Biggest boyband of all time? InStyle meets One Direction
It's official: One Direction are soon to be no more. Here's what happened when we met them back in 2013, at the height of 1D mania.
Even in the corporate lobby of London’s Gherkin building there’s a crackle of excitement at the arrival of One Direction. The receptionist has finished her shift but is loitering, iPhone in hand, glancing out onto the street. A beefy security guard paces up and down whistling the chorus of their first single “What Makes You Beautiful”. Eventually a cavalcade of blacked-out Mercedes vans whips past us to the building’s back entrance. Ten minutes later I’m escorted up 41 floors to meet five of the most famous boys in the world.
“We’ve met before haven’t we?” Harry says, cocking that cherubic curly head. I assure him we haven’t and I suspect he knows perfectly well we haven’t, but it’s a smooth opening line. Harry is a seasoned flirt. When I ask later if he could go anywhere in the world he smirks, “The InStyle office”. We’re sitting right inside the building’s pointed glass tip, with panoramic views of a sun-soaked London. Niall looks up and booms a loud, “HIYAAAA!” at a window cleaner suspended in a cradle outside. The cleaner glances down, does a double take and almost drops his squeegee 500 feet.
Three years after pop Svengali Simon Cowell moulded five individual X Factor auditionees into One Direction, they look more like young men than boys, styled up like an assortment of Topman models, tattoos peeking out under scoop-necked T-shirts. The group has 85 inkings between them. Harry alone has 43 and pulls up his sleeve to show me a new handshake design on his tricep.
Harry Styles meeting One Direction fans outside a gig
Interviewing them is an unorthodox process. Despite their unrelenting schedule of 4am pick-ups, back-to-back touring and never-ending loops of press and promotions, they fizzle with unspent energy: Niall leaps up several times, once to yank up his top and show off his chest hair (“it’s new so he likes to get it out”, Louis explains), flowers are tossed around from the vase in front of us until someone from their entourage sweeps them away, and my Dictaphone is spun across the table until I pull it out of reach. “We’re hyperactive most of the time,” says Louis. “I think anyone in our position, at our age, would be the same.” Harry admits that, despite their high spirits, the pace can be punishing. “I always feel kind of out of breath,” he says. “We’ve just had a break. I was ill at home for the first five days.”
One Direction at the NJR music awards in Cannes, 2014
You’d need boundless reserves of energy to handle not just their schedule, but their notoriously evangelical fan base too. Wherever they travel the scene is exhaustingly familiar: a thousand-strong crush of girls simultaneously crying, screaming, wielding iPhones and reaching out to touch their idols. Parents have taken to wearing earplugs to concerts to block out the high-pitched white noise. Niall says the screaming gives him an “adrenalin rush”, though they do admit there are some odder moments of fanly devotion. “Someone tried to give me her house keys today,” says Liam. “There wasn’t even an address on them. She just said, ‘take them’. What did she think was going to happen?” Another overzealous Directioner tried to smuggle herself into their hotel in a dirty wheelie bin. “I don’t think there’s anything weirder than getting into a bin,” adds Niall.
One Direction on stage in 2011
Then of course there’s their vast online community. Together they command a Twitter and Instagram following of more than 70 million – that’s bigger than the individual populations of Canada, Australia, Italy, Spain and Greece, or 1 per cent of the world’s population. A single, innocuous tweet can power an online chat forum for days. The day before we meet, a club sandwich Harry has instagrammed gets 388,000 likes “and it was a really bad club sandwich”, he says. “I do find it weird when they have massive conversations about small stuff. Sometimes it’s funny but it can also be… strange.” He also finds social media a little limiting. “You’ve only got, what, 140 characters? Fans want to get to know you and you can interact a bit, but we can’t really put across who we are as people.”
