Tell us a little about the album…
I’ve wanted to do a Christmas album for quite some time. It’s a mini album, six songs – it’s small, but too big to call an EP for technical reasons. They’re not all obvious, cliche Christmas songs. There’s ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’, but also ‘River’ by Joni Mitchell, which is more obscure. I picked the ones I thought my voice would suit the most.
What about the show?
I’m going on tour with Mariah Carey, which is fantastic. Westlife worked with her years ago. We had a number one song with her, Against All Odds. That was 17 years ago which is scary! But I’m releasing a Christmas record, so to open for Mariah on her Christmas gigs – I can’t think of a more perfect way to promote my album! She’s the Queen of Christmas in the pop world!
What’s your favorite memory of working with her?
We actually spent quite a lot of time with her. We did a duet with Diana Ross and met her twice during the whole thing, and weren’t in the studio with her when we were recording the vocals. She was still lovely and everything, but Mariah flew us out to her house in Italy which has this crazy-sized recording studio on the edge of a cliff in Capri! It was the stuff dreams are made off…
We were there for three days, in the studio every morning until 5am recording the parts and filming a video. We went out for lunch and dinner with her and performed on TV shows with her, at the Top of the Pops Awards with her in Manchester…
She’s always quite adamant to speak about the fact that she’s a producer, a songwriter… she really is, if you take away all the stardom, she’s a studio person. She’s a real artist. Not only us but many people who’ve worked with her have been clear that she’s the real deal and does it all herself, there’s not a team of people who do it all for her and she turns up and gets the credit. She genuinely gets involved. It was really nice as a fan of hers to see that.
Did you confide in her about your sexuality at the time?
No. Absolutely not. When we worked with her I think I was 21. At the time I literally got into the closet, locked the door and swallowed the key! I confided in nobody, not even Mariah!
My 21st birthday, it was right about then, I thought ‘This isn’t going away, this feeling.’ You stupidly think it’ll come and go in a naive, adolescent way, which is understandable. I don’t feel ashamed to say that. It then took me a few years to feel ready to come out. I was quite late. When Westlife started I was like ‘I’m gonna fucking bury this so deep inside me…’ I was really scared because all this big stuff was happening with us.
Oh well, you’ll have to gay it up with her this time on tour!
She’s got many sides to her, but being a fabulous diva, the flamboyance and camp stuff is part of her. We partied together a few times both with and without the band and she’s good fun.
She’s a huge LGBTI ally as well, which is great!
She’s an intelligent person, she gets quietly involved in activism. Not a shouter as it were, but she has a huge influence on a lot of people, and has used the position for positive reasons.
How many countries have you been to?
I don’t know. There was a time in Westlife when we did four countries in one day. And it felt like it, believe me. We were being flown around in private planes. We had breakfast in Germany, lunch in London and dinner in Amsterdam. It was fun but it was also a bit of a mindfuck. I want one of those maps that’s like a big scratch card, and you scratch off where you’ve been! There wouldn’t be many places unscratched for me.
Where haven’t you been?
Russia. I’d love to go there. I haven’t spend much time in parts of South America. Certain parts of Eastern Europe.
Are you open to countries that are LGBTI-unfriendly?
I am, yeah. Sometimes I talk about going somewhere and people are like ‘Are you sure you want to go there?’ There are certainly places where it’s literally physically dangerous. But I have friends who live in a certain country that’s quite well known for being anti-gay, and they’re like ‘Are you kidding me?! Everyone’s at it!’ It’s all just a bit more discreet. I’d say where I’m talking about but I’m scared if I went there I’d be pulled up by customs and they’d show me this interview and be like ‘you’re not staying!’ But I do prefer to go to places where I’m not in danger at all. I don’t want to be worrying or thinking about that.
What’s your favorite destination you’ve been to?
I went through a big Mykonos phase. I’ve been four or five times. Some people like being recognised everywhere they go, but not me. I love going to the States, New York, LA, because Westlife weren’t successful in America. For me having been in that boyband mania situation for quite a long time, it was important to find places I could be myself and not have that.
I remember once I stopped at a service station, I can’t remember where, and thought ‘it looks safe to go in’. Then a school tour bus pulls up outside and 150 schoolgirls come into the restaurant, recognise me, and swarm. I was completely by myself. Since then I’ve literally got this slight anxiety about the thought of hundreds of people out of the blue that can make me feel on edge.
Did you explore the gay scene in Mykonos?
I went to the gay bars. It’s a small island, but it’s spread out. It’s not like you’ve got the big gay strip that’s different to all the rest. Also it’s low key. There’s no McDonald’s in Mykonos. Everything is understated, which I like. You can float from a gay bar to a non-gay bar, but gay people are in all the bars. It’s nice.
What’s been your biggest travel disaster?
I learned the hard way, on the way to Mykonos actually. I put my laptop in my checked in luggage. Some smart arse saw it on the X-ray. When I got the bag back, the laptop was gone!
What do you think is the world’s most romantic destination?
A lot of people think Amsterdam’s all about smoking weed and going crazy in the red light district. But I appreciated a whole other side of it the last few times I went. I went for New Year’s Eve last year. There was mist in the air, it was magical. You walk around and there are people cycling on their old-style bicycles in top hats and long jackets. I love aesthetics, visuals and photography; for me it’s like walking around slow motion in a movie.
Have you ever experienced homophobia abroad?
Hmm. There are countries you’ll walk down the street hand in hand and others where there’s a layer of my subconscious which tells me to be careful. There are certain postcodes in London where you wouldn’t do that. I’ve been ran after close to my house in London before and called names because I was holding hands.
Would you consider a destination wedding?
I’m quite big on that. Kian Egan from Westlife’s wedding to Jodi Albert was the coolest ever. It was at a mansion in Barbados that Simon Cowell and Mariah rent out. It felt like 250 people were on holiday together. There was something special about that, and memorable.
Where would you have yours?
I wouldn’t want my gay friends to be uncomfortable and I wouldn’t want it to be too difficult for my friends and family. Not Barbados, but somewhere as beautiful and tropical as that!
What is your top tip for making it through a long haul flight?
The socks they give you on airlines aren’t literally just socks. They’re to help you with your feet – don’t fucking know how, but they do! I once sat in a seat and was so tired I went to sleep and left my shoes on, and woke up with my feet bursting out of the shoes. I was like ‘Holy crap.’ That’s kind of dangerous. The first thing you do when you get on a plane, get those socks on!