I'd like to add this, just because it's one of those defining moments of my life.
Yes, on Thursday, the 2nd of March, I saw Westlife perform live for the very first time and got to meet them.
Oh, it wasn't that simple of course. No. First I had to take the small amount I could spare from the money I was saving up to go to the tour in Dublin, and use it to buy a plane ticket to Sydney. Then, myself, some friends, and some Aussie pals on the Official message boards organised to stay together in the same hotel (there were about 30 of us, all up).
We left Brisbane at 5am and headed for Sydney. In the airport we stopped for breakfast, because we'd heard that Westlife were arriving from Melbourne that morning, around 9. At 9:30, I got a call from Bank, a friend from the message boards.
"Where are you?" She squeals. "Westlife are here!"
We screamed and ran! I may have run through moving traffic... multiple times. And finally, gasping and panting for breath, we reached the right terminal and the right gate... only to find out we'd missed them by mere moments. There were crying hysterical fans, there was their security organising their luggage... but Westlife, Nicky and Shane's wives, Shane's parents and daughter, Mark's boyfriend, and Kian's girlfriend? Gone.
Disappointed, we headed for the hotel, and then put into motion 'the grand plan'. Yes, the 'grand plan', the one we'd been planning for weeks. To celebrate their first visit to our country in 6 years, we put together a huge gift basket of 'Aussie stuff'. Vegemite, Tiny Teddies, little flags, TimTams... everything we could think of. And a little gift bag for baby Nicole Filan, including a copy of Fern Gully and some Wiggles bandaids. Then, after an hour of hanging about the hotel we thought they might be at (while the lucky competition winners who were not us went to a private showcase), we toddled back to the hotel and went to bed early, ready for the morning of excitement that lay ahead.
Then we had to get to the Sunrise studios at 4:30am to see them perform live. Now here's the cool part:
We'd been milling around (absolutely hysterical, I might add) for about 20 minutes when the security guys began to hand out stickers. We were told very sharply to not lose them, as these stickers would allow us into the studio to see Westlife perform. So we kept a very close eye on them, I can tell you. Then Kochie and Mel came out and spoke to us (they were really cool, by the way), asking us questions about what they should say to the lads and all that. And the sign that I'd made ("See You In Dublin" in the colours of the Irish flag) got me on telly a few times. The security then informed us of the procedure - we were allowed to go in and watch them from the balcony, but there was to be complete silence until we were told to cheer. We readily agreed. A t 7:30am, we spotted Westlife through the glass separating us, on the street, from the inside of the studio. We spotted Shane first, and went mental. Then Nicky appeared. They were laughing and joking, messing about. Then Kian and Mark. We all groaned - Kian's famous temper was out. He was in a right mood, looking completely grumpy. He sat on his chair, not talking to anyone while the other three prepared for the performance. Then, at quarter to 8, we were allowed inside the building.
It was a mad crush. There were about 30 of us allowed inside, and we all dashed for the escalators to the balcony, already able to hear Westlife singing and frightened that we were missing half the performance. But our worries were unfounded - they were only doing a quick soundcheck and rehearsal during the ad-break, which was almost as fascinating, because we got to see what they were like in real life, without cameras on them - and they were exactly the same. They were wandering around, drinking from their water bottles, and every now and then they'd look up and wave at us (Nicky looked right at me and grinned!). During the rehearsal, there was a moment where the music cut out, but Mark didn't realise right away and kept on singing a few words after everyone had stopped. We laughed, forgetting that we weren't supposed to make any noise, and Shane put his finger to his lips and shushed us, this big friendly grin on his face. We all waved back and nodded in understanding.
Then the performance. It was... magical, for want of a better word. To be that close to them, watching them perform so close I could see Mark's stubble? What else could a die hard fan want? They sang You Raise Me Up, and it was utterly incredible. Nothing could have prepared me for how amazing it would be there, in their presence, watching them sing live for the very first time. (a good quality video of the performance here, and a video of less quality, but including the interview and a few shots of me here. They show the fans at the end of the performance. I'm the one with the green feather boa looking a bit hysterical).
The performance was over too quickly. They did a small interview and left (Mark forgetting to talk into his microphone - hilarious!) . But it wasn't over. Oh no. Now we were allowed to go next door for a signing.
The queue was huge already - they hadn't expected nearly as many people. I was told afterwards that over a thousand people showed up that day. We joined the end of the queue, and half an hour later, there they were again, mere feet away. They watched out presents move as we handed them to the security guy.
Mark was first. I'd gotten a little bit held up while I was fighting with the security guy who wouldn't let me get my lovely glossy photos signed instead of my album cover, so by the time I got to the table he was already waiting for me. I handed him my cover and he began signing. But oh no, that wasn't enough. My favourite Westlife member and he'd barely looked at me? A travesty! So I said possibly the coolest thing I've ever said in my life. My voice didn't tremble, I didn't burst into tears like I thought I would. I just smiled and said:
"How's it going, Mark?"
He looked up. "Good thanks, yeah." He grinned, completely freezing me with his big blue eyes. "How're ye?"
"Fantastic!" I replied, very proud of myself for not falling apart when I heard his Irish lilt. He laughed, already reaching for the next cover that was being shoved in his face and said:
"Cool. Thanks for coming, yeah?"
Then it was Nicky, who was already waiting for me. A lot more animated than Mark, this one, he looked like he had ants in his pants. He was ready for me even before I could open with my cool new line.
"How's it goin'?" He said, before I had the chance to.
"Good thanks, Nicky! How's it going with you?" I replied. Oh yes, sure, I could have complimented them on their performance or thanked them for coming to Australia, but my brain wasn't exactly working. Not with a blonde Irishman stood in front of me with a crooked grin and sparkly blue eyes.
"Good thanks! Thanks so much for coming!" He was so nice and friendly I just wanted to reach over and hug him. But I didn't. Because I didn't want to get dragged away by security when I'd only met half the band.
Then Shane. Ah, good dependable Shane with his huge cheesy smile.
"How's it going, Shane?" I said.
"Great! Thanks." He replied, reaching for my album cover.
I finally kicked my brain into gear. "I hope you like your presents."
"Oh yeah!" He exclaimed, glancing over his shoulder at the huge Aussie flag gift bag. "They look great! Thank so much for that!" He was very friendly and sweet, like Nicky had been, and genuinely nice. As opposed to polite-nice. They all looked so excited to be in Australia, which made my day because I was half expecting them to be really bored with the whole signing thing after so many years, but they were so full of energy that it was a real joy.
Well, except for Kian.
I'd been a bit worried about him from the moment I'd spotted him through the glass in Sunrise. He was in a mood, you could tell that in an instant. I walked up just as Shane passed him my album cover.
"How are ya, Kian?" (Hey, a classic's always good).
"Good thanks." He mumbled. I smiled at him, willing him to look up. And he did, for half a second, gave me what couldn't quite be called a smile, and then looked away again. I shrugged and moved on. If he felt like being a grouchy prat, it was none of my business. Three out of four ain't bad!
And then it was over. Just like that. I'd made it to Sydney, I'd seen them perform live for about 4 minutes, and I'd gotten to meet them. That was all I'd wanted out of it, and I was eternally glad that I did, because now, almost three months later, I still get a fluttery feeling in my stomach when I think about it. I did it. I saw them in the flesh, I heard them sing, and they spoke to me.
To some that might not seem like a lot. But I'm a fan. To me, it's the world.