Louis Walsh on Westlife, Boyzone, The X Factor and Elves Behavin' Badly
Jenny Lee chats to Westlife manager Louis Walsh about celebrity friends, enjoying having his weekends free to watch The X Factor on his sofa and getting to do the job he enjoys best
THIS year's X Factor may have the youthfulness of Walsh Tomlinson, the glamour of Ayda Field and the unpredictability of Robbie Williams, but there a little something lacking – most noticeably the familiar banter between Louis Walsh and Simon Cowell.
The Irish music manager quit the show ahead of this current series and even Cowell has publicly admitted things aren't the same without his friend by his side on the judges' desk.
At the time Walsh said he was quitting to "write his memoir and travel". However, Irish group Westlife reforming has put those plans on hold, as the 66-year-old is "as busy and as happy as ever before", getting "back to day job".
Last month Westlife members Nicky Byrne, Kian Egan, Mark Feehily and Shane Filan announced their reunion after a six-year hiatus, and details of their Twenty Tour in 2019, which will feature their 20 years of hits, as well as introduce a new sound. On Thursday the band released tickets for additional fourth and fifth shows in Belfast's SSE Arena in May and their manager Walsh hints that another date could be announced in the future.
"The band have such a great following in the north, I think we could maybe even do six dates there," Walsh tells me.
Westlife shot to fame in 1999, when their first single Swear It Again reached number one in the UK and was followed by a further 13 number one hits.
Since going their seperate ways, Walsh remained firm friends with the Westlife guys, especially Shane Filan, who confided in him during his darkest moments of his bankruptcy.
Delighted to be working with them again, Walsh doesn't take credit for them reforming.
"I was just waiting for them to decide when. There were record deals on the table, but the icing on the cake was Ed Sheeran writing these amazing songs for them, as well as have Steve Mac, who produced their early songs, on track too."
While the band have promised to return with their signature sound, Sheeran's input adds a contemporary edge, he says.
"I've heard the first two songs and they are just incredible," Walsh says, adding that their first comeback single, Hello My Love, will be released soon. "They’re just pulling together the final promo details. It’s going to be huge."
With Take That leading the way for boyband reunions and most recently the Backstreet Boys and The Spice Girls announcing comebacks, Walsh feels there is big appetite for these "supergroups".
"None of the new pop groups have the excitement and personality that these bands had. I just don't think the record companies give bands as much publicity now and you don't have Smash Hits magazines or Top of the Pops on television every week."
Walsh has high hopes for Westlife. "I think it's going to be of similar success to Take That, with fans introducing them to their own children as well."
To borrow a phrase from the Manchester band, I ask Walsh, are Westlife "back for good"? "They go back into studio in January to finish the album. This is not a quick in and out with a few dates. Westlife are going to run and run for a good few years. They are in great shape and taking it very seriously."
The Kiltimagh, Co Mayo, native says former Westlife member Bryan McFadden, who left the group in 2004, was never considered part of the reunion.
"Bryan just hadn't been around and he's going to be too busy doing the new series of Dancing on Ice."
Just last weekend Walsh was back on our screens as a contestant in the BBC quiz Celebrity Chase.
"I wasn't very good, was I? I don't think I got anything right," he laughs.
So does he fancy appearing on any reality shows such as Strictly Come Dancing or I'm a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here?
"No. I've been offered them all, even Dancing on Ice."
Preferring to sit on the judging panel, he is starting auditions today for a second series of Ireland's Got Talent, which will screen on Virgin Media next February.
Joining him on the judging panel is Michelle Visage, Denise van Outen and comedian Jason Byrne.
"We did it last year and it was great fun. You never know who is going to walk in the door."
So what's his advice for people aiming for musical stardom through television talent shows?
"Just sing a great song and not a karaoke standard. And obviously, the song has to suit your voice."
I ask him if it's hard to let down people who obviously don't have talent?
"No. You can be honest without being blunt. Everyone has talent, though for most people it's not singing."
Although he is already an odds-on favourite to return to The X Factor judging panel in 2019, Walsh is adamant that never does mean never this time.
"I'm not going back. I never wanted to be on television but Simon put me on and I've had a brilliant time," says Walsh who began as a television talent pundit on the Irish version of Popstars in 2001, going on the following year to appear in the UK show Popstars: The Rivals, won by Girls Aloud, who he subsequently managed.
"I was there for 13 years and I loved doing it but it was time to leave. The ratings were going done and the panel had to change for the show to survive. Robbie Williams is one of the best judges there has been, so good luck to them."
Walsh has been enjoying watching the show from the comfort of his sofa and is in regular contact with both Cowell and Sharon Osbourne.
"I'm genuinely good friends with them both, though Mrs O has the annoying habit of phoning me in the middle of the night," he says.
And does he think we could have an Irish winner of The X Factor this year with Brendan Murray?
"He's a good lad, but I don't think so. He was in my band Hometown and he's done well, but he just doesn't have the confidence some of the others have."
Walsh has also been popping up on our screens in his grand role of Elf Ambassador for toy brand Elves Behavin’ Badly. The witty advert sees him telling the story of Elfie and Elvie – two troubled elves who have been kicked out of their homes for joyriding reindeer and getting up to no good, and appealing to families to take in a naughty elf for Christmas.
"That was great fun. The naughty elves have become social media stars in their own right as parents get ever more creative and ingenious with the set-ups," adds the music mogul who will be spending the festive period at home in Co Mayo.
Walsh of course formerly managed Boyzone and Ronan Keating, before their turbulent split. So has he listened to their new, and final, album Thank You & Goodnight?
"I'd rather see Bay City Rollers. It's over and done with them," he says.
:: Westlife play Belfast's SSE Arena on May 22, 23, 25, 26 and 27 2019. For more see Ssearenabelfast.com