Chart-toppers Westlife announced Tuesday that singer Bryan McFadden was quitting the group, a move that could signal the beginning of the end for the Irish boy-band.
However, manager Louis Walsh insisted it was business as usual for the remaining four members, who are currently rehearsing for a mammoth world tour.
McFadden, aged 23, said he was leaving to spend more time with wife Kerry, the recent winner of the British hit television show “I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here!” and their two young children.
“It’s nothing to do with the guys,” he told a packed news conference in Dublin, playing down any suggestion of a rift.
“I haven’t been able to commit 100 percent to my family or the band for a while. It’s been unfair on both and I just felt now was the right time for me to stand back,” he said.
McFadden said his surprise departure was unconnected to his wife’s recent success in being hailed “Queen of the Jungle.” Kerry has reportedly since been inundated with offers to present television shows.
Westlife made history by becoming the first act to reach number one with their first seven releases after bursting onto the pop scene in 1999.
In total, a record-breaking 11 out of the band’s first 13 singles including “Flying Without Wings” entered the chart at number one.
The remaining band members said they were devastated by McFadden’s decision to leave but were determined to continue as a four-piece.
Plans were already in motion to release their next album, a Motown duets collection on which legends Lionel Ritchie and Diana Ross have agreed to participate.
“We feel we’ve got a lot of unfinished business left and we would hope that our fans stay with us as we need their support now more than ever,” said a tearful Nicky Byrne, 25, who is married to one of Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern’s daughters.
However, fans both young and old who braved a bitterly cold day to wait outside one of Dublin’s plushest hotels for a glimpse of their heroes were unconvinced.
“The whole of my teenage life was spent with Westlife and they’ll never be the same again,” sobbed a distraught Hailey Thorpe, aged 20, clutching a copy of one of her favorite CDs by the band.
She feared the group would go the same way as other acts like Take That and the Spice Girls which both broke up after individual members left.