Here, in the latest episode of GLAMOUR UNFILTERED – our bi-monthly chat show – Josh Smith meets someone who despite all the success, is beyond grounded and ready to be more honest than ever. Niall talks about how a recent breakup shaped him for the better, how he dealt with growing up in the public eye and how he looks after his mental wellbeing…
Niall Horan left home for an X-Factor audition at 16 years old, joined One Direction and unexpectedly left his hometown in Ireland for good. Now 10 years on, the 26-year-old has experienced unimaginable success and with a US number one solo album under his belt, is set to release his second, Heartbreak Weather.
Album two, Heartbreak Weather is on the horizon. What’s the biggest difference in you personally from the first album to now?
I was excited with the first one. But now that I have lived with my new solo life for a little bit, I feel more comfortable and I am feeling more confident when I walk into a studio. I feel like I’ve written personally – I mean, it could all go head tits up and it could be game over – but I feel like I’ve written my best stuff. You don’t realise until you look back in hindsight, the difference between to when I was 17 to 20 or 20 to 22. When I made the first album, I was probably 22 or 23 years old and the gap between 23 and 26 years is even more. You look completely different; although I hope I hold onto the baby face for a little bit. I feel like I matured a lot in certain aspects. Musically, I found I’m willing to take a few more chances and it’s given me a little bit more confidence when I walk in a room.
Has your solo success given you more faith in yourself? Has there been a turning point in your confidence?
I used to be quite reserved and sometimes take the safe option. Even in the last 18 months to two years, having a relationship, then that ending and then writing about that, when it been quite raw – I’ve learned a lot about myself off the back of that. Usually I would have written a quite selfish song. When I sat down to write a ballad, it was always going to be sad and it’s going to be about me. When I started to come up with the concept for this album, I was thinking about all the different aspects of that breakup, from other people’s views, from the other person’s view and the different phases of it. Through that relationship I’ve learned a lot about myself. I feel like the last 18 months has really changed me as a person and I feel like I’m a bit more prepared for life.
You have so much intense public scrutiny on you all the time especially with your personal life. But then your songwriting is very honest – how have you navigated keeping something back for yourself?
I try and be as honest as I can. Sometimes I find myself sitting there and I go, “Can I say that line? Or should I? Am I ready to say that?” So, you have to push yourself, but when you do you it feels more rewarding and it clears that thought in your head. I’m lucky that I’ve got that vehicle of songwriting as a vehicle to clear the head. I feel like the public and parts of the media will want to know who the song is about but that’s a flash in the pan. That story is out the window after five minutes and everyone goes, “Oh, that songs about that person.” I won’t be telling anyone anyway. But the real stuff is when people have lived with the songs and connect with them in that way and that’s why I try to be as honest as I can, because people relate.
You have been on an insane personal journey. You left home at 16 years old, and whilst you had the One Direction boys with you, you were on you own for the first time. How did you find that?
All the parents had one thing in common with the band and they all said, “we just went to the audition and never came home,” which is true. I moved to a new country at 16 years old. I mean, to go on to do what I did was pretty amazing. But at the time, it was yesterday I was in school and in a small town of about 20,000 people and now, I’m living in London in a band that, in hindsight, went on to do what it did. But at the time it was all a bit crazy and if that had gone the opposite way, I would have been back sitting in my hometown, just scratching my head, wondering what I was going to do. It was right place, right time, I suppose in a way.
How did you manage growing up in that public eye? How difficult was that for you?
To be fair, we had each other around. I don’t think people realise the power of that actually because you see solo stars and people who struggled with things like that and I can relate to some of it. I watched Justin Bieber’s new docuseries – I know the guy I know quite well – and how it affected him, people didn’t realise the pressure that he was under and I can relate to that 100%. We were always lucky that we had each other to share the experience with. And I always felt sorry for Justin in that respect. I think we were the lucky ones. We all came from simple backgrounds, we had that in common and it helped along the way. When it was all going on around us, we were just in our little bubble chatting about how crazy it is and how we couldn’t believe where we were all the time. We never really saw ourselves as these big celebrities. We were just in this little fishbowl having a great time and all the madness was going on around us.
