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NUMBER CRUNCH; Westlife close in on The Beatles' record in chart-topping battle.

Byline: Rick Fulton

WESTLIFE reckon they'll be crucified if they manage to equal The Beatles' tally of 17 No.1 UK singles.

The Irish boy band are only three tunes away with 14 No.1s.

They still have a bit to go to equal Elvis record-breaking tally of 21 No.1 singles.

But the boys already know the clamour that will greet them if they catch up with the Fab Four.

"I could just imagine the music magazines and newspapers crucifying us if we overtook The Beatles or Elvis," said Kian Egan, 30.

"We'd be annihilated, but it would be fun."

The boys - Kian, Shane Filan, Mark Feehily and Nicky Byrne - have been one of the UK's top groups since 1999 and their first No.1, Swear It Again.

That year, they had four No.1s and three in 2000. Those seven consecutive No.1s equalled The Beatles record.

Westlife are only in their late twenties and early thirties so have plenty of time and a strong enough fan base to equal The Beatles' No.1 total.

Mark, 29, admits they are excited and said: "We have broken records in the past but that would be major history. That would be something that would take a long time for someone to rival us. It's taken us so long to get close and it would be amazing.

"But it's not something we would rely on to happen.

"We can't live our lives trying to beat that record and see it as a failure if we don't.

"But we are very, very close." Westlife missed a chance to close the gap with The Beatles last year when their last single, What About Now, went to No.2. Their seventh studio album Where We Are also went to No.2 but Kian and Mark aren't worried. At least they say they're not.

And their strong fan base confirms they are still a force in British pop. Their Where We Are tour will play three nights at the SECC in Glasgow from May 24.

Next Friday, May 14, they will broadcast a live show from London's O2 Arena on Sky Box Office. Mark said: "We are still standing in there.

"We have a sold-out tour and our last album sold over a million copies. So we are still happy."

Managed by Louis Walsh, their record label boss is Simon Cowell.

Both have steered the band into performing mushy ballads and a heap of cover versions. It's an image they are ready to break.

Before the band released Where We Are last year, they claimed they were trying out a new direction, away from their typical ballads and cover versions.

So were they disappointed that Where We Are was the first album since debut Westlife in 1999 not to go to No.1? And that the last No.1 single they had was 2006's The Rose?

"We still sell more than most pop acts in the UK so technically it's still a massive success," pointed out Mark. "But it's hard to compete against the giant success we had years ago, especially the way the music industry is at the moment.

"But it would hard to not call a No.2 album and a No.2 single a success.

"We consider it so and so does our record company.

"Of course, a No.2 isn't as good as No.1. But I think what matters is that you sell enough records to make another one.

"If you are in any act, you don't want to get dropped. You want to be able to continue, do a tour and make another album.

"We know better than anyone that it's silly to live competing with ourselves.

"We can't assume that because we were successful, we still will be.

"That's why we have so much drive and ambition to continue to be successful.

"You have to look forwards, not backwards."

MUCH of Westlife's outlook on life comes from a renewed sense of purpose after the deaths last year of Kian and Nicky's dads and of Boyzone's Stephen Gately, at just 33 from a heart defect.

Stephen was the first boyband star to come out as gay and Mark followed his lead five years ago.

He is now engaged to boyfriend Kevin McDaid.

Like the rest of Westlife, Mark didn't know Stephen especially well, but his death changed his way of thinking.

He said: "When you have been able to carve out a successful career over a period of time, you end up playing safe and being afraid to take risks. "You wait around, put things off and worry so much about maintaining your career.

"When Stephen died, I realised it could be all over in the morning without warning. That's a very scary thought and it made me realise that I should just get on with stuff.

"It made me think, 'Why do you put things off or worry whether to buy a car? Just do it. Live your life. Don't put anything off until next year and stop worrying to much.' " Was Mark's engagement a reaction to Stephen's death? "No, it was happening anyway," said Mark. "But his death made me realise I had to get on with my life. It's about not being scared to do things."

Kian agreed that although none of Westlife knew Stephen particularly well, they were affected most at the funeral when they saw people they were close to so upset.

He said: "To see Louis crumble and Ronan and the Boyzone lads so upset, it really hit us."

Westlife are growing up. Shane, Nicky and Kian are married. Shane has three kids. Nicky has twins.

But although Mark is engaged, there will be no wedding bells anytime soon.

"People put engagement and wedding too close together," he said.

"At the moment, we are enjoying the engagement." But it's not been an easy road for Westlife. Kian, Mark and Shane started in a six-strong Sligo group called IOYOU. Shane's mum helped them get together with Louis in July 1998. But before Simon signed them to BMG, the other three members were dumped and Nicky and Brian McFadden from Dublin brought in.

But after their success, Brian quit the band in 2004 and, like Take That and the Spice Girls, Westlife could have split, too.

But they didn't although they did an album of swing covers, Allow Us To Be Frank, which Mark calls a "weird time" and an album he'd like to forget.

Nowadays, they have competition from JLS, who are Westlife's first real threat for the biggest boy band tag.

But after 12 years at the top and over 40 million albums sold, the Irish lads reckon JLS still have a lot to achieve.

Kian said: "I'm happy to compete. There's no point in sitting down and not do our thing.

"We are very different to JLS. It's also their first year. If you manage to get a great album together in your first year and have talent, which they do, you will have an even bigger second year because that's how trends work.

"But we are happy to concentrate on ourselves and look back and remember our first few years and how crazy it was.

"The best way to look at it is to compare our first year and songs like Swear Again and Flying Without Wings and having seven No.1s straight."

That might be a subtle dig. While JLS's debut album beat Robbie Williams to the top spot and their first two singles went to No.1, their third, One Shot, only got to No.6. But Kian isn't taking anything away from The X Factor runners-up.

"The boys are living the dream, travelling and visiting places you don't even know the name of. But it's different when you are in your 12th year.

"It's a different type of success and we are at a different part of our career. It's tougher to constantly stay at the top of your game and record better songs."

If you haven't got tickets for Westlife's SECC shows at the end of the month, Sky are offering the next best thing.

Next Friday, May 14, a live special show by the boys from London's O2 Arena will be screened on Sky Box Office. It will also be on HD.

Are the band going to get some Botox for those close-ups? "What are you suggesting?" laughed Kian.

"We aren't in shape?" "We are on tour so we have been training for the show. This is going to be a good night for our fans."

Westlife play Glasgow's SECC on May 24, 25 and 26. On Friday, May 14 Sky Box Office will broadcast Westlife Live From The O2, a live gig by Westlife from London's O2Arena. To see the shows check out: Westlife Live From The O2 on SBO/HD Events Channel, Friday, May 14 at 8pm. Catch replays from Saturday, May 15. A backstage special in the lead up to the show called Westlife - Here We Are is on Monday, May 10, 4pm on Sky Movies Family/HD.

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TALENTED: Kian praised JLS TOP OF THE POPS: The Beatles had 17 No.1 British singles
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:May 7, 2010
Words:1533
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