Mark Feehily is best known for his role in one of the world's biggest boybands, Westlife. We caught up with him to chat about his new Christmas album and his experiences travelling the world as an out gay man.
What is it about travel that appeals to you and you enjoy most?
Travelling is very close to my heart. When I was young I was the biggest homebird ever, and initially hated leaving home. It left me heartbroken. But once I started travelling that changed. I had the best job in the world in Westlife. I got to see and experience other countries and culture and that then meant that my attitude changed on the whole thing and I became completely obsessed with travel. It's something I love to do at every opportunity.
You're best known for being in one of the world's biggest boybands – you must have visited so many countries when you were part of Westlife?
Yes, so many countries. We travelled to all four corners of the globe, but there were some places the record company wouldn't send us. For example, we didn't go to many eastern European countries, Russia or some places in South America because a lot of our music was sold illegally there so the record company couldn't make any money from it. But we've been to most other places, but it was usually a really quick visit so I didn't always get under the skin of the place.
In terms of the places you've travelled to as part of Westlife and as an openly gay man, what are the destinations you liked most and what's your best travel experience?
Bali was definitely one of the most amazing places I've ever been to. The idea of getting away from it all and being in a beautiful place with lots of culture was really appealing. I spent most of my time in Seminyak and also went to Ubud. When visiting one of the temples I bought some bananas to feed some of the monkeys, not realising there would be thousands of them that would surround me vying for some banana. Before I knew it they were jumping on my head. It felt like they were trying to eat me too! I flung the bananas as far as I could and made a run for it whilst screaming like Ned Flanders in the Simpsons! It was scary and amazing all at the same time – a truly amazing experience and one I'll never forget.
I totally loved every trip I took to the USA. It's such a full on, in your face place, I just loved being there as much as possible.
When you're travelling as a gay man and with a partner, what are your thoughts about travelling to certain countries? Do you think you're a bit more cautious as a gay man than you would be if you were straight?
I'm absolutely more cautious. I will always Google how the culture is especially on homophobia and the acceptance and rights of LGBT people in a particular country. This is so important because you don't want to find yourself in an awkward situation. Holidays are all about relaxing and enjoying yourself and feeling comfortable – you don't want to have to always look over your shoulder. Of course, you could get some kind of funny look or comment in the most liberal country and at the same time visit a country that's not so liberal and have a great time.
I've spoken to a couple of people living in a particular country that is famous for being homophobic and where it's against the law to be gay. They say it's completely fine living there, that loads of people are gay and everyone's at it, albeit a bit more low key. This is a place I've really wanted to visit in the past but I didn't because of its bad reputation towards gay people. But now I think I'm going to visit because I've heard it isn't actually as bad as what people make it out to be.
Yes, as you know, at OutOfOffice.com we work with hotels in places like the Maldives where it's illegal to be gay that offer honeymoon privileges to same-sex couples too. So it is possible to travel to these places, you just have to know where to go and do it in the right way.
Yes exactly. There's no point in saying screw them and I'm going anyway. There are certain countries where you could find yourself in a lot of trouble. There's certain places I'd love to visit, but as a known gay person, I wouldn't go. I don't want to be too rebellious and walk into a potentially life threatening situation. You've got to research the destination and you've got to use common sense.
In terms of bucket lists and places you'd like to go, what's at the top of your list?
Russia and Dubai. Only joking! When travelling as part of Westlife every last step was planned out and scheduled, so the prospect of getting on a plane, bus or train and having no schedule is absolute bliss for me. I'd love the chance to do a proper stint around South America – Brazil, Argentina etc. I would love to go to Hawaii as well.
Have you had any bad experiences whilst travelling?
I'd say my worst experiences have been to do with how I've packed my bags. When flying to Greece via another country, I made a huge mistake of putting my laptop in my checked luggage which was nicked. Top tip #1, definitely do not check in valuable items. Another time, I left a bottle of Tom Ford aftershave in my hand luggage. I'd bought this just the day before and I had to stand and watch as security threw it in the bin (first-world problem I know). Top tip #2, don't forget about liquids in hand luggage!
What can we expect from your new album?
This is a full-on Christmas Album of Classic Christmas songs, done in my own style, which is pop music but also with influences of soul, jazz and gospel. I haven't chosen all the really obvious songs, so as well as some really well known ones I've gone for some that are lesser known. Christmas time can be tough for some people, and I've even thought things like “I wish I was in a relationship” or thought about someone who's passed away. It can be really nice to have a melancholy song which I feel we all need every now and again, especially as the rest of the album is very uplifting. So I've included a beautiful piano ballad called 'River', by Joni Mitchell, which is one of my favourite songs of all time which I recently performed at the European Diversity Awards.
I also heard you're performing as part of Mariah Carey's upcoming Christmas tour?
Yes! I'm a special guest on Mariah's upcoming UK tour where I'll be performing a couple of Christmas and Westlife songs. As one of the biggest Christmas music events of the year I'm super excited about it!