Shane Filan: a man with nothing and everything
The success of Westlife was fast and vast and band member Shane Filan sought to bank for the future by investing in property. He lost everything spectacularly, including his reputation. Here, he puts the record straight
“There’s a lot more problems in the world. There are a lot of people who would wish to God they had my problem instead of having a sick child.”
He got into property to plan for the future. “At the beginning the banks are very happy. They’re giving you the money going ‘great site, edge of town’, you’ve got a SuperValu or Tesco interested in going in there. We went about everything very rightly. We didn’t try and do 100 things or go internationally. We tried to focus on four or five things that were needed. But the whole time of this two, three, four years getting planning, going to An Bord Pleanála, all those kind of disputes and God knows what else was going on in Sligo at the time, the country was starting to fall apart.”
The cracks showed rapidly, “You’d see it. You could see the banks were getting nervous when you got planning. They weren’t delighted that you got planning, because they knew what was coming next – we needed the other half of that money that we were promised to build it.”
Then panic set in. “We were kind of running out of options. We had no money and we had four or five sites up on €20 million of debt. It’s a very scary place because you’re going: ‘If we don’t build this and sell it, we’re going to go bust.’”
He’s still dealing with the fallout and wants to clear certain things up: “Most people that might be giving out about it, give out about all these tradesmen that we left in the lurch or people that did work for Shafin or the builder who was building the housing estate for us, that they weren’t paid, or that people who built my house in Sligo weren’t paid . . . Everybody, every tradesman that worked for Shafin or built my house got fully paid, well paid. Everybody got paid.
“I would like that to be said if I could because I haven’t said it before and it’s important. People kind of think we left all these plumbers or electricians without getting paid. Even when I had to clear out my house, I paid people to help me move it. I paid people to take out stuff that I wanted.
“A lot of people give out about that, especially in Sligo, people give out about that a lot . . . but they haven’t got a clue what they’re talking about, genuinely.”
A few weeks earlier, press are gathered at Odessa in Dublin to listen to tracks from Filan’s upcoming EP. Glenda Gilson is doing her make-up on a couch, journalists are eyeing up the nibbles and pouring themselves coffee.
Filan’s songwriting is embryonic. Slightly naive, a bit clichéd and, like Westlife, devoid of grit, but it’s honest. A few years ago, he mightn’t have had a hope with a tune like Everything To Me, but in a musical landscape in which Mumford & Sons are gigantic, and with Bruno Mars, Passenger, Ed Sheeran and Olly Murs occupying the charts, pop music is having a “nice” moment.
Filan is a nice guy. He has a shot. Louis Walsh is managing him, a man Filan says he has the same level of respect for as he does for his father. Walsh believes in him.
A friend said to him recently: “If you can be good at one thing in your life, just be good at it and don’t try to be good at two things.” It’s stuck in his head. “I hadn’t a clue about property. I was like a lot of people, ‘that’s the thing to do, that’s the thing to invest in’. I didn’t know.
“You can control the song you release, you can control how well you sing. But you can’t control if the economy is going to fall apart. I’m just going to focus on singing from now on and that’s it.”