Life of Brian McFadden: don’t call it a comeback
The former Westlife star never packed in his pop career and you won’t find him with the ‘headbangers’ on ‘Big Brother’
Don’t call it a comeback. No, really: don’t. For starters, that’s not quite how Brian McFadden sees things.
The singer/talent show judge/TV presenter may have come full circle in the eyes of the Irish public, but the way he tells it, his music career never came to a standstill.
“I know from the outside it looks like it’s been a long time since I’ve released music, but it actually hasn’t; it’s just been a long time since it’s been released in Ireland,” he says of his new single and forthcoming album.
“Nothing really sparked it off. I was here, I made an album, I’m on this side of the world now and it’s coming out. There was no big plan to have a ‘comeback’.”
Call On Me, Brother is the former Westlife star’s first new release in several years, not taking his 2013 covers album The Irish Connection into account. The Dubliner returned only recently from a long spell living in Australia, where he was a judge on three seasons of Australia’s Got Talent, alongside Dannii Minogue.
His music career Down Under was thriving, his public profile at a reasonably visible level. Why come home? The long answer: it was where the work was, but the distance became problematic. The short answer: sausages.
“I think you definitely appreciate that Ireland makes great sausages, because once you leave it, the sausages around the rest of the world are absolute shite,” he deadpans. “Any time I land in Dublin airport, the one thing I can’t wait for is getting to my mam’s to have Superquinn sausages and Clonakilty white pudding.”
He denies that his return was partially sparked by the negative publicity attracted by his 2011 single Just the Way You Are (Drunk At the Bar). The song was accused of glorifying date rape with lyrics like, “I like you just the way you are, drunk as shit dancing at the bar / I like it, and I can’t wait to get you home so I can do some damage.” It was later banned from the airwaves. The controversy is obviously still a sticking point.
“It’s really frustrating when something like that happens,” he says. “The funny thing is, when we brought it out first, everybody loved it, and it was getting A-list rotation on all the major stations in Australia, and it was looking like it was going to be a big hit, until one woman made a comment saying that it was promoting date rape.
“I can see that if you were to put it into that context of what that woman was saying, yes, you could see that it could be taken that way, but it wasn’t the way the song was supposed to be, at all . . . You’ve just gotta take it on the chin and move on.
“I was never going to stop making music because somebody misinterpreted a lyric I’ve written. I write a lot of very straightforward lyrics that are very autobiographical, so people are going to take a song whatever way they want. Unfortunately for me, that one was just taken the wrong way.”
“Not at all,” he says. “I think if this had been years and years ago, just after I left Westlife, it would be a bit frustrating. But this is my fourth album now, and the industry isn’t like how it used to be in the old days, when you’re up for chart positions every week.
“I don’t mind talking about them, I’m a big fan of both of them. I think Shane is one of the best pop singers we’ve ever had, and Mark’s record is absolutely fantastic. Listen, we had a great career together and the band obviously went on without me, but we’re still very supportive of each other. Well, I’m supportive of them, anyway,” he laughs. “I’m hoping they’re the same.”
Although McFadden spent only six years of his life in the boyband, it’s a label that refuses to budge: “Brian McFadden from Westlife”. Still, he says he has no regrets about that period of his life and Westlife songs still feature in his live set.
“At that time, it was what I needed to do. If you look at what One Direction are doing, which is taking a supposed year off – if Westlife had taken a year or 18 months off, maybe we would have stayed together.
“I just needed to go home and gather my thoughts and take it all in, and the boys didn’t want to do that. Maybe if we had taken time off together, we would have carried on as a five-piece, but that’s all with hindsight now.
“I don’t regret any decisions I ever make, you’ve gotta live by them and learn by them. Career-wise, I’m very happy with where I am. I love doing TV, I love still doing music, and I wouldn’t change anything.”
