Hello - Westlife's Nicky Byrne and fiancee Georgina Ahern unveil their plans to marry this August after 8 years together
Pop and politics, it has to be said are an unusual combination as far as relationships go, but in the case of Westlife's Nicky Byrne and Irish Premier's daughter Georgina, it's the ultimate coalition.
For a couple who first met 11 years ago and started dating at 16, it has taken Nicky a while to finally pop the question. But the two are now busy planning a lavish wedding for this summer, with the location a closely guarded secret? until now.
"This is going to come as a bit of a shock to everyone but it's not going to take place in Ireland." Announces Nicky, with a broad smile. "It's been hard keeping it quiet but we've decided to get married in France, this August." Adds the talented 24-year-old, who together with Shane, Bryan, Kian and Mark, makes up the Irish boyband Westlife.
Despite it taking him 8 years to get down on bended knee, there was never any doubt about Georgina, whose father is Bertie Ahern, and Nicky's future together. In fact on the very first day he set eyes on Georgina in the classroom, Nicky declared to his mother that he's met the girl he would marry.
A self confessed perfectionist as well as a romantic, Nicky wanted to make sure the time was right before asking her father Bertie's permission to marry his eldest daughter.
"I just needed to know that it was the right moment in our lives." says Nicky, whose phenomenal band have notched up 11 no 1 singles and 30 million albums worldwide in just 4 and a half years.
While closeness to his family keeps Nicky firmly down to earth, the Westlife star remains constantly in awe of his fiancee ability to cope with his fame. "Georgina has been my rock." He says. "Always standing by me through thick and thin and always backing up any mad ideas I've ever come up with."
It was Georgina who helped pick up the pieces when Nicky's career as a would-be professional football player came to a premature halt 6 years ago. It was a shattering blow to the 18 year old when he was told that at 5ft 10 he was too small to be a success as a goalie, and he returned to Ireland with the idea of joining the Irish police force.
While waiting for a sign up date, Nicky bought himself a kareoke machine and began taking part in local competitions, as well as singing in his father's cabaret band. But it was Georgina, who suggested he went for an audition for Westlife, saying: "You know you can do it." And he did, beating some 500 other hopefuls to form the phenomenally successful boyband. Indeed only last month they were voted Best International Group at this year's Capital FM awards in London.
Now as Westlife's gruelling 62 day Greatest Hits tour begins, the couple talked excitedly of their preparations for an early August wedding as they relaxed in the Belle Etoile suite at the opulent Hotel Meurice in Paris.
You've always been proud of you Irish roots, so why have you chosen France for your wedding?
Nicky: I know it's a bit of a shock to everyone, but it's a country we've always liked and a language we love, although neither of us is very good at speaking it!
The first time we ever went there was for the World Cup final. We were there with Georgina's dad, who had just become Prime Minister, the band had only just started and there we were staying at the Irish Embassy and getting to go to the final. It was amazing. That was our first introduction to the country, and we've been visiting ever since.
Georgina: I think our families quite like the idea now as we've all going out there a few days beforehand to make a real holiday of it.
What have you got in mind for the big day: a family affair with a few close friends?
Georgina: Oh no. It's going to be a big Irish wedding in France, and it's getting bigger by the day. Right now we've about 380 guests, but I know the numbers are sure to increase. I'm having 5 bridesmaids, my sister Cecilia as my maid of honour, Nicky's sister Gillian and three good friends.
Nicky: The fact that it's not going to be in Ireland doesn't mean it's not going to be Irish. We want to mix the themes. l have Irish singers and harpists but some french music as well and hopefully my dad's cabaret band. Irish stout will be on the tap along with French wine and cocktails! We want to treat everyone to something special, a few days away with glorious weather and a great celebration.
Georgina, have you decided who is going to design your wedding dress?
Georgina: I went to London with mum, to try out different styles and get ideas choosing the dress is one of the most exciting parts! But I've set my heart on Irish designer Synan O'ahony creating it. Actually, he's going to design two dresses, as I want a different one for the evening.
Having gone out with Georgina for 8 years, what took you so long to propose?
