Nicky Byrne tells us about carrying Ireland's hopes at this year's Eurovision

Nicky Byrne
Nicky Byrne

WITH his chiselled facial features and slim, toned physique, Nicky Byrne would win Eurovision by a mile if it were a male model contest.

The years have long gone since 37-year-old Byrne’s heyday as a Westlife pop idol. Back then the heart-throb’s poster adorned the bedroom walls of besotted female fans around the globe. But the star has retained his pin-up good looks.

Now a dad of three working as a daily radio presenter with 2fm and set to fly the flag for Ireland at this week’s Eurovision Song Contest in Sweden with his song, Sunlight, Nicky tells Magazine+ that he has been shaping up for the event.

“I have a tiny gym in my home where I tick over with exercise, but I work out with a trainer as well because there is nothing like someone pushing you,” he says, running a hand across his David Beckham hairstyle.

The singer, who sold 50 million records with Westlife, says he never had a weight problem, even during periods when he wasn’t training. “I inherited my dad’s genes because he was quite slim as well,” Nicky says of his father, Nicky Snr.

“I’m the unhealthiest skinny person you’ll ever meet because I love crap food as well,” he admits. 

“I’m a firm believer in working hard and playing hard at the weekend, but I rarely drink these days. And with my sporting background I never smoked. I think my da made up for me there.” Nicky Snr, a heavy smoker, died suddenly from a heart attack in 2009 at the age of 60.

However, Nicky does confess to years of hard partying on the road with Westlife. “Maybe it’s an age thing, but I could do it those days without a problem,” he recalls. “On our first tour we did 150 shows around the world, playing everywhere from Europe to Australia, Asia and South Africa. We partied every night — and I mean every night — till three or four in the morning. 

“Then we’d get up the next day and do interviews and go on stage that night and perform 22 songs. But we were 19, 20 and 21 at the time. We were squeaky clean in rock ’n’ roll terms, but we had our fair share of parties.”

One of the biggest TV shows Westlife performed on in that era was the Brit Awards. “It was the biggest musical event of the year, and you’d think from a singer’s point of view that you wouldn’t be singing for days in advance. We were in a bar the night before till four or five in the morning. And the Brits was live singing, it wasn’t a mime. But we were able to do it in those days.”

Nicky will be bidding for Eurovision glory with Sunlight, a song he co-wrote with Wayne Hector and Ronan Hardiman. Hector wrote a string of Westlife smash-hits including Flying Without Wings, Swear It Again and World Of Our Own. Hardiman composed the music for Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance and Feet of Flames.

“I love Eurovision and, obvioulsy, I’m very patriotic, so I’d love to do really well for Ireland,” he says. “I do think about returning home from Eurovision as a winner, but if I wasn’t visualising that there’d be no point in going to Sweden. 

“I felt the same when I competed on Strictly Come Dancing. I used to visualise stepping back into Dublin Airport as a Strictly champion, proud that I did it for Ireland. But it didn’t happen.”

Nicky chatting to our man Eddie

Nicky and his professional dance partner Karen Hauer made it to the tenth week on Strictly, narrowly missing out on a place in the semi-final. 

“My immediate concern with Eurovision is to get out of the semi-final,” he goes on. “That is a bigger challenge than people realise because there are 19 countries and only 10 qualify.”

Will he be mortified if he doesn’t make it through to the final on Saturday night in Stockholm?

“I’m not going to lie, of course I will be devastated,” Nicky admits. “A lot of people are rooting for me. I was on a plane from London recently and people were saying things like ‘best of luck’, ‘we’ve a big Eurovision party planned... don’t let us down’ and ‘make sure you give it f**king welly’.

“I know it’s a big challenge to take on, but you’re a long time dead. Hopefully I can look back and say that I gave it my best and I enjoyed it.”

Does he think that the success and popularity of Westlife in Europe will give him a boost in the Eurovision? “The name Westlife obviously does carry out there, but as an individual I don’t think it’s going to be an advantage,” he muses. 

Nicky had dipped his foot into the Eurovision water before we chatted, performing in Ukraine and in London. “The reaction at the Eurovision party in London was great,” he says, beaming. “People were singing Sunlight and telling me, ‘We miss Ireland in the final.’ The venue for that party was Cafe de Paris in London where Westlife was launched in 1998. I never imagined back then how far Westlife would go in the world of pop, or that one day I’d be representing Ireland in the Eurovision. Maybe that was a good omen.”

Although Byrne has performed in iconic venues around the world during a glittering career spanning 15 years in the super league of pop with Westlife, the Dubliner admits he’ll be nervous stepping out on stage at this Thursday’s Eurovision semi-final.

“There will be nerves, there’s no doubt about it,” Nicky predicts. “But I think I got most of them out of my system when I performed on The Ray D’arcy Show. I was nervous that night because it was Ireland and it was my first time stepping out without the lads and singing a full song on my own. I didn’t feel nervous the following week when I went over to Ukraine and performed for 15 million people.”

Nicky’s wife, Georgina, and his three children — twin sons Jay and Rocco (born in April 2007) and daughter, Gia (born in October 2013) — will be joining him at the Eurovision in Stockholm. 

Georgina will be nervous for me, and I want to do well for the boys as well because they’re at that age now,” he says. “I don’t want them to go to school and be told, ‘Your dad was rubbish!’ I’m only human so I want it to go well for all of us.”

However, the build up to Eurovision has whetted his appetite for performing again. “When I went to Ukraine the week after doing the D’Arcy show it felt like Westlife days again,” he says. “This time I’m going out to represent Ireland, but in my head I was always representing Ireland when I was going around the world performing in Westlife. We were an Irish band flying the flag as best we could.”

Byrne is also set to launch his first solo album, also called Sunlight. “I can’t wait for people to hear it,” he says, blinding me with a Hollywood smile. “If I never make another album I’m so proud of this one.” :

Nicky Byrne will perform in the second semi-final of Eurovision this Thursday on RTE2 at 8pm. The final is on Saturday on RTE One at 8pm. Nicky’s album, Sunlight, will be released next Friday.