NEW DI­REC­TION

Niall Ho­ran on pre­par­ing for life as a solo artist

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE -

The life cy­cle of a boy­band has al­most be­come boil­er­plate by now. Like the mayfly, their time at the top is joy­ous and giddy. Af­ter months or years of du­ti­ful, shiny-smiled servi­tude, of­ten with a cun­ning sven­gali pulling the levers be­hind a vel­vet cur­tain, one mem­ber in the out­fit in­vari­ably starts han­ker­ing for life as a “se­ri­ous” mu­si­cian and elects to leave.

Tears are shed; some of them even in­side the band. As the band dis­solves, the rest of the mem­bers – al­most al­ways less than the sum of the out­fit’s parts, de­spite their ap­peal – make their way out in the world with vary­ing de­grees of suc­cess.

In the case of One Di­rec­tion, Zayn Malik was the man with the head­start, and his was the first solo al­bum to go to num­ber one. Harry Styles’s al­bum did sim­i­larly brisk busi­ness, with the added ben­e­fit of a fledg­ling act­ing ca­reer greas­ing his slog back to the top.

Liam Payne and Louis Tom­lin­son, freshly eman­ci­pated from Si­mon Cow­ell’s pop par­adise, started work­ing on grit­tier mu­sic with hip-hop heavy­weights. And then there is Niall Ho­ran.

It’s been said in the in­dus­try that with his boy-next-door per­sona, Ir­ish ac­cent and blond fore­locks, Cow­ell re­garded Ho­ran as some­thing of a se­cret weapon in the bid to crack the US. Cer­tainly, there’s a whole­some nice­ness about him. But at 24, Ho­ran now ap­pears within shout­ing dis­tance of world­weary en­nui.

On a cloudy au­tumn af­ter­noon at RTÉ’s ra­dio cen­tre, bosses have ev­i­dently left noth­ing to chance as Ho­ran vis­its for a ra­dio in­ter­view. A clus­ter of hand­picked su­per­fans are in at­ten­dance, along with a cou­ple of Or­der of Malta paramedics. Hun­dreds more fans are out­side and have been all day. The record­ing room pos­i­tively fizzes with screeches and shrieks.

Post-ra­dio ap­pear­ance, Ho­ran moves through the build­ing, the cen­tre of grav­ity of a size­able cloud of man­age­ment, en­tourage and RTÉ staffers. Half the build­ing seems to have come down­stairs for a gawk at the man, who at 16 queued with thou­sands of hope­fuls at the Con­ven­tion Cen­tre in 2010 to ap­pear on The X Fac­tor, and even­tu­ally earned a net worth of ¤60 mil­lion for his trou­bles. “Marty Mor­ris­sey wants to say hi,” an uniden­ti­fied RTÉ ex­ec­u­tive in­structs, run­ning down the cor­ri­dor with fran­tic ur­gency.

Ador­ing acolytes

I’m se­questered in a side room, where I can only hear the on­go­ing melee pul­sat­ing out­side the door. Even­tu­ally, Ho­ran ma­te­ri­alises. He’s po­lite and unas­sum­ing, and sweet­ness does in­deed em­anate from ev­ery pore. He doesn’t carry him­self like a man who trav­els with his own cloud of ador­ing acolytes.

But there’s some­thing in his non-com­mit­tal hand­shake – barely glanc­ing up or break­ing pace as he prof­fers his hand and takes a chair – that hints that in­ter­views are a bor­ing chore.

Ho­ran’s wari­ness is per­haps jus­ti­fied. As with most boy-ban­ders, the One Di­rec­tion stars have had end­less at­ten­tion lav­ished on their pri­vate lives. OD fans are al­most leg­endary in their fren­zied pos­ses­sive­ness: it’s not un­usual for girl­friends to be is­sued with death threats or to en­dure abuse on Twit­ter.

In the case of Louis Tom­lin­son, a ker­fuf­fle broke out in LAX with a fan af­ter his girl­friend Eleanor Calder was al­legedly at­tacked. Ho­ran’s re­ported lovers have weath­ered sim­i­lar treat­ment on­line.

“I never re­ally un­der­stood that kind of thing,” he says. “It never both­ered me, but you can’t get away with any­thing. You can’t walk down the street with a per­son – you could be their best friend in the world and peo­ple will think you’re with them.

“But I’m 24 years old, and I’m al­lowed to be 24 in cer­tain ways. It’s not like I’m go­ing around wreck­ing the place, tak­ing a load of drugs. I’m not that kind of guy, but I am al­lowed to have a girl­friend.”

