WHEN pictures emerged earlier this year of former Westlife star Mark Feehily (AKA Markus) serving tea and crepes from a van at a festival the rumour mill went into overdrive.
Some thought he had gone mad making a big statement and turning his back on the entertainment industry while others suspected he was skint.
But neither could be further from the truth.
For Mark, it was the first time in his career that he could finally be his own boss. Take a project and creatively turn it into anything he wanted.
It wasn’t a career break, a breakdown nor a desperate attempt to make money.
“I can see why me doing the crepes business could be a good story. One minute I’m playing Croke Park to 90,000 people and the next minute I’m service tea out of a plastic cup” he said.
“The main exercise was buying an old dingy 1950s van and doing it up and that’s what we set out to do mostly.
“Then when we had it finished we decided to do something with it for the craic instead of it sitting in the driveway. We set up the business and followed it through. I’m not really one of these people who sit up in the office counting money and stuff, I’d much rather be on the ground and getting stuck in.”
For Mark, the van project was much needed time away from the music.
He explained: “I had been writing the album and I had two months where I had to step away, I needed to stop writing.
“Some people though ‘he must be doing it because he’s broke’ and I’m not being cocky but it’s far from the truth. There was a few different perceptions and interpretations in people’s heads but for me it was literally just a bit of fun.
“I love anything creative. I refurbished a big house in London in the time shortly after Westlife finished. I just love doing anything creative – I love taking an old rock, polishing it up and turning it into a diamond.”
Following his creative dream was how Mark transitioned from being part of Westlife to the solo star he is today.
And he’s revelling in getting the opportunity to make all the decisions.
He said: “Westlife was set in stone and so it should have been because it was fantastic. It went really well. But I grew up and there’s another side to me like the sleeping tiger, that was always there.
“It wouldn’t have been appropriate though to apply my creative side, musically or otherwise fully to Westlife, because Westlife already had it’s own style and I didn’t want to change it.
“But people were really nearly disgusted like, what the hell are you doing? Oh you’re going from Westlife to serving tea now, but I was like why wouldn’t I? To me it’s such a normal thing to do.
“I think people would recognise the fact that Westlife was big and there’s obviously some financial benefits to that but the thing is it’s not about having to work, I don’t have to work and I’m very lucky for that reason, but at the same time I also would never ever want to not work.”
Life for Mark has taken a much more relaxed pace since the whirlwind of Westlife ended, which he says suits him better.
However, with that has come the opportunity to grow into the artist he creatively has more in common with.
This meant a name change too. Now being marketed as Markus Feehily, Mark says the name change was a way to bring him back to his roots.
He said: “I like being my own boss but I think for a long time I had everyone around me telling me where I had to be, what to do, what time I had to do it, what to wear.
“I coped because the payoff was getting to perform on stage and getting to record albums. But I’ve really recently enjoyed being my own boss and doing things on my own terms, and when I am left to my own devices I still work very hard, but it’s at my own pace and at 35 that’s where I want to be in life. I want to be, I want to work hard but it’s nice to think that I can do it in my own pace and way you know.
“Now that Westlife is over I’ve created a completely new environment for me to be just 100% myself and I can’t lie I have genuinely enjoyed it. I think once again it’s part of being an adult and growing up and being mature. I like being my own boss.
“To me this whole thing is not about comparing anything to my time in Westlife, I’m finding out where I sit as an individual.
“Everyone still calls me Mark and I still introduce myself as Mark but my official full name is Markus and that’s why I put it on the album. My Mum named me Markus, it’s a bit more grown up and signifies the difference between Mark in Westlife the boy band to this thing that’s slightly different.”
Last month under his name Markus Feehily, Mark released his debut album Fire. While his signings have been a little more understated than when Westlife came to down, he said it’s been an opportunity to connect on a more personal level with the fans.
Speaking at HMV in Belfast where hundreds of fans queued to see him Mark said: “If this had been a Westlife signing it would have been 3,000 people here and we probably would have said a half a syllable to each one of them, but we wouldn’t have met any of them properly, we wouldn’t have spoken to them, taken a proper photo, asked them their name and so on.
“But today was different, I literally chatted to every person that was in there for a couple of minutes and to me that’s what it’s about.
“I used to feel guilty after a Westlife signing because these people that had spent all their life and money and time coming to see us in concert, and they would come in and get herded around like cattle, so I used to feel guilty about that sometimes.
“This is now me taking the time to look someone in the eye and ask questions and engage with with them, to me that’s life. It is calmer and more grown up.
“Every decision is smaller but more enjoyable. It’s more manageable it’s not complete pandemonium all day every day.
“In Westlife it was just madness, honestly. For us seeing people fainting became just like getting on a bus. People screaming, crying and getting tattoos and all this kind of stuff became normal.
“Now everything is a little bit more personalised, back then I was thinking ‘oh they could be doing that for Shane or Nikki’ or whatever but now I would know they’re here for me so it is definitely more confidence boosting.
“For me in a positive way because I’ve never been the most self confident person. Even in Westlife, I always made an effort in that sense you know and I think it’s definitely been great for me to do this.
“I’ve learned more about interviews and gained more confidence in the last six weeks since the album has been coming out, and doing promotions than I did after years in Westlife because it was always easier to blame other people.
“Now I’m holding the album in my hand and for better or worse, I’m responsible for it. Well I did have collaborator’s on it but I’m fully responsible for it. Before any chart position or sales numbers come in to me, I’ve already achieved a lot.”
And Northern Ireland fans will be pleased to hear there’s a potential date on the cards.
Mark said: “I’m hoping to do a tour, the turnout today was fantastic up here, I definitely want to come back to Belfast.
“Honestly, the one thing I’ve noticed in all these signings is that everyone, well nearly every single person asked me when I’m doing gigs so the feeling I’m getting from the fans is that they definitely would like me to.”
Markus Feehily’s debut album Fire is out now and available at HMV Belfast.