One Direction fans at a concert
They cite their tour of America in 2011 as the point when things went “really crazy”. Who is the most famous person they’ve met so far? “Michelle Obama,” says Zayn, who seems the most introspective of the five. Did you go to meet her at The White House? “No, she came to our gig.” When you’re One Direction, even the First Lady comes to you. Harry would still like to meet Mick Jagger, and with his pout, curly mop and renegade spirit the former could pass as a junior Jagger, but he reserves his highest praise for Coldplay frontman Chris Martin. “He’s the nicest guy. And he doesn’t make me feel nervous, but when you have so much respect for someone… it’s difficult not to.”
Harry Styles performing on stage with One Direction
Behind their boyish bravado you can sense a sliver of disbelief at the sheer luck of it all. There have, after all, been quite a few near misses in the 1D journey: they made it through The X Factor lottery only to be rejected as soloists; were brought back at the last minute and formed into a band by Simon Cowell; then lost in the final to Matt Cardle. Yet it was they, not Cardle, who returned a year on to scoop a level of global success that has surprised even Cowell himself. “I haven’t seen a worldwide reaction like this to a group for a very long time,” he once remarked of the boys. “If we’d been having a conversation two years ago, I wouldn’t have said they were going to debut at number one in America. That would have been ridiculous.” So wide is their reach that a few weeks after we meet, the very bastion of hard-headed news, BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, is running a feature on the One Direction “legacy”. “It’s something that really surprised us at the start,” says Harry. “It still surprises us now how many people seem to like us.”
Had five other fresh-faced auditionees been picked instead of them, where would they be now? Louis (the loudest) wanted to be a drama teacher; Harry, a sports physiotherapist, though their post-recession schooldays sound a bit depressing. “You’d go to your teachers, ‘Yeah, I wanna do this,’ and the teachers would go, ‘Yeah, sorry there’s no jobs now.’ Great then, cheers for that.”
They’re all now rich enough to never worry about job hunting again. Following the release of their third album later this year, their worth is set to rocket to an estimated £60million EACH. (To put this into perspective, JLS are worth an estimated £6million each; The Wanted, £1.2million.) It is breaking America – a feat that their biggest predecessor Take That never managed – that has had the biggest impact on their fortune. Their cute, boy-next-door appeal has proved both irresistible, and hugely bankable. Today we’re here to promote their latest merchandise spin-off, a women’s fragrance called Our Moment. What was the last thing they bought with their riches? “A Pot Noodle and some Pringles,” jokes Niall. Liam and Louis tell me they purchased 7ft Iron Man replicas and some “pretty expensive robots from Japan”. Harry, Zayn and Louis also own million-pound properties and cars, including a Porsche and a Bentley.
One Direction congratulating winner Matt Cardle in the 2010 X Factor final
However, it’s the chance of going back to their family homes that the boys insist they have come to savour. Niall likes disappearing to his local pub in Ireland where no one hassles him. Harry goes back to his mum’s, “Where there’s tea on the table. When you’ve been away you appreciate it so much more.” Zayn spends as much time as possible with his girlfriend – now fiancée – fellow X Factor graduate, Little Mix’s Perrie Edwards. The conversation turns to what they look for sartorially in a lady. “I like it when girls wear those… little denim shorts…” says Liam, trailing off. They all pause to consider this image. And for anyone with romantic designs on Harry Styles, less is more. “Sometimes you see girls walking down the street properly [dressed up],” he says, “but they can’t walk because their shoes are dodgy.” He is a fan of Jennifer Lawrence’s style. “She dresses cool. I like her at all those big awards things,” he adds.
Our time is up. I tell them I am the envy of my office coming to meet them. “Make sure you tell them nice things about us,” Niall says as I go to leave. They’ve been a delight – funny and silly, yes, but also sweet and well mannered, and, despite living inside the biggest fan-frenzy since The Beatles, weirdly normal. But boy, are they loud. As I walk to the lifts I can still hear their voices booming all the way down the corridor.
And then there were four: One Direction at a photocall this summer