He was the chattiest member of One Direction when I interviewed the fresh-faced pop stars of the newly formed boyband in 2011.

Then, Zayn Malik struck me as happy and outstandingly polite. A few months later, he approached me at the Brit Awards to say he remembered the red blouse I had been wearing during the interview and how much he had enjoyed our conversation.

His words stuck with me: it was a moment of true kindness, rare among global heart-throbs.

So it was devastating to watch his appearance, four years and several gruelling tours later, on one of America’s biggest chat shows.

On the surface, he had everything to celebrate. The band had just finished a sell-out tour in front of a legion of adoring fans and only a year before, he had announced his engagement to Perrie Edwards of superstar girl-group Little Mix.

Yet as his bandmates joked with host Jimmy Kimmel, Malik — looking gaunt and sallow — could barely muster a smile.

One Direction, consisting of Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson, Harry Styles, Niall Horan and Zayn Malik, on stage during their X Factor adventure in 2010

One Direction, consisting of Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson, Harry Styles, Niall Horan and Zayn Malik, on stage during their X Factor adventure in 2010

One Direction, consisting of Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson, Harry Styles, Niall Horan and Zayn Malik, on stage during their X Factor adventure in 2010

Four months later, breaking the hearts of millions of ‘Directioners’, Zayn quit the band in the middle of yet another global stadium tour, saying he was taking a break due to ‘stress’. His bandmates Harry Styles, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson and Niall Horan finished the tour but at the end of the year, announced a ‘hiatus’ for One Direction which, it later transpired, would be permanent.

While the boys — now all in their 30s — were undeniably richer than they could ever have imagined, they had, confided one of the stars, ‘lost their best years to One Direction’.

And they blame one person: Simon Cowell, the music mogul whose TV show The X Factor propelled them into living rooms around the country, and whose record label mischievously named Syco turned them into one of the most successful pop groups in history, selling some 70 million records.

Last week, both Louis and Niall unfollowed their former boss on Instagram — the ultimate signifier of a Millennial’s fury.

It came after Cowell, 64, spoke in an interview about his management of One Direction. ‘I told them to never complain about paparazzi because they are going to take your pictures, don’t complain about invasion of privacy because people will always want to have a picture with you, don’t complain about the long hours,’ he said to Steven Bartlett, on the latter’s Diary Of A CEO podcast.

‘I told them if any of the above is going to be a problem then do something else because all this will happen. I told them about the gruelling schedule — it comes with the territory. It just comes with it, you will lose a lot of privacy.’

Music mogul Simon Cowell, 64, grouped the teens together on the show and recently spoke of his 'regret' about letting the band own the One Direction name on the Diary Of A CEO podcast

Music mogul Simon Cowell, 64, grouped the teens together on the show and recently spoke of his 'regret' about letting the band own the One Direction name on the Diary Of A CEO podcast

Music mogul Simon Cowell, 64, grouped the teens together on the show and recently spoke of his ‘regret’ about letting the band own the One Direction name on the Diary Of A CEO podcast

Cowell also revealed his ‘regret’ about letting the band own the One Direction name, which meant he couldn’t continue cashing in on their legacy after they broke up.

‘So if you’re listening, One Direction,’ he offered, ‘then I will buy it back from you.’

There is, I’m told, no chance.

It may be hard to have sympathy for the five heart-throbs, who have all embarked on their own solo careers and each now have eight-figure bank accounts. Leaving behind Cowell and Syco, Harry signed a ‘super’ solo deal with another label, as did Liam, Zayn and Niall.

Yet in recent years, the boys have been candid about the price they paid for fame.

With obsessive ‘Directioners’ trailing them everywhere they went, the boys were often unable to go out for days. Thousands would wait outside their hotels, hoping for a glimpse of their idols. I’m told that some more than others — namely Liam and Zayn — found this particularly hard to deal with.

‘They were like caged animals,’ says an insider close to the group. ‘They weren’t able to go out and do what other boys of their age were doing, but it was a case of “Simon Says” and they did it.

‘Simon was the boss, he wanted them out there. He wanted them performing. They were cash cows, pure and simple. There seemed little care for the band’s mental health though, and how it would affect them in the future.’

Undoubtedly, their schedule was gruelling. The band performed an average of one concert every two days during their Take Me Home tour in 2013, fulfilling the 124 dates that Cowell demanded of them. That, I’m told, put pressure on them — not just as a group but also as young men.

‘They couldn’t have normal relationships,’ said a friend close to one band member, who recalls that in 2013, while performing in Australia, Perrie Edwards had to be sneaked into the One Direction hotel through its laundry room.

‘It was the only way she and Zayn got to see one another. It might seem funny, but actually it was hard and stressful. Sometimes the band just wanted a day off, just to rest but instead they were put on a private jet and flown to the next arena or stadium.’

Zayn Malik, 31, was the chattiest member of One Direction when Katie Hind interviewed the fresh-faced pop stars of the newly formed group in 2011. However, he was visibly gaunt and sallow just four years down the line

Zayn Malik, 31, was the chattiest member of One Direction when Katie Hind interviewed the fresh-faced pop stars of the newly formed group in 2011. However, he was visibly gaunt and sallow just four years down the line

Zayn Malik, 31, was the chattiest member of One Direction when Katie Hind interviewed the fresh-faced pop stars of the newly formed group in 2011. However, he was visibly gaunt and sallow just four years down the line

Cowell, on the other hand, took the firm view that he had given these five young men an opportunity of a lifetime — something most teenagers can only dream of. Those close to the former X Factor judge have staunchly defended him over his treatment of the band. One tells me: ‘Simon set One Direction up to never have to work again.