It just goes to show the idea of ‘brotherhood’ can be very positive. What did they help you through the most?
I didn’t really have many crazy problems or anything like that, so it was just the fact that we were all there for each other. We could have all lost the plot because of all the madness that was going on around us. It was like a circus everywhere we went, with police escorts and five-star hotels, you should easily just lose it. But we were all very good at calling each other out. And we genuinely got on, were able to know each other’s boundaries and suss each other out.
You have such a positive fan base but how do you deal with the negative sides of social media?
Personally, I’m quite thick skinned and I just know that it’s some person bored off their head at home, just a keyboard warrior. But what annoys me is the people who are not thick-skinned, they can’t take it, why is the abuse just thrown at them all the time? It’s kind of like, “I can see that you’re vulnerable. I’m going to have you!” If I scroll through now, I’d be able to show you thousands of comments that are negative but for me the pros outweigh the cons. I hate watching vulnerable people who’ve been taken down by keyboard warriors and I’m always tweeting about it, about how I think it’s just ridiculous how people can just say what they want to each other. If I was to walk down Oxford Street and just shout at someone and abuse people like they do online, I’d probably be arrested. So, that’s where I stand on that.
Do you ever find people having such ‘easy access’ to you via social media confining?
I’m very good at keeping my life relatively private. I think I’m good at keeping myself to myself, sticking with my friends and when I go to work, I go to work and that’s it. Then I can decide how much of it I give away and I try to do as much as I can. It’s not like I’m going around hiding or anything. I think I at the start I struggled with it because I was 17-18 years old and I didn’t understand it. It’s 10 years since all of this kicked off.
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Do you think it’s important to speak about personal struggles for the good of others?
I think it’s great when people start talking about their struggles, the biggest stars in the world are saying that we’re human whilst I think society has put us on a pedestal and that we’re above everyone else. The truth is we’re just really normal people who do a crazily abnormal job. Society is putting us up there, so the quicker we can level that out, the more human we make it the better. We just automatically get treated differently and it’s amazing when you do see that human side of an artist. You hear Billie Eilish talking about her Tourette’s or Sam Smith talking about his life – we all have normal issues that can really connect with people who have the same issues.
How do you work on your mental wellbeing?
For me, sometimes I’ll really overthink something. I’m generally not an overthinker, but if I say it’s going to affect me in some way, I’ll think about it for a long time and that’d be it for a couple of days. Then it’ll just be gone, and I’ll be like, “What was that about?” Personally, I try to live as a normal life as I can. I think that’s helped. I try and do real normal things – which I know sounds crazy – like I’ll go on the bus or the tube or go to the shop. That was stuff that I couldn’t do before, I’ll just hang around with my mates and just be really Irish about it by being quite reserved and keeping myself to myself. I think having the normal life and having the friends that I have I think has been huge for me, big time.
How constraining was that for you not being able to leave the house?
I understood it from both sides. I understand why people hang out outside of hotels. But I also was 19 years-old going to Paris for the first time and I had never seen the Eiffel Tower or going to New York. I never setting foot in Times Square and only drove through it!
What has your career taught you about the idea of success and failure?
You can sit there and dwell on the idea of failure, you can let it really upset you but it’s going to damage your songwriting, which means you will fail. Or you can grab it by the scruff of the neck! For this album I’ve written my best stuff, because I wasn’t in the studio every day going, “Oh, this is going to be a disaster.” The thought of failure drives me to want to outdo myself all the time and be as big as I can. I did exams when I was in school and I’d walk in and just go, “Well, I’ve already failed this. Is there much point?” And I’ve walked out of exams after 20 minutes. But there are times when you have to tell yourself the opposite.
If you could sit the you down who was starting out in One Direction right now, what would you want to tell him?
Christ, just laughing even think about it. I would say, get ready, it’s going to be bigger than any of your dreams you ever had and just keep smiling because there’s one thing people always say to me, “you always look like you’re enjoying yourself!” And that’s the way it should be because I literally had dreams, stood in mirrors and there’s pictures of me at three years of age with guitars and microphones in my hand showing off. That’s the