Music

10-year journey: Niall Horan on going from singing in his bedroom to performing for millions

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Chris Mandle
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Niall Horan

Niall Horan has spent a sizable chunk of the past 10 years as one-fifth of the world’s biggest boyband. Maybe you’ve heard of them. Now he’s finding his own way as a solo artist.

My life is the polar opposite of what it was before. I live half and half between London and LA. Last year I think I spent less than six days in Ireland, which is nuts. I spent the first 16 years of my life there and now I can barely do a week.

In the band, we’d play to thousands of screaming fans in some of the biggest venues in the world. Now everything’s more intimate; I just played Shepherd’s Bush [Empire]; brilliant venue, I could see every face in the room. It was magic. There was still screaming, mind.

In London, people don’t really pay attention to me – in a good way. I’m not saying everyone should know who I am, but I go on the Tube, or walk down the street, absolutely no problem. I went to Chelsea vs Tottenham at Wembley, and got the Tube there with the Chelsea fans. Nothing. Londoners are in their own little world, aren’t they?

I spend half my time in LA, but fuck being vegan. I’m far from that, although I’ll have a green juice every now and then. I’m not an ‘LA type’, that’s not me.

The thing I miss most about home is Irish ignorance. My mum said to me yesterday, “The world we work in is not necessarily normal, and that’s why people are obsessed by celebrities.” Back home, a lot of people don’t get the references of people I’ve met, or places I’ve been. I miss the days when I didn’t know much more than what was in my hometown, and the innocence of that.

One Direction X Factor

Niall with One Direction on The X Factor back in 2010

No one blows smoke up my arse back home. All my schoolmates, friends from Ireland, I fall right back into that group, and I don’t feel like Famous Niall Horan. Sixteen of us went to New York for St Paddy’s day last year, dressed in green Irish suits and face paint. We looked like a load of dickheads, running around the place. It was such a good laugh. Nobody recognised me, nobody gave a shit.

I try to do as much of that as I can. It keeps my head screwed on.

Compared to One Direction, I feel like I am in a lot more control now. Obviously when there are less opinions flying around that is a good and bad thing. In the band, we wrote songs separately and then brought them to the group, and you’d get the harsh truth about that song from everyone. It was a little strange at the start, being by myself. Now I’m spending a lot more time in my own head, asking myself, “Is this song working or should I just chuck it?”

In 1D, I was a lot quieter than the other boys. I’d maybe only answer a couple of questions here and there and let the others take the lead. Now, it’s all on me.

Being in such a huge band feels like conquering Mount Everest. And I don’t know if I’ll scale something that height again. But I’ve made peace with that.

Never ask an artist who a certain song is about. I get it all the time, and what they’re really wanting to know is who you’re shagging at any given time. That’s where it gets annoying. I want people to interpret my music, not assign real people to the lyrics.

I was standing onstage on The Graham Norton Show and I remember thinking, “Where the fuck is everyone?” Performing alone, at first, took some getting used to.

Playing the One Love Manchester concert was one of the most surreal days of my life. It was emotionally up and down. Backstage I was with Ariana Grande, and she was telling me stories of visiting the hospital, meeting families of the victims, and she was clearly really emotional about what was going to happen [during the concert]. It hit me that this was history being made, right before our eyes. Our generation’s Live 8.

Niall Horan One Love concert

Niall performing at the Manchester One Love concert in June

Everywhere I looked, people were dancing and having a good laugh. Then I played ‘This Town’, and the mood changed. I caught a girl’s eyes in the crowd and she was just bawling her eyes out. During Justin Bieber’s acoustic set, policemen were dancing with kids. I’d never seen anything like it.

You can’t let a terror attack alter your way of thinking. The concert was the same day as Michael Carrick’s testimonial at Old Trafford. Seventy-five thousand people at Old Trafford, 200 yards down the road from this huge 50,000-strong crowd. This is the week after a terror attack. I walked through the crowd thinking, “These people aren’t scared. Something monstrous has happened, but they refuse to be scared by it.” That was really powerful to experience.

I’d always get a kiss and a hug from Michelle Obama. We’d always play Washington on tour, and the Obamas would visit. They would come in these huge convoys with thick, bulletproof windows. I can’t imagine living like that, but they were lovely.

10-year journey: How Niall Horan went from singing in his bedroom to singing to millions

Admiring a sumptuous drive on a pro-am golf day

Golf has a relaxing effect on me. I’ve always been quite a hyper person, but when I’m on a course I feel calm. You completely disconnect when you play – even a practice session can be long. Nobody could come near you, so me and Harry [Styles] would often play on tour when we wanted to get away from it all.

You need to play a lot, though. Naturally I’ve been quite busy over the years.

Niall’s single ‘Too Much To Ask’ is out now. His album Flicker is out on 20 October

(Photography: Tom Barnes/body images: Rex)