It all began in the small town of Sligo in the Northwest of Ireland. Shane Filan, Kian Egan, and Mark Feehily were appearing in a local theater production of the musical Grease. After the last show, the three friends attended a party where they began singing together. Realizing that their voices blended well, they decided to take it a little further and with three friends, Derrick Lacey, Michael Garrett, and Graham Keighron, formed a band called Six As One.
After several performances in their hometown, they began to gain popularity. The group changed their name to a catchier IOU and released a single written by Mark and Shane. Together Girl Forever was released by a small independent record company and sold well in and around Sligo.
During this time, Shane's mam had been sending letters and copies of Together Girl Forever to famous Irish manager Louis Walsh hoping that he would be able to help IOU get a better contract. It was not until late February 1998 that she finally got through to him and convinced him to meet IOU.
The meeting went well and Louis told the band that he had got them the coveted support slot at the Backstreet Boys concert in Dublin. They had to prepare three songs for a 15-minute routine. The songs they chose were "Together Girl Forever," "Everlasting Love," written by Mark, and a cover of The Who's "Pinball Wizard."
After realizing how talented IOU were, Louis decided to manage the group. The bad news came when he told them that he wanted only a five-piece group. Somebody had to go, and Derrick was chosen because, although he was a superb singer, he was older than the rest of the lads and upset the cosmetic balance of the group.
With the guys now down to five, they began working hard preparing to meet various record companies. They fine-tuned their voices and recorded two songs on a demo tape. This was when Ronan Keating entered the picture. He came along to meet the band, to help Louis choose the songs, and to lend his mind to the group's development. He got along well with them all, so when Louis asked Ronan to be co-manager of IOU, he couldn't refuse the offer. Things were going very well for IOU, but then, sadly, Louis decided that another member of the band had to go. This time it was Graham because, like Derrick, he was older than most of the group.
Since the band now had only four members, auditions were held at the Red Box in Dublin to find a fifth member. Approximately three-hundred young people auditioned, and among those hopefuls were Nicky Byrne and Bryan McFadden. During the audition Nicky sang Boyzone's, "Father and Son", while Bryan performed the Backstreet Boys 'As Long As You Love Me". The two Dublin singers, who knew each other from other auditions, were the two that stood out from the rest. But nobody could decide which one to hire! So they were both asked to spend two weeks with the Sligo portion of the band to see who fit in better.
However, after the two weeks were over, a decision still could not be made! After much deliberation, management decided to hire both Nicky and Bryan. Unfortunately, the record company wanted a five-piece band and so another band member had to be released. It was Michael, who was, understandably, devastated. For a long time afterwards, he refused to speak to the group. Then one day, he said "Fair play to you all" and seemed to better understand why they had dropped him.
The band's line-up was now complete. Soon after they met with Simon Cowell from RCA records who signed the band to their first record deal. Then the group got their first tour manager, Anto Byrne (no relation to Nicky).
During this the group underwent several name-changes. They learned that IOU was the name of another band, so the changed their name to Westside, because the majority of the band is from Sligo, on the west side of Ireland. But that wouldn't work either, that name was copyrighted by bands in the United States, so the name was changed again - this time, to Westlife. And as Kian said, 'Third time lucky!" And so Westlife was officially born in 1999.
After the lads spent five years together, on Tuesday, March 9 2004, the band faced the world's media at a tearful press conference to announce Bryan was leaving to spend more time with his wife Kerry and their two baby daughters.
Although many people said it could be "the beginning of the end", Westlife - now made up of Shane Filan, Kian Egan, Mark Feehily and Nicky Byrne - are carrying on regardless. In fact the band are full of steely determination as they begin the next chapter in the Westlife story.