Nicky: To be honest, I needed to know the time was right for both of us. 3 years ago we bought a house just outside Dublin, not knowing how long the band would last or how successful it would become. We settled in, but both of us knew it wasn't really where we wanted to stay for the rest of our lives. Realistically, we knew we wanted to move back to Malahide, where Georgina grew up.
Then just before Christmas we splashed out on this three storey, five bedroom Georgian house there which is everything we've ever dreamed of.
It was funny because I've been presenting a Christmas show on Belfast radio with Shane the day before and we started to talk about weddings. He asked me: "When are you thinking of getting married?" But I avoided the question. I knew nothing of his plans and he knew nothing of mine. But we both ended up getting engaged on the same day - Christmas day!
Had you been planning your moment for some time?
Nicky: Yes. I've been scheming for months and all that remained on Christmas Eve was to ask her perents permission. I wanted to do things the traditional way and ask her Mum, Miriam first, since my dad had done it that way. But she thought I was joking because for years everyone had expected it to happen and they've always been disappointed!
I knew I was cutting it a bit fine asking their permission the day before but I've been away working for months.
That evening we went for a drink in her dad's local. I was trying to get him aside as I didn't want Georgina to hear what I was up to. I said: "Bertie, I've got a plan to ask Georgina to marry me and I wanted your permission." He smiled and said: "Yes, absolutely, definitely. There was a kind of pause and then he asked: "Well when are you planning to do it?" "Tomorrow." I said. "Well that's brilliant." He replied. "I wish you the best of luck!"
So how well do Nicky and your father get on, Georgina?
Georgina: They get on great. Dad is a big fan of Westlife and they both support Manchester United! On Sunday evenings we always go out for a drink with dad, having spent the day with Nicky's family at his Grandmother's house.
How surprised were you when Nicky's proposal finally came?
Georgina: It was a shock on the day! We had always talked about it but I certainly wasn't expecting it when it happened. It was Christmas morning and he told me to sit on the couch and close my eyes while he went to get the present. Then without any warning he dropped this Labrador puppy on to my lap, which gave me the fright of my life!
I mean the last thing I was expecting was to get a dog from Nicky! I'm afraid of dogs and he's always known that.
While I was recovering from the shock he said: "Okay we have our house, we have our dog, but there's still something that's not quite complete." And with that he did the whole romantic thing and got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. It was the happiest moment of my life. I've always hoped he wouldn't do it in front of a whole lot of friends, so for me it was just perfect.
Nicky: I don't know which shocked her the most, the puppy, who we're called Keano after my hero Roy Keane, or the proposal!
Had you already bought the engagement ring?
Nicky: I've actually bought it 4 months earlier and hadn't told anybody apart from my little brother Adam, who is 13, and who I plan to have as my best man. I gave him the ring and told him to look after it and not tell a soul.
Georgina: It was amazing, he never said a word to anyone!
Nicky: He hid it in his bedroom, on the top of his wardrobe, under a pile of socks with a hat on top! How he kept it a secret from my Mam, I'll never know because she's a cleanoholic, the type who tries to scrub the flowers off the plates. So I don't know how she didn't find it. He did well!
The only other person I had told was my Granddad. He had become very ill and as time went by I knew he probably wouldn't make it to Christmas. We're a very close family so I had a quiet moment with him and told him. He died in the Autumn and as my nanna said, it was a secret he took to the grave because he never told a soul.
How do you know that Georgina would approve of the ring?
Nicky: Before the band had even started we were walking through Dublin and looking in jewellery shop windows. We picked out a ring with a perfect single stone, a beautiful pear shaped diamond, and I said to her: "Whenever I earn some money, that'll be the ring I'll buy for you.
Georgina: And he never forget!
Only 2 years ago you were saying that Westlife was your life. When did your priorities change?
Nicky: Georgina is obviously my life. I don't think I even have to say it. We've grown up and matured together and in a way she've given me the confidence to go out and do things with my life. What I probably meant to say is Westlife is our life. It's what I've always wanted to do and Georgina has been amazing, helping me do it. She has never stood in my way and has backed me up on everything. I wouldn't be where I am without her support.
How important is marriage to both of you?
Georgina: Very important. I suppose since I've been going out with Nicky I've always dreamt of getting married to him. We've always talked about it. It was just a matter of when.