As best the wider world knows, Ho­ran is cur­rently sin­gle. Would he ever try Tin­der? He shakes his head in­cred­u­lously. “No, not a chance. It’s filthy in there.”

Ho­ran may be tired of the press, but still, there’s a slight el­e­ment of nov­elty here: he doesn’t have the other mem­bers of One Di­rec­tion to bounce off, for a start.

“Yeah, the day-to-day is a bit strange, but I’m start­ing to get used to it,” he shrugs. “There are less peo­ple with me now, around 16 peo­ple, so it’s eas­ier to get around.” What was it like be­fore? “On the ac­tual tour, the crew was a cou­ple of hun­dred.”

Rapid-fire ques­tions

We’ve been warned that we have very lit­tle time with Ho­ran, so in or­der to get the essence of the man, we de­cide to opt for a Smash Hits-style round of rapid-fire ques­tions. Decades pre­vi­ously, the pop bi­ble chucked ran­dom ques­tions at pop­stars, rea­son­ing that it might be one way to catch them un­awares and elicit some­thing re­sem­bling a tru­ism. In any case, he seems up for it.

Who is the great­est liv­ing sports per­son? “Je­sus, that’s a good ques­tion,” he says, be­fore pon­der­ing at great length. I re­mind him that we’re in a quick-fire sit­u­a­tion. “For ex­hil­a­ra­tion pur­poses, Usain Bolt.”

What’s your idea of per­fect happiness? “I don’t know. I’m pretty happy now.” More pon­der­ing. “Be­ing on­stage at Croke Park.”

Best ad­vice you’ve ever been given? “That’s a good ques­tion. I’ll have to come back to that.”

What about the last book you read? “The Tony Adams au­to­bi­og­ra­phy [Sober]. He had a good story so I got into it.”

What is Si­mon Cow­ell like? Back on more fa­mil­iar ter­rain, Ho­ran bright­ens a lit­tle. “Ah, he’s a lovely guy. He’s rather posh, and likes his cer­tain things in cer­tain ways. He’s like no other per­son. A great guy.”

What do you make of the new Tay­lor Swift sin­gle? “Like, it’s so catchy, you find your­self go­ing ‘oooh’. It’s re­ally cool.”

What would be your Death Row meal? “That is a good ques­tion,” he muses. “I’d go to a res­tau­rant, to Nobu, and have their black­ened cod, or maybe the chicken katsu curry from Waga­mama. Maybe they’ll De­liv­eroo it to me.”

What is your great­est fear? “Claus­tro­pho­bia,” he says with­out hes­i­ta­tion. “I some­times freak out on planes.” That is quite the oc­cu­pa­tional hazard, I counter. “Yeah, I have to breathe my­self out of it.”

What’s the trait you find most an­noy­ing in your­self? “How loud I am. I’m also quite fid­gety.”

Slippy pine nee­dles

What’s your most em­bar­rass­ing mo­ment? “Fall­ing over on live TV [when he cad­died for pal Rory McIl­roy dur­ing the Par 3 con­test]. Those pine nee­dles are slippy. I’m still scar­let.”

What cars do you own? “I just sold my car,” he says. “I drive my cousin’s car at the mo­ment.”

What do you spend your money on? “A house [a ¤4 mil­lion man­sion in the Hol­ly­wood Hills, ac­cord­ing to re­ports]. I’m not a great spender apart from that. I like clothes but I don’t need to look too ex­pen­sive.”

Does he be­lieve in life af­ter death? “The thoughts of dy­ing scare me. I don’t want to die and I don’t like to think of it,” he ad­mits. “I don’t want to get into that kind of stuff.”

Has fame changed him? “I’m sure it has in cer­tain ways, and I prob­a­bly do cer­tain things that would make peo­ple think I wasn’t nor­mal. I’d say I was quite a nor­mal guy with just a crazy life, re­ally.”

Job done on de­liv­er­ing the un­der­state­ment of the cen­tury, Ho­ran is yanked back out of the room and into the melee that just about man­ages to con­tain it­self out­side the door.

By the time I emerge from the build­ing min­utes later, he and his crew have al­ready burned rub­ber down the Stil­lor­gan Road, leav­ing a hand­ful of de­flated, al­beit deliri­ously happy, young girls in their wake.

■ Niall Ho­ran’s al­bum Flicker is out via Uni­ver­sal Ire­land on Oc­to­ber 20th

I’m al­lowed to be 24 in cer­tain ways. It’s not like I’m go­ing around wreck­ing the place, tak­ing a load of drugs. I’m not that kind of guy, but I am al­lowed to have a girl­friend

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