'I think I cried' Westlife super fans on obsession, adoration, and the success of Ireland's biggest boyband
Ashley was nine-years-old when she saw Westlife live for the first time.
Her mam had brought her and her younger brother to see the band perform in 2001.
Back then the Dublin venue was still known as The Point, the support act was Irish Popstars winners Six, and the lads were decked out in metallic trousers, unnecessary sunglasses, and billowing shirts that were almost exclusively never closed.
“It was my first ever gig, I’d never been to see anyone live," says Ashley. "I just lost my shit. I think I cried."
150,000 ticket holders are set to descend on Croke Park to see Westlife perform the final gigs of their Twenty Tour this Friday and Saturday night.
While there, they'll experience a bangin' set list, a stunning encore, and a performance that will no doubt be difficult to forget. Lyrics will be screamed, hands will be raised, and tears will be shed.
Essentially, the gig of a lifetime if you're a Westlife fan.
But just what is it about the lads that has had the nation - and beyond - captivated, besotted, and totally obsessed for decades?
It's a question that can only be answered truly and honestly by a bonafide Westlife super fan. And lucky for us, we managed to chat to a few of them ahead of this weekend.
One of them was Ashley, the then nine-year-old girl who "lost her shit" when she saw Nicky, Shane, Mark, and Kian performing together in The Point in 2001.
"I brought my little brother with me and I made him dress up as them," she says. "They took my breath away, honestly. My nine-year-old self was shook.”
Ashley and her friend Sarah with Westlife in 2010.
18 years or so on, and Ashley still hasn't lost her love for the lads.
Having already attended shows from The Twenty Tour in Belfast and Liverpool, she says that she's especially looking forward to the Croke Park gigs because they're the last ones.
“I think they'll be better than the other gigs on this tour because it’s more of a homecoming type of thing," she says.
"But every time they play it’s great. Everyone there just has an absolute ball. I was thinking about it the other day - with their other tours they were still Westlife and they were big, but it feels like they appreciate everything a lot more now.
"It doesn’t feel like a different band. It feels like the same band, but new.”
Danny agrees. Having first discovered the lads when he was seven or eight-years-old, he says that Westlife's ability to generate so much hype around a comeback reunion is testament to how popular they are - and how they've managed to stay true to themselves all this time.
"For me personally, it’s the longevity of their music and the personalities they've had over all these years," he says.
"I mean, Westlife and the Backstreet Boys are around the same age but I don’t think I could name more than one Backstreet Boys song if my life depended on it."
Danny says that Westlife's new music reminds him a lot of some of the tracks on their tenth studio album, Gravity.
A fan of some of their slower and more romantic songs, he points to the "lyrically stunning" 'No More Heroes’ as his favourite Westlife track.
"It’s incredibly beautiful, the piano intro always gives me shivers whenever I hear it," he says.
"Westlife have all of these incredibly upbeat songs that you can’t help but shake your tooshie to whenever you hear them.
"Or there's these beautiful, somber songs perfect for when you’re looking out a rainy window."
Danny at Croke Park in 2012.
Arriving to the Westlife party somewhat later than the others, Hema says that she first started getting really into the band's music in 2007, almost 10 years after they had formed.
"They just looked so polished and they sounded amazing," she says. "Their music is old school pop."
"The charts are full of the same types of songs at the moment and it's actually refreshing to hear songs with a traditional structure and without any weird voice changing auto-tuning."
Hema was 13 when she first fell in love with the band - and it's from back then that she pulls her favourite memories from the Westlife fandom and, most importantly, her favourite song.
Adamant that their new music is still "amazing" and notably "very Westlife," she says that her all-time favourite track has to be 'Us Against The World.'
"The lyrics are beautiful and their vocals are incredible," she says. "The lyrics always remind me of the relationship Westlife have with their fans.
"Westlife have never been 'cool' and have always had their fair share of critics, but they have us and we have them. It's always going to be 'Us Against The World'."
Westlife released their first single, 'Swear It Again,' back in 1999. The song was an instant hit, topping the charts in both Ireland and the UK and eventually becoming the biggest selling single in one week by a debut artist.
It was during that first week of Westlife-mania that Jess realised she had found a band she'd be into for the next 20 years - or as long as they stuck around, at least.
"I just love their music," she says. "They're all down to earth lads and the banter they have when they're on stage shows that. They're also amazing singers."
Jess with Nicky Byrne
The owner of one of the many Westlife fan accounts currently tweeting up a storm about Friday's and Saturday's gigs, Jess points to the guys' showmanship as the main reason she has stuck around for so long.
That, and the sheer amount of tunes they produced during the early 2000s.
Those first few years were incredibly kind to Westlife. During this time, they solidified themselves as The Boy Band securing the second most number one singles ever in Ireland, 14 UK numbers ones, and a ranking of 24 for the most number one albums of all time.
They've also had countless tours across the UK, Ireland, Asia, and Europe. They've established Guinness World Records, broken Guinness World Records, and sold out Croke Park in under five minutes. Twice.
If there was ever a band to have an abundance of loyal, dedicated fans, it was always going to be Westlife.
Over the past two decades, they've lost a member, they've split, and they've gotten back together. They've left everybody wondering whether the Farewell Tour of 2012 truly meant goodbye forever.
Thankfully it didn't, and for the fans who spent years blindly hoping for a reunion, they got one.
And in fairness to them, they waited a long enough time.
Ahead of the July 6 Croke Park gig, Hema has taken it upon herself to organise a special fan project - a surprise rainbow effect that will be created across the stands during Westlife's performance of their comeback single, 'Hello My Love.'
All going to plan, the stadium should be awash with colour on the night, as thousands of fans hold up brightly coloured rainbow cards alluding to the band's comeback music video - and their long-awaited return.
"I've heard that they will be pulling out all the stops for the final two shows of the tour and I can't wait to see what they've done," she says.
Danny echoes her sentiments saying that he can't wait for the show, and the instant connection felt by every single person on and around the pitch once the lads start singing.
"80,000 people are all there for the exact same reason," he says. "I mean, you really cannot beat hearing a sold-out Croke Park all singing in unison to 'Flying Without Wings' or 'World Of Our Own.'
"It’s going to be great to see it all again after such a long time."