Nicky: Marriage is a natural step for us. There's never been anyone in my life apart from Georgina.
How similar are you, charecterwise?
Georgina: I suppose we're very different, really, but we agree on all the important things in life which is all that matters.
Nicky: I think it's a classic case of the more refined, quiet girl with the mad, outspoken guy. But when it comes down to just the two of us in a room on our own, then that's just perfect. And that's exactly how we always wanted to be. We share the same opinions on family values, friends, taste in houses, clothes and everything else that is important in life.
Is it hard coping with the fans overpowering attention, Georgina?
Georgina: I've got used to it because at the end of the day I know it's just a job. But in the beginning when I wasn't able to travel with the band, it was hard. It was all new and very different to the life we've been leading. Now I've so used to it, it really doesn't bother me.
Nicky: I have to say I really admire Georgina for putting up with it all because if the shoe were on the other foot and I was seeing her with all these guys screaming around her, I can't imagine what I'd be like. I'd be saying: "Get your hands off her!"
Trust must play an enormous part in your relationship then?
Nicky: It does. But it just comes naturally. We take each other's trust for granted. It's there and that's all there is to it, we don't even have to think about it.
So just how much has fame altered the Nicky you met and fell in love with?
Georgina: He hasn't changed at all, and I should know. To me he's just the same as he always was, really outgoing and fun and always making me laugh. He's also very romantic and treats me to surprises all the time. Life is great with Nicky, nothing is ever predictable, sometimes he flies home from tour to surprise me.
How great are the pressures both physically and mentally when you are playing?
Nicky: It can be exhausting. I've actually noticed in the last year or two that you really do value your time off the older you get. I remember when I was 19 and we used to go out and do shows, then stay in the bar until 6am and catch a plane at 7am. Now if I go to bed at 4 in the morning I'm dead. I can't do it!
Do you ever take a step back and look at all your achievements?
Nicky: When you've living this life you don't really realise what's going on. We've never allowed ourselves to live off our previous successes though, we just aim to keep a step ahead of everyone else. We haven't let any of the other bands overtake us because we've always looked over our shoulder and been ready to put our foot on the accelerator.
And how do you feel about those who are always predicting the band's demise?
Nicky: People can think what they like, and always will. We as a band are very close, we get on very well. We've always been very honest with each other and have no hidden agendas.
Also unlike other bands before us we've managed to cross over into a different, more mature type of audience and when you cross that boundary, you sort of guarantee yourself longevity.
Just how well do all the band get on as friends?
Nicky: The 5 of us get on even better when we're not working! When we've finished rehearsing at the end of the day, you'll find us out on the golf course or in a restaurant, that's the bond we have. I firmly believe that when it unfortunately does all come to an end, we'll finish together on a good note. I know we'll stay together as friends, we're such good mates and we'll always be welcome in each other's homes.
As for work, I certainly wouldn't sit back and do nothing. If it all ended tomorrow I think Georgina and I would go to the states for a while and I'll try my hand at acting. I'd love to do that!
Do you have any plans to use your business degree, Georgina, and return to work?
Georgina: I do need to get my career back on the road and I would really like to have my own business. I haven't got anything set up yet, but I'm in the early stages of planning something. Although it's great to be free and flexible right now, and be able to travel with Nicky whenever I want. In the long term I need something to work on.
Are you planning to start a family in the near future?
Georgina: Having a stable family home with children is really important to us. We both can't wait to have children. Nicky wants 5, but I'd be happy with 3. Nicky will make a brilliant dad, I know he loves kids. But we're not planning any just yet. There are still plenty of things we both want to do in life, but when the day eventually comes, we'll both be over the moon with excitement.
Nicky: I can't imagine what it will be like having an 18-year-old daughter! I'd be beside myself with worry every time she went out to a nightclub, I'd be waiting up all night!
Having been together for 8 years, how appreciative are you of each other?
Nicky: Very. I'm blessed with someone who knows me so well and loves me so much. And what we're experiencing now is a far cry from the days when I returned from Leeds and Georgina used to pay for my Chinese takeaways out of her pocket money.
We've grown up together and loved each other, and I've always known that she's my number 1 and I'm her's no matter what.