz in his very first dance of the competition, dear old Sir Bruce Forsyth — bless him — went to seek him out backstage.
‘He was so encouraging,’ says Nicky, who’s more used to rapturous applause as one quarter of Westlife, one of the most successful boy bands in pop history. ‘He said: “Don’t let it get you down. It’s a journey. It’ll be fine — just work hard.” ’
Which Nicky did, practising all the hours God sends with Venezuelan partner Karen Hauer to perfect his cha cha cha for the following week’s show. ‘Nobody understands how nervous you are, going into that first night in front of ten or 11 million people,’ he says. ‘You’re being judged and you’re trying to remember steps in your head.
‘When we finished the waltz, I thought we did OK. I didn’t fall over or forget the routine. Then we stood there and got absolutely hammered.’
Craig Revel Horwood made such a fuss of the illegal lift you’d have thought they’d vandalised Strictly’s spray-tanning booth. They received a disappointing 17 points.
‘There was a part of me that thought: “This is week one. The judges are going to go hard.” OK, we did put an illegal lift in there and had we known it was as bad as it was going to be we wouldn’t have.
‘Anyway, I was raring to go with the cha cha cha to show what I could do. It’s a bit more me. There’s a lot of hip movement involved and a chance to have fun. The final rehearsal went great. I thought: “If I do that tonight I’m happy.” We were all set to go.’
But his cha cha cha was a disaster. Nicky and Karen hadn’t taken account of the noise of the applause. ‘The song starts with eight beats, during which I was supposed to do three big moves. But the crowd started clapping and I couldn’t hear the beats of the music. Not only that, but I was waiting for the clapping to stop.
‘I missed six of the eight beats, which is equivalent to missing the opening verse of a song and didn’t get to do the big moves at the start. The judges don’t see the rehearsals so they didn’t know they had been there and the people at home didn’t either.
‘To everyone bar me it looked like I’d fluffed it. I was chasing my tail after that. I managed to get in a few moves but my heart was pounding. When we got to the judges, I didn’t mind being criticised. I couldn’t even say I was saddened. I was really, really p***ed off.
‘I was just thinking, “How could that have happened?” It was nobody’s fault. Inside you feel like you’ve let yourself down. That really stung me.’
Thankfully, last Saturday’s quickstep went off without a hitch. The theme for the week was Hollywood and Nicky impressed the judges with his fancy footwork dressed as Jim Carrey from Nineties movie The Mask. When they received 27 points, Nicky was cock-a-hoop.
‘I had a good week. I wasn’t so nervous,’ he says. ‘Maybe it’s because I was playing a character and had a mask on. I was somebody else.’
Nicky, you see, is not entirely comfortable in the spotlight. For 14 years, he was ‘the bloke on the stool at the end’ (his words) in Westlife.
Fifteen months ago, he and fellow band members Shane Filan, Mark Feehily and Kian Egan took the decision to call it a day after selling more than 45 million records with 14 No 1 hits and 26 top ten singles. They performed their last concert in Dublin in June.
‘Outside the Westlife family, nobody really knows who you are,’ he says. ‘You’re one of four guys who sing ballads and wear black shirts. I saw Strictly as a chance for people to get to know the real me.’
In turn, he has been enjoying the chance to get to know the other competitors in what’s been called the best Strictly line-up ever. ‘I feel for Jerry,’ he says of model Jerry Hall, who was voted off last week.
‘We saw a side of her lots of people don’t see. She’s so funny. Her one-liners are priceless. The camaraderie backstage is really good. Everybody gets on, everybody buzzes, everybody’s nervous as hell and everybody’s tired.’
He adds: ‘Some people get good marks and some don’t. I’ve been near the bottom of the scoreboard for two weeks, so I know how disheartening it is when everybody else is being clapped and getting high scores.
‘It’s weird because this week Michael Vaughan [the former England cricketer] didn’t have a good week. He was in the dance off and [Olympian] Victoria Pendleton was deeply upset.
‘Richard Arnold [the ITV Breakfast presenter who ended up in the first dance-off of the series] said to me: “When you’re in that dance-off, it’s just horrible.” But we’re all going to have to face it. Thankfully, last week I had a good week. I knew I had more in me, which last Saturday showed. I can build on that. But it was a relief.’ He chuckles. ‘So, I’m still in it, but I’ve got an awful lot of work to do.’
He says the biggest thing about leaving Westlife is he feels out there on his own and exposed. ‘That goes for sitting on the couch and being interviewed. In Westlife, there’s four of you. Four different views.
