I’m not sure how 20 years have passed since Westlife first came into my life, but I can’t argue with the posters that were plastered over London’s O2 Arena for their concerts this week.
A lot has happened in the two decades since the then-five piece won Best Newcomer at the Smash Hits Poll Winners Party in 1999; for a start Smash Hits is no more, Bryan McFadden made the poor decision to leave the band and, on a personal level, I’m no longer a primary school kid.
When I was, Smash Hits magazine – and everyone in it – were my life, and if I wasn’t reading the mag, I was writing letters to it, editing my own scrapbooks (a career in journalism clearly already beckoning) or organising my lyric card collection (if you know, you know).
When Westlife triumphed at their annual awards ceremony, then the biggest date on the pop calendar, I was already obsessed. But I lacked the Simon Cowell-esque expertise to know just how big they’d become, going on to score 14 number ones and perform at Wembley Arena more times than any other band.
I definitely didn’t have the foresight to think I would see them perform live in my mid-twenties and attend the gig with my nan, because she’s one of the only two people on the planet I would want to go with (my mum is currently on a catastrophically-timed holiday).
But heading into The O2 this week, I felt slightly nervous. It’s a risk to see a band whose commercial heyday has been and gone, there’s always the chance their legacy will be tarnished – or that you’ll feel incredibly old as their performance makes you painfully aware of the passage of time. I can say this with confidence because I had the misfortune of bagging tickets for S Club 7’s latest tour, which wasn’t exactly triumphant.
Thankfully, Westlife nailed it and I soon realised my nervousness had made me – and I say this completely unironically – forget the sheer amount of bangers in their back catalogue.
Clearly delighted to be on stage together for the first time in seven years, Shane Filan, Mark Feehily, Kian Egan and Nicky Byrne took every chance to freshen things up, with plenty of tracks featuring new arrangements.
And while the trips down memory lane came thick and fast, their self-awareness made sure it wasn’t too cringey. The foursome (Kian was always my favourite by the way, though now I honestly think they’re all tied in first place) didn’t pretending they were in their twenties and when the infamous stools came out, everyone laughed along together.
After a quick acoustic tour of the tracks that didn’t quite warrant being played in full, they performed a Queen medley. ‘Why?’ you might, in all fairness, ask. I don’t know the official answer but I think it’s ‘just because’. And you know what? It was really fun. Nobody on stage or in the audience took themselves too seriously, and the group clearly still love the tracks as much as we do. I was also far more impressed by their homage to the Bohemian Rhapsody video than I had any right to be, but hey – it’s the little things in life.
There’s something to be said for the fact that the crowd was mostly female too – two hours of being in an arena with nearly 20,000 women remembering the words was nothing short of glorious and the most fun I’ve had at a concert in quite some time.
But Westlife weren’t the first band to win my undying support. That honour goes to the Spice Girls, who also brought their reunion tour to London this week.
Having been lucky enough to see them twice before (thanks Mum) I decided against getting tickets for this tour, but it brought me a lot of joy to know that as Westlife were belting out opener Hello My Love, the mammoth Wembley Stadium was overflowing with girl power as the Spice Girls started their own performance in front of 70,000 fans.
If they’re not for you then it’s easy to scoff and assume reunion gigs like this, assuming they might be tiresome or corny. But not everyone wants to spend their evenings discovering the hottest new act on the block, and enjoying those things needn’t be mutually exclusive either.
Generally speaking, the news sucks, the charts are always topped by the same few people and then there’s global politics. Trump? Brexit? Let’s not even go there. Sometimes what you need is a night out with your nan, singing the songs you insisted on playing at your 10th birthday party. Westlife aren’t just about the ballads you know, but that’s an argument for another day.