Ever since they broke the hearts of millions of teenage girls last year (and the prior departure of Zayn broke a few million first) it’s been the big, unspoken question: which one would eventually triumph as the biggest solo star of them all?
Would it be a Take That situation, when the lesser-known but heavy-on-attitude Zayn triumphed over the obvious bookies’ favourite Harry, just as Robbie outshone Gary? Would it be Boyzone, where the big star (Ronan) just kept on being the biggest? How about Girls Aloud, where Nadine’s solo career stalled, Cheryl became the star, but Nicola did the most interesting stuff?
Well, that might have been the question everyone else was asking.
But the question I was asking was, now that they’re allowed to plough their own solo furrows and show off a bit of personality: which member of One Direction would I most like to go for a pint with?
When dealing with such a grave and important issue, it was important to set some ground rules. This meeting of minds would take place in my local, the Birkbeck Tavern in Leyton, it would be a midweek, evening affair, we’d enjoy a maximum of four mid-to-low strength lagers, we wouldn’t have eaten beforehand in order to leave appetite enough for both a selection of bar snacks and the tantalising prospect of a kebab to round off the evening, and there’d be no interruptions like a game of pool or a spot of karaoke (I wouldn’t want to outshine them) - this would be pure high quality pub chat over a few jars of the landlord’s finest.
Here are my findings.
5. Liam Payne
Liam, Liam, Liam. I’m sorry mate. But you are the One Directioner of absolute last resort. If the other four are all busy on Tuesday night, then you might get the shout, but even then it’d be a tough call between popping to the boozer and staying at home for Bake Off instead. Since 1D called it a day, he has released, by a distance, the worst solo music of all of them. ‘Strip that Down’ is the laziest, dullest, most cliche-ridden, joyless pastiche of an in-da-club song I’ve heard in a very long time. He sounds so bored singing it that someone really should have told him that he didn’t have to do any solo stuff, he could just swim in his basement of £50 notes instead.
He has also, boringly, married Cheryl and had a baby boy called, unfathomably, Bear. That’s right, Bear Payne, which sounds like a phrase you’d hear in Leytonstone for a very different reason. However, for a little bit, I got excited, thinking that calling your son Bear might suggest that this is a crazy guy - one who might be a right laugh to have a few jars with. Then I read this, about how his son got his name: “The reason she chose bear, in the end, was that Bear is a name that when you leave a room you won’t forget. And I like that. When I look at him he is Bear. To be honest at first I wasn’t having it, I didn’t understand it and I wasn’t sure. Now I look at him and he is Bear. It’s mad.”
Liam thinks that’s mad.
This is what would happen on our night out: he’d have an orange juice (“big day tomorrow Dave, best not go too crazy”), he’d spend all night showing me baby photos, when the conversation turned to music he’d say he “likes a bit of everything, R&B, chart stuff, you know” and when I got passionate about Henrik Larsson being one of the greatest humans who has ever lived he’d stare at me, blankly, wondering what on earth I was talking about.
I’ve also just read this on his Wikipedia: “He is also a close friend of radio personality Scott Mills.” Yeah, there’s no coming back from that.
Sorry Liam, bit busy tonight. See you soon though, yeah? Take it easy bro.
“Woah there Dave, what are you doing?” I hear you shouting. “What is Zayn, the coolest member of One Direction who’s constantly out with supermodels at cool parties and the like, doing at number four in your list? Have you lost your mind?”
Well, sorry guys: Zayn might be the guy you want to go out with when you’re all ‘up in the club’ surrounded by ‘peng tings in the VIP’ but when you want four pints of Carlsberg and a packet of dry roasted in a dark-to-moderately-lit boozer with nothing but lively-but-genial takes on the affairs of the day to take you through to closing, then I’m afraid that’s not going to cut it. While Zayn may well be responsible for the best solo track of any of them in the form of the extremely-naughty ‘Pillowtalk’, the rest of his first album was absolute dullsville.
I’m going to be honest with you Zayn mate, I suspect you’d turn up, keep popping outside for a ‘toke’ on your ‘special cigarettes’ and you’d bring Gigi along, who’d just sit there looking irritated while trying to fend off the unwelcome advances of the big golden retriever who’s roaming about while his owner plays darts. You’d offer some unspecific thoughts about how we’re all just atoms when it comes down to it and then, with Gigi’s face looking ever more like thunder, you’d make your excuses and head off after two pints. I’d see you in the papers the next day having gone to some high fashion party which, to be fair, I’d have been very uncomfortable at.