‘Someone may be grumpy that day. Someone may be jokey. You support each other. When you’re on your own, you’ve got to be funny, interesting, intriguing. It’s not easy. It’s certainly taking me time to be the real Nicky Byrne.’
The real Nicky Byrne is actually thoroughly nice. During his ‘bloke on the stool’ days, he was always the warm, funny one with an easy line in banter.
Enjoying an early career as a professional footballer with Leeds United, Nicky was only 19 when The X Factor’s Louis Walsh approached him to join his new boy band, Westlife.
Nobody could have guessed how huge the band would become. Nor that Nicky would be a man with children of his own by the time Westlife decided their boy band days were over.
Today, Nicky is 34 and married to his childhood sweetheart Georgina, the daughter of former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern. They have five-year-old twins, Jay and Rocco. He says of Westlife’s split: ‘There was no major row that forced our hand so we could have done more years, but you have to know when the fire inside the band has burned a little bit.
‘The line you always give is: “We’ll know when the time is right, when the fans don’t want us any more and the market has gone.” Funnily enough, the fans did still want us.’
So why call it a day? ‘The only times I was still really enjoying were the live shows,’ he says.
‘The discussions with the record company, decisions about the videos, the songs, were all becoming fraught. All of us knew the machine was starting to falter.
‘You can only put yourself through that for so long. There’d been plenty of discussions about whether it was time to leave or not. Some people felt yes, some weren’t sure and some felt no.’
What about him? ‘I knew it was time to move on and throw myself into something new. At that time, we were out of contract so everyone was a free agent. The label was banging on the door to offer us a new deal — with good money.
‘We’d been offered these before but we just couldn’t see ourselves signing another three or five-year deal and completing it. It had got to the point where we felt: “Oh, it’s another album, another tour, another X-Factor performance.” It was too easy. We needed to go away.’
Tough decision, though?
‘Yeah, I can remember the exact moment. My heart was sinking and I was thinking, “This is it.” You’re scared in a way, but we knew it was the right thing to knock it on the head. So we took a deep breath and said: “Let’s do it.”
‘Louis was crushed. One of his biggest strengths was always keeping us together. There was no big fallout. There were arguments, but that’s life.
‘We felt the quality of our singles was slipping. Our problem was that there was no Gary Barlow figure in the band and, towards the end, we weren’t necessarily the priority for other songwriters any more. That just happens.
‘Louis assured us we’d be fine and were just going through a phase. When he knew how we were feeling wasn’t going away, he said: “Let’s take a break for a year.” But we knew it was time to call it a day.’
The decision was made in summer 2011 when Westlife were part-way through their 11th major tour. Nicky had arranged to fly from Switzerland to meet his family for a holiday in Portugal. ‘I was on my own, and when you’re alone there’s a lot of time to think about it. I knew the timing was right for all of us.’
When they broke the news to Simon Cowell, who had steered them with Louis through their 14 years, he shook their hands.
‘He told us it had been a great time and for us to hold our heads high. He said: “If there’s anything I can do for you, let me know.”
‘It’s no more than you’d expect from Simon. If I did need guidance or advice, he’s at the end of a phone call.’
Westlife promised fans a farewell album and tour, which ended in an emotional concert in Dublin in June. Nicky says: ‘We all cried — us, our wives, the crew. It was a lifestyle for us all. My fear was waking up the next morning and thinking: “Oh no, it’s over.” But I never got down. It had been a fantastic ride and it was time to get into something else. I’d given everything I had to the band.’
Now he has ambitions to be a TV or radio presenter. ‘I’m the sort of person who has to get up in the morning and work. We all enjoy family time, but you still need to have a function.
‘I look at Dermot O’Leary and think: “That’s where I see myself going.” But, for now I’m knee-deep in Strictly.’
When producers approached Nicky to take part, he says he was encouraged by Georgina. There was, though, one proviso: the twins were starting school in Dublin so Nicky, a devoted father, wanted to share this precious time.
So he rehearses in a studio in Dublin from Monday to Thursday, then travels to London for the show on a Friday, where his wife and sons join him after school. Last week, they watched him on TV sporting Jim Carrey’s Mask make-up. ‘They were very excited my scores were higher,’ he says.
I wonder what they made of his first-week hammering? ‘Jay said: “Why did you lift her when you weren’t allowed to lift her, Daddy?” But hey, what’s gone’s gone.’ Indeed.
Strictly is on BBC1 at 6.30pm tomorrow.
Credit/Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk | westlife.gr