Saudi Defense Minister Meets Head of Yemeni Presidency Leadership Council

ALULA: Maraya’s stunning mirror concert hall here was the scene of wild excitement and heartbreaking nostalgia on Wednesday when Westlife performed for what appeared to be some of its most devoted fans in Saudi Arabia and other parts of the world.

The Irish boy band had the crowd cheering before they even took the stage at AlUla for their ‘Wild Dreams Tour’. The audience erupted when the four singers finally emerged to perform their latest hit “Starlight”, with fans singing each line in unison.

It was impossible to keep them in their place. And when the singers shouted “jump”, they were on their feet.

Singers Shane Filan, Mark Feehily, Kian Egan and Nicky Byrne have come through thick and thin. In 2012 they temporarily disbanded, only to come back bigger and stronger in 2018.

Diana Philander from Cape Town said she has followed them since she was a teenager. “I was 17 then and I’m 40 now, so it’s one of my favorites. I practiced the songs for the whole week and loved every minute of it.

Westlife gave fans a chance to take photos of themselves, posing in all directions. (A photo by Abdulrahman Binshalhoub)

“Thank you to the Saudi government for making this all possible, there is only one word I can say and that is that it was just superb.”

The gig was a real treat for the fans, with the band playing some of their greatest hits.

Before performing the very first song of their career, “Swear it Again”, Egan stepped forward and said, “Can you believe it? This song came out when we were little boys.

Later, Filan said, “We’ve played in many places around the world, but honestly Maraya might be the coolest venue we’ve ever played in.”

“Everything was so beautiful, the ride here was absolutely beautiful, and of course you guys are so beautiful,” Filan said, pointing to the audience. “We have a beautiful family and we’ve always considered our fans part of that family, so thank you for being amazing.”

They also performed “When you’re looking like that”, “Money, Money, Money” (originally sung by ABBA) and “Flying Without Wings”.

With fans begging for more, the group returned after briefly leaving the stage and performing “Hello My love” and several other songs.

Jessan Domingo Sanson from the Philippines said she had come all the way from Dhahran to see the stars. “I’ve been a fan since I was in sixth grade and I’m now 34.”

The band bid a bittersweet goodbye to their fans. (A photo by Abdulrahman Binshalhoub)

Sanson was so excited she could barely form coherent sentences, instead speaking with shouts and gestures. Sitting in the front row, she was thrilled because the band members repeatedly stepped forward to wave and give heart signs to her and the other audience members.

“I’m just glad it’s their first time here in Saudi Arabia, and I haven’t missed an opportunity to see them,” she said.

Having been on the road together for 23 years, the singers clearly seemed at ease on stage, joking and laughing while performing. They applauded each other by hitting particularly expressive and beautiful notes.

Thomas Wallace Thompson, a Scotsman who lives in AlUla, said: “It was amazing, a 90s boy band was there, all the girls were screaming. I am a man who is almost 60 years old and still finds everything extremely pleasant. I have so many friends who are Westlife fans and they are so jealous of me.

Aisha Ahmed, a Saudi fan who was at the concert with her husband, said: “The band kept saying they were explaining their songs to us, but I really felt like I was stepping back in time, from Suddenly I was 13 again and listening to them in my bedroom, suddenly I found myself with my friends from high school dancing with our hairbrushes to their songs.

Her voice was shaking, “I’m so emotional right now.”

Kevin E. Boling