His most recent incursion into the world of television has been as host of ITV daytime series Who’s Doing the Dishes?, a lighthearted cross between Through the Keyhole and Come Dine With Me, where a mystery celebrity cooks dinner for four members of the public.
“ITV came to me and said we have this show, and they wanted me to do the voiceover for it,” he says. “So I went and had a meeting with them, and they said, ‘Well, maybe you could actually be in it, instead of doing the voiceover for it.’
“So we did a pilot, and it went from me doing normal voiceovers to me being a bit of an idiot and having fun, having banter with the celebrities that are there. I just have fun; I’m really interested in hearing these peoples’ stories and snooping around their house.”
With his TV profile suitably raised, he is not averse to the possibility of participating in another reality show; he and his ex-wife Vogue Williams placed second on ITV’s dance show Stepping Out in 2013, but he won’t follow his former bandmate Kian Egan into the jungle on I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here.
“I’m not interested in people putting a microphone on my chest and watching me sitting there, talking to other celebrities in a house about rubbish – and especially with some of the headbangers that go into the Big Brother house,” he says, chuckling.
“And even the jungle, there’s a few spanners. I just couldn’t do it. I watched Celebrity Big Brother this year, and I would have walked out after 24 hours; I wouldn’t have been able to deal with those people. I’ve no interest in doing anything reality-based. I would do a show like Strictly Come Dancing or The Jump; something [that’s] more of a competition than a reality show.”
Now that he’s based in London most of the time, he sees his children Molly (14) and Lilly-Sue (12) more regularly. It’s strange being the father of a teenager, he jokes, “especially when they’re smarter than you. The one positive thing for me is that when we go to the movies now, we both enjoy the movies we watch; they want to watch stuff like The Hunger Games, which is better than having to watch some cartoon dog in 3D, covered in popcorn and having Slush Puppy all down my front.”
Fame continues to have its advantages and disadvantages, he says. On the one hand, “it’s nice to know that the job you’re doing is getting recognition when people come and say hello,” he says. “It’s great when you get loads of free stuff, as well.”
On the other, his relationship – and subsequent public spats – with his ex-wife Kerry Katona became a regular feature of the tabloids over the years. He found himself in a similar situation earlier this year, after splitting from Williams. Soon after their announcement, bookies had odds on who might be his next partner.
“That’s silly, but that’s Paddy Power,” he says, grimacing. “But it’s just ridiculous. It makes my private life seem very, very shallow if they’re taking bets on who I’m going to go out with. I just ignore it.”
He says he and Vogue are still on the best of terms. “Vogue lives in Howth, but when she comes to London she stays with me in my house,” he says. “We’re still on great terms, absolutely. She’s still my best mate, that won’t change.”
McFadden is a changed man from the fresh-faced, floppy haired teenager who joined Westlife. Yet pop is a young person’s game: with his new album set for release in February, is there still a place for him?
“Who knows? We’ll just have to wait and see. I hope there is, because music’s what I love – but at the end of the day, Robbie Williams is older than me and he’s still making music; Madonna’s, like, 90 and she’s still making music. So there’s still hope.”
Is he where he thought he’d be in life, in his mid-30s? Hosting a daytime TV show, two marriages behind him, two teenage children?
He exhales, shrugs and smiles. “I’ve no idea. The day before I joined Westlife, I was working in McDonald’s. I didn’t think that the following week I’d be going to England with Louis Walsh and signing a record deal with Simon Cowell – so I don’t have a clue where I’m gonna go or what I’m gonna do. I just get on with life and enjoy it, and whatever happens, happens.
“It’s been 18 years, and I’ve tried so many different things, and I’m still here, still making money and still successful. That has to count for something. If that could last for another 18 years, I’d be happy. I want people to see me and say: ‘Oh, that guy again? He just won’t go away!’ Some people might want me to, but I’m not going anywhere.”
Call On Me Brother is out now. Brian McFadden plays Whelan’s, Dublin, on November 4th.