‘If they put the work in when they were young then they were made for life. Simon is a grafter, he has worked hard all of his life so if you give some youngsters the chance to have fame and fortune, surely they will crack on with it and not complain. They could have gone on forever and ever.’

Yet one incident following the break-up of the band strained the relationship between Cowell and his proteges.

In 2016, Louis Tomlinson had embarked on a solo career and was planning to promote his debut single by performing it live for the first time on The X Factor final, which, of course was made by Cowell’s production company. Just days before he was due to perform, Tomlinson’s mother died.

His bandmates Liam and Harry were in the U.S. yet Cowell implored them, at a day’s notice, to make the journey to the show’s West London studios to be with their friend.

Yet, sources close to Liam told me that on their arrival in London, the pair felt that Cowell had seemed to be cynically exploiting Louis’ personal tragedy to get the band back together and boost his television ratings. Liam and Harry were said to be ‘fuming’ and the band refused to perform, remaining backstage.

One friend told me at the time: ‘Of course they all wanted to be there for Louis, they were so terribly sad for him but they felt once again they were being summoned to perform for Simon.’

Some of the band have come out less damaged than others. While Niall (who co-founded a golf management company in 2016) and Harry are ‘extremely robust’ and have a ‘healthy attitude towards fame’, Liam — who was hospitalised in Italy earlier this year with a kidney infection — and Zayn have not.

Zayn was reportedly axed by American label RCA Records in 2021 due to concerns about his alleged cannabis use and an altercation with his ex, model Gigi Hadid — the mother of his daughter Khai — and her mother Yolanda.

The once-chatty pop star with puppy-like enthusiasm whom I met in 2011 now lives a quiet life in a weatherboarded farmhouse in rural Pennsylvania.

One insider close to the group claims: 'Simon was the boss, he wanted them out there. He wanted them performing. They were cash cows, pure and simple. There seemed little care for the band¿s mental health though, and how it would affect them in the future'

One insider close to the group claims: 'Simon was the boss, he wanted them out there. He wanted them performing. They were cash cows, pure and simple. There seemed little care for the band¿s mental health though, and how it would affect them in the future'

One insider close to the group claims: ‘Simon was the boss, he wanted them out there. He wanted them performing. They were cash cows, pure and simple. There seemed little care for the band’s mental health though, and how it would affect them in the future’

Louis, meanwhile, has been open about struggles with his mental health, suffering panic attacks and bouts of agoraphobia. As well as losing his mother, his younger sister Félicité died of an accidental overdose in 2019.

So, with his grand plans for a One Direction reunion in tatters, what of Simon Cowell?

Although his comments about the band on Steven Bartlett’s podcast made headlines, the interview was actually meant to publicise Cowell’s new project.

He is on the hunt for a new boyband — on another reality series.

Earlier this month, Cowell was seen drumming up publicity for his new venture by donning dungarees to put up a giant billboard of his face with the words: ‘Simon needs you. Future megastars wanted for new boyband. No time wasters.’

Cowell has signed with a production company Box To Box films to make a TV series out of his hunt for a One Direction-style band and there have been rumours that he is at the centre of a bidding war between streaming services.

‘It’s all a bit of a mystery as to where Simon is going to put this programme,’ says a television insider. ‘There are rumours circulating but nothing concrete. How things have changed for him: once he would have had his arm bitten off by ITV.’

The truth is that, apart from his role as a judge on Britain’s Got Talent and American’s Got Talent — both created by his production company — Cowell’s reign as king of showbiz is over.

During the X Factor’s heyday, the show pulled in more than 14 million viewers and Cowell was always spotted dining with celebrity pals at London’s finest restaurants where, without fail, there would be paparazzi waiting to snap him on his way out.

He would summon newspaper editors to his former home in Holland Park, West London, for a spin in his Maserati, or simply for a takeaway curry.

Since the band's permanent 'hiatus' in 2016, Harry Styles, 30, has become the biggest solo star for both his music and acting

Since the band's permanent 'hiatus' in 2016, Harry Styles, 30, has become the biggest solo star for both his music and acting

Since the band’s permanent ‘hiatus’ in 2016, Harry Styles, 30, has become the biggest solo star for both his music and acting

Today though, things have changed. Those who know Cowell say that he rarely sees his famous friends, with the exception of Amanda Holden, whose husband Chris Hughes signed him to his YMU talent agency.

His harem of women, which included his exes, former Page 3 model Jackie St Clair, Terri Seymour and Mezhgan Hussainy, is a thing of the past. These days, Cowell splits his time between London and the countryside and enjoys quiet nights in with girlfriend Lauren Silverman and their son Eric, ten.

‘Arguably, his star has waned somewhat,’ says one former employee of the music mogul.

‘He was probably the most powerful man in British showbusiness — what he wanted, he got. It just isn’t the same for him any more. He had a long stint at the helm of the X Factor and BGT, and the ratings were incredible.

‘But things have most definitely changed for him. Of course, he did a good job for One Direction but to still be talking about them now is a bit odd.

‘It could be said that he is living in the past.’

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