Brian McFadden: Meeting Vogue was a real life changer... we make each other laugh
As he prepares to record a new album, Brian McFadden talks to Gabrielle Fagan about quitting Westlife, splitting from his first wife, living in Australia and his new love
If there was a risky path to happiness, Brian McFadden has certainly trodden it. As a teenager, he shot to fame in one of the biggest-ever boy bands, Westlife, was married with two children by his early twenties, and then sensationally threw it all away to move to the other side of the world, leaving fame and family behind him.
Today it's hard to equate the image of the man once dubbed the band's 'bad boy' by the media - who had a turbulent marriage to pop star, Atomic Kitten's Kerry Katona - with the affable 34-year-old Irishman with a dry sense of humour whose life seems to have regained its harmony.
Undoubtedly, at the heart of his contentment is his second wife, DJ and model Vogue Williams (29), whom he married two years ago. "Meeting her was a life changer for me - she's my soulmate," he says simply.
"Getting married hasn't changed anything - it was perfect anyway - but it has made us both feel quite grown-up. We like nothing better than just staying in and spending time together as a couple when we're not working. You can be in love with someone but if you can't be friends with them, it's kind of pointless. We make each other laugh, especially after we've had a silly row about something!"
The pair moved back to the UK shortly after their wedding and she was one of the celebrities recently competing in ITV's Bear Grylls: Mission Survive.
"It was love at first sight when we met. It turned out we were born in the same hospital and grew up five minutes away from one another," says McFadden, who'd previously been engaged to Neighbours star and singer Delta Goodrem.
"We instantly clicked and talked non-stop for eight hours the night we met and I proposed after eight months. Within three weeks she moved to Australia to be with me. Although it was a whirlwind romance, it was just so right from the beginning, so we knew it would work."
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There was no such certainty when 10 years ago he left Westlife, originally signed by Simon Cowell and managed by Louis Walsh, on the eve of its fourth world tour and emigrated to Australia.
"I wanted to launch my solo career, but it was more than that," says McFadden, who, while there for eight years, was highly successful releasing his own albums, writing for a portfolio of leading artists, and being a judge on Australia's Got Talent.
"Leaving and going to Australia, where Westlife hadn't been successful, gave me a chance to breathe, take a step back from my world and look at it from the outside. I could just walk about unrecognised and start from scratch, and you don't have that media scrutiny that you have here," he says.
"I was only 17 when I got signed up for Westlife. One minute, I was a naive teenager serving burgers in McDonald's and two days later, I was in a music studio and signing a record deal. It was incredible, amazing, but during the seven years in the band, we worked 365 days a year, living on planes, in hotels and out of suitcases, and never being in the same country for two days.
"After a while, you realise there's no point in being successful if you can't enjoy it, share it with someone else or be with the people you care about."
There was also the pressure of living life under the glare of the media spotlight, but McFadden insists that in reality he wasn't the 'bad boy' as portrayed.
"The fame didn't go to my head at all. None of us actually had egos or got big headed, believe it or not, because we were surrounded by good families who kept us grounded and we were managed well," he says.
"But I was young and, of course, I made mistakes - who doesn't in their teens and twenties? At one stage, I did get bad press, but the end of the day, I think I was too honest and open for my own good and would talk about things I probably shouldn't have. Then it ended up with things being written about me which often weren't true. But that's in the past and I'm certainly a bit more savvy now."
He discounts rumours of a Westlife reunion, saying: "We're in touch with each other from time to time - there's no bad blood and we could easily meet up and have a great evening - but we're not talking about any reunion. We're all in different places now and have our own lives."
There's only a slight regret over his decision to leave the band - which finally split in 2012 - and One Direction's Zayn Malik would do well to take note: "Sometimes I think if I'd stayed another 10 years, I would have made a lot of money, but that would be the only reason for any regret. Anyway, I left at the time I wanted to leave and wouldn't change my life now - I have a balance with work and family which I never had before."
Integral to that feeling of balance is being able to be a hands-on father to his two daughters, Molly (13) and Lilly-Sue (12), from his first marriage. McFadden has a tattoo on his arm, which reads 'Sometimes life breaks in mysterious ways', a line from his song 'Sorry Love Daddy' which he dedicated to his daughters following his break-up with their mother.
"I was a young dad, only 21, when we had Molly and making my way in the world and taking advantage of the opportunities with the band. It meant I missed out on a lot of their early years as I was touring, although I could provide a nice life for them. But definitely one of the hardest parts of being in Australia was being so very far away from them," he says.
"We were in touch all the time on Skype, I'd go back to the UK five times a year and they'd come out on holidays, but it's so much better now. These days, we can get together so easily and regularly. Vogue gets on with them so well and watching them turn into adults is brilliant. I love it that they are smarter than me about so many things, especially computers. They've got very strong opinions about my music - which I ignore," he says with a fond smile.
One of his daughters wants to follow in his footsteps and become a singer, but his fatherly advice has been blunt. "Complete your education before you chase a dream like that.
"Even if you're the best singer in the world, there's no guarantee you'll make it in this business. I'd say it's 99% luck and 1% talent - it's like winning the lottery!"
The often-reported rifts and spats between Katona and her ex-husband, it seems, have been consigned to history and McFadden says: "All that rubbish of the past and the disputes during our early twenties have all gone now. We're both settled and it's great," he says.
"The old idea of a normal family only being a mother, father and a couple of kids isn't the norm any more. Now there's stepkids and extended families and it all works out."
He and Vogue hope to have children in a couple of years - "we're both pretty busy with our careers at the moment, but when the time's right we'd love a baby" - and he credits her with helping him improve his health and fitness. McFadden is currently working on his new album, due for release in September, and a tour planned for next year. Last year, he presented a 30-part series Who's Doing The Dishes? for ITV and is in discussions about its return. In January, he took part in a celebrity talent show, Get Your Act Together.
"I've had an 18-month-break from music and now feel so refreshed. It's reignited my passion for it and I can't wait to get the album out there," he says.
"TV is another string to my bow which gives me a different buzz. It's amazing how things work out. Everything you do helps lead you to different places and I couldn't be happier with the way things have turned out.
"I'm a very relaxed person and I never really let anything get to me. I hate confrontation and drama, even though it seems to have followed me at times in my life. But I can't complain and even if I could change anything I wouldn't - the good and the bad all help you become the person you are."
Ex-bandmates in world of their own
Since breaking up in 2011, Brian's former bandmates in Westlife have gone on to make names for themselves as well ...
Nicky Byrne - the band's oldest member has gone on to enjoy a successful TV presenting career, and was a contestant on hit show Strictly Come Dancing in 2012. His wife Georgina is the daughter of former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, and they have twin sons, Rocco and Jay, and a daughter, Gia
Kian Egan - his debut album Home was released last year, reaching number 2 on the Irish Singles Chart and number 9 on the UK Albums Chart. He is also one of four coaches on The Voice of Ireland, on which he backed Northern Ireland musician Jim Devine. He has also presented on ITV show This Morning as well as the revamped version of Surprise Surprise, and was crowned King of the Jungle in 2013's I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!
Mark Feehily - in 2005 he hit the headlines after coming out as gay, and in 2011 was shortlisted as one of the top 50 most influential gay people in the UK. He has just launched his own solo career with debut single Love is a Drug
Shane Filan - had a tumultuous few years following the split after declaring himself bankrupt, when the recession hit his numerous property investments. He has since worked hard to get back in the black through solo recording and touring and described his struggles in his autobiography, My Side of Life