No hard feelings, mate. Nice guy, devilishly handsome, not cut out for the Birkbeck life.
3. Louis Tomlinson
Now we’re talking - a man who ran and played for his own pub football team in Doncaster is a man who I would see eye-to-eye with. I would instantly break the ice by recalling the time I saw Leyton Orient batter his beloved Doncaster Rovers 8-0 before he’d banter back by pointing out the relative positions in the footballing pyramid we now occupy. I can forsee several hours of excellent lower league chat taking place and we would 100% agree to meet up for a pint in the Orient supporters’ club the next time we played each other (“‘might be a while eh Dave!’ Tomlinson joked.”)
However, my only concern is that chat would stray onto music and, I’m sorry to break it to you Louis, but your output so far is only marginally more exciting than Liam’s - which is to say, really-very-unexciting indeed. So I’d have to delicately navigate the topic back to footy and just-as-delicately try and find out if there was any truth in the Louis Tomlinson’s baby-isn’t-real conspiracy theory (look, I was as sceptical as you but you tell me that this isn’t convincing). Hopefully I’d manage not to upset him, he’d agree to pop down to play for ShortList’s 5-a-side team on a Friday lunchtime and we’d bid each other farewell after a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Cheers Louis!
2. Harry Styles
Look, I’m gonna be perfectly honest here: I’m not a huge fan of the Harry solo stuff. I was really hoping that he’d come out with some absolutely massive classic pop bangers, but instead he decided to make a bit of a boring album which took the best bits of a load of amazing artists - Bowie, Pink Floyd, Beck, Fleetwood Mac - and make them much, much less exciting. It’s not bad, it’s just not amazing.
However, obviously, I would not tell him this as I’m setting myself down with the first round of bevvies (“honestly, Harry, I’ll get these”) because that’s not what friends do. Instead, I would concentrate on the fact that the guy clearly has excellent taste in music and I would commend him for making friends with Stevie Nicks and covering ‘The Chain’ in his live shows. We’d natter away about which Floyd album is best (he’s clearly Dark Side, I’m Wish You Were Here thanks for asking) and then I’d ask him about how it is that he manages - a la Keith Richards - to look amazing in anything he wears, no matter how outlandish (“‘Dave, I’m sure you could pull it off too - you just have to be confident!’ ‘Oh you’re just saying that Harry, don’t be silly!’ Fawbert retorts playfully”).
We’d really get into the swing of it and chat about a whole load of stuff, and we’d consider going for a kebab, but then I’d say: “You know what Harry, you’ll probably just get mobbed. We’ve had a nice relaxing evening in the Birky and you don’t want to have to deal with all that nonsense, so let’s not ruin it,” and then I’d give him a nice hug and we’d actually put in a date for another few jars when he’s back off tour and actually mean it because I’m now friends with Harry Styles. Later that night he’d add me into his WhatsApp banter group. What a great night.
1. Niall Horan
There could only be one winner. Niall, all round top lad who, in every single interview that I’ve read, has never failed to come across as anything other than a nice bloke. Having somewhat been in the shadow of Harry and Zayn in the band, his solo career has seen him move from unfancied outsider to the man most likely to be the biggest of all of them. ‘This Town’? Delicate, beautiful track. ‘Slow Hands’? Legit brilliant song. And the rest of Flicker, his debut album? Genuinely really really good. So, when he opens the door of the Birkbeck and peers round to see where I’m sat (dark corner table obviously), wearing one of his excellent cosy jumpers, I’d be genuinely pleased to see him and congratulate him on his well-earned solo success.
On the second pint Niall would get chatting to the landlady, using his easy Irish charm to get on her good side and then, following a few hours of lovely chat about the issues of the day (and a brief bit where Niall playfully attempts to ride the golden retriever around the pub), and the bell for last orders rings, we’d get a little cheeky nod from her, which can only mean one thing: lock-in for you guys. We’d not overplay it though, just enjoying the unexpected extra pint and peace and quiet to delve a little deeper into life’s big issues, which we’d undoubtedly agree on. By now a bit worse for wear, we’d pop off, laughing away to Best Fried Chicken for a giant tikka kebab, before making a slow walk up to the station so that Niall can get the last Tube home. We’d embrace, make plans to do a pub quiz as soon as possible and I’d walk home with Flicker on the iPod remembering a lovely night out. All the best mate!