(This is part of the series on behind-the-scenes while covering celebrities.)
While my friends @blissful_days and @paositivity are enjoying tonight’s Westlife concert in Manila, I am sitting at my desk writing this and it would have been perfect if I had an old CD from the Irish lads blaring in the player but I chucked all my Western stuff eversince I embraced Jay Chou, Arashi and Asian pop.
Blast from the past and suddenly I remember 10 years ago when they had their first concert at the Folk Arts Theatre. That was one fan adventure that @jovefrancisco and I never thought would turn out the way it did.
First, we were disappointed because while we bought tickets for the seated section at the front (mosh pit in front of us), we were a bit late so our seats were not that spectacular (free seating). In fact, the Westlife blokes were no more than one inch by our fingers.
Second, we barely heard the group’s voices all throughout the show because everyone around us was singing along as if it was some big karaoke night. So when the show was over, J said: “This can’t be! I can’t allow that our memory of Westlife would be just one inch tall!”
As the crowd poured out into a rain-soaked night (no one noticed it was raining hard outside because everyone was just busy singing along), J led the way to the back of Folk Arts, where like-minded fans went to in hopes of catching a glimpse of the boys.
Back then, we already showed our stalking capabilities.
We were just in time to see a white bus leaving the premises. The curtains were drawn but the fans nevertheless chased after the bus. We did the same, all the time laughing at what we were doing (I’m laughing too while writing this. Good times.) and not really having an idea on why we were chasing after a goddamn bus. No one got to see any Westlife in that bus but J refused to be defeated.
“Let’s go to the hotel!”
And so we walked to Westin–now Sofitel–next door. Our game plan was, we’ll hang out at the lobby or the coffee shop while on the lookout for the boys. (This is the part I say: Kids, don’t do this at home. But in this time and age of fandom, everyone knows what to do.)
We stopped short as we walked up the driveway of Westin. Fans were lined outside, some sitting on the pavement and the front doors were closed.
J squared his shoulders: “Let’s go in. Act confident.”
And so we marched to the front door and eyed the guard confidently. The door opened for us and we realized there were more people milling around in the lobby. We decided to head first to the restroom and it was a good thing we did. Because a few minutes since we went inside, me to the ladies’ and J to the gents whose doors were facing each other, we were soon out screaming and laughing hysterically.
We discovered that our pants were splattered with mud that we must have gotten when we ran after the bus. It was a ghastly sight and it was only then we put two and two together, on why the guards at the door were eyeing us suspiciously. I guess, our confidence worked though.
We emerged decent and looking like human beings later and walked to the lobby, trying to decide what our next game plan was. It was then while hanging out at the lobby that we ran into Congressman S from Mindanao. He walked over to us and wondered how come there were a lot of people in the hotel. We told him that Westlife was staying in that hotel and it turned out that his daughter also went to watch the concert. While we were chatting, a stranger nearby butted in: “Oh, so these people are waiting for those boys? Don’t they know they are already back in their room on the XXX floor?”
A bulb in our heads suddenly lighted as J and I looked at each other. We chatted with the congressman for a few more minutes before making our move.
(Congressman S, on hindsight, I hope it wasn’t the people’s money that paid for the VIP tickets of your daughter and her friends.)
We went to the basement and from there, pressed the floor that the stranger has mentioned. I was asking J what we’d do once we get to the floor. Surely, it will be off-limits. He said we’ll play it by ear.
A minute or so later, we reached the floor and as I walked out of the lift, I hesitated when I saw guards swarming the hallway. This was our hint that indeed, this was the floor where Westlife was staying. Just as J and I were deciding what to do, someone recognized us (more J since he’s the TV guy). It turned out that the guards that were hired for the event were from our beat and they gladly directed us to the room of the group’s manager Anthony Byrne. We knocked on the door, Anthony came out and we introduced ourselves, telling him we wanted to do a story of the boys. He said they were leaving the following afternoon for Bangkok (who knew that three years later, I’d be moving to this city?). While we were talking, several doors down the hallway opened and the Westlife boys came out. Everyone except Brian McFadenn was wearing hotel robes. It’s by no exaggeration that I almost fainted. If I did and opened my eyes, I’d have thought I was in heaven.
Brian, Mark Feehily and Shane Filan came over to chat with Anthony. Too bad Kian Egan and my favorite Nicky Byrne stayed put by their doors. All of them were still on a high from the concert but it was Brian who was chatty and answered our questions. We didn’t have a camera along but we whipped out the cover of their CD (I wonder where I put mine now) and asked for their autographs that they gamely gave. My hand was shaking that I dropped the pen prompting Anthony to joke, “relax”. Relax?! While in front of these blokes?!
We almost kissed the guards out of sheer happiness on our way down. Both J and I were beyond belief over what just happened that we needed to calm down. So we decided to head off to the bar to have a drink or two, to calm our nerves and to celebrate.
We haven’t even warmed our seats when the boys came down to have an after-concert celebration. They sat in a corner table trying to be inconspicuous but everyone’s attention was on them. They were still on high spirits and even jammed with the band later it was like having another Westlife concert right then and there. By then, J and I had enough for the night that even when they were still singing, we decided to call it a day. And what a day it was.
I didn’t plan writing a story for the paper I worked for then but I did and I still have it in my portfolio.
As I read the story again, 10 years later, I’m ashamed to see that I had a disclaimer that I wasn’t even a fan of the lads. If I weren’t, would I have wasted my time like that? But I guess that’s also the constant struggle of being a fan and a journalist.
This story has been a well-loved tale among my friends and I, and I also love telling it to this day. There are just some things you never could imagine happening. And this definitely is one of my best fangirl memories.
That wasn’t the last concert J and I saw of Westlife. When they returned the following year and performed at the Araneta, we went to watch but no more stalking this time. Been there, done that.
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