Up stairs in the Cork Opera House, Keith Duffy is doling out bottles of water to everyone in the room.
“Want some water Brian?” he asks, waving one at Brian McFadden. “No thanks,” he quips back. “I’m trying to cut down. Drank about 12 bottles of the stuff last night.”
The two members of two of the biggest boy bands of the nineties are in Cork to promote their upcoming show at the Opera House, and their banter gives some insight into how life has changed for them.
After the success of their tour last year, the pair decided to put on two shows this summer, one in Cork and one in Limerick.
But even after a string of sold-out performances across the UK last year, they both admit they were initially hesitant to even bring their show to Ireland.
“We decided at the time we weren’t going to do Ireland, we were going to stick to the UK and keep Ireland as our safe haven,” Duffy explains.
“It’s kind of ironic and I can’t explain why,” Duffy says.
“But we sold out the whole of the UK in four hours. It took us something like two months to sell out two nights in Dublin… and we’re both from Dublin!”
“And they were the two smallest gigs,” McFadden pipes in.
“And they were the two smallest gigs! So whatever the reasons behind that….” Duffy trails off.
Is there a noticeable difference between their British and Irish fans?
“We have English fans,” McFadden laughs.
But both artists have die-hard fans, people who have followed their progress through the years, Duffy explains.
“Now they’ve got older, they have their own families, they have their own kids. They bring their kids to see us. We know them. I would follow them on their twitter accounts.
“If they’re coming to a show, they’ll dm me. That’s how well I know them, they’ll dm me and say look we’re going to be there is there any way we can say a quick hello.”
“You should really give them your phone number by now,” McFadden interrupts.
“You know what, I did give them my phone number once because I left my golf clubs at a hotel in Glasgow,” Duffy says laughing.
“I told two of the fans that had driven to the airport on their days off and I asked ‘can you go back to the hotel and get the golf clubs in case I miss my flight’.”
“They got back to the airport in record time with my golf clubs and they texted me when they were outside. And they’ve never used that number since. If they want to contact me they’ll contact me through twitter, they will not use my phone number.”
“Any day now, I should be getting it hopefully,” McFadden quips.
Originally when they were asked to put on shows this summer, they didn’t think there was any demand from the public.
“We were unsure because Dublin took so long for us to sell was there any want for us. We said ‘We’d love to but we just don’t know if they want us there!’” Duffy laughs.
“So here we are, and we’re going to give it a go and if they want us there, people will come and see us and if it’s not they won’t, but we don’t know, it’s an unknown entity at the moment.
“We’ll come down and we’ll have a great night, even if it’s just the two of us!”
The show consists of a mixture of their songs and untold stories, with both performers sharing their memories of their time in their bands.
“All our stories are video related. An example is when Westlife did a duet with Mariah Carey but there’s a piece in the video where I’m caught staring at her boobs,” McFadden explains, referring to the band’s video for ‘Against All Odds’.
“The camera pans out,” says Duffy, “and it’s all the boys and Brian’s like that…” He says, sticking his tongue out and ogling.
“So then Keith shows that video and then we tell the story.”
Stories about when you were on tour before?
“Everything. Stories about life,” McFadden says.
“There’s no bitching. We’re not here to cause trouble for anybody,” Duffy adds.
“We’re literally just reminiscing about how it started, where the success came from, how we built on it where we went to and now it’s like a little thank you to it. Because everything wasn’t roses.
“We lost Stephen Gately back in 2009, eight years this year. There are the sad times and we talk about the difficult things that we don’t like to talk about, we talk about them. You know, Brian’s had a couple of marriage break-ups, we talk about all that stuff.”
“There’ll be few more by the next one!” McFadden responds and they both crack up.
Are you really going to talk about that stuff on stage?
“No I don’t talk about my marriage breakups, of course not,” McFadden says, suddenly serious.
“But we talk about what was happening in our life during all these things. When you have a job like this, it’s all kind of rosy on the outside, people looking in think it’s great. But you know it’s not always great.
“There are things that we’d be going through and I think people would look at it thinking they must be having the time of their lives but actually inside, you could be struggling or having a hard time. We discuss all of that.”
How was it to experience that level of fame so young?
“Listen, we were very lucky. We were 17, 18 years of age, given a ticket to fly around the world and have a great time,” Duffy says.
“And get paid for it!” McFadden laughs.
“And get paid for it. Every country you’d go to you’d have 300 or 400 people screaming your name when you arrive at the airport. Like what the hell’s going on here. Bizarre! It was all very bizarre, you never believe your own hype.
“When you come into this business you’re working on, you’re burning on every cylinder,” he continues.
“They just keep pumping, pumping, pumping, pushing, pushing. Keeping the brand rolling, growing the brand – but we’re people. When you’re working 18 hours a day, you get tired and cranky and narky. You can’t appreciate it the way you should appreciate it. You take things for granted.
“When you come to our age now and the high life, the madness, the crazed part of your career is over, it’s very difficult to fill your day. What we’re doing, we’re doing at our pace now which is great.”
How do they like to spend their free time when they are here?
“We play a lot of golf because it gets you out, it’s a good walk you know it’s socialising,” Duffy explains.
“Some people in this business just become hermits and lock themselves away. I think they can start becoming depressed, and not happy in their surroundings. Something is missing, there’s a void in their life.
“So we try to fill our time now constructively with things that aren’t doing any harm to anybody else… unless you hit someone with a golf ball.”
After their show are they planning a night out in the city?
“Absolutely,” McFadden says, nodding with conviction.
Duffy starts to list out some of his favourite bars around Cork city when Brian cuts in.
“Yeah but the best place in Cork is Trabolgan,” he says.
“The best place in Cork, we used to go there every summer.”
“Did you ever go to Fota Island?” Duffy asks.
“No, we were always Trabolgan. You used to have the wave pool, the crazy golf and the pub and that’s all we wanted.”
“I went to Trabolgan when I was 16 with me Mam and me Dad.”
“Brilliant isn’t it?”
“Fell in love with a girl, we had a little whirlwind romance for about ten days. She was from Midleton.”
Our interview is interrupted while Duffy responses to a message from Louis Walsh. Do they both keep in contact with the famous manager?
“We see him from time to time. Louis’s a character. He’s never going to change,” Duffy says.
“He can upset you by saying things in the press whatever, but if you get upset by Louis you’re mad.”
“When you read things he says about you in the press, you go — I can’t believe he said that but when you see him saying it he’d be giggling and laughing. He’s just winding you up,” McFadden adds.
Do the pair have any warm-up routines before they perform?
“We go through this whole yoga preparation now right before we go on stage. We get water steamed into the room with eucalyptus oils,” Duffy says earnestly.
It’s hard to tell if he’s being serious or not.
“I’m joking, we do fuck all. We have a glass of red wine and give each other a hug. Say a little prayer.”
“Prayer and vodka and we have two fags before we go onstage,” McFadden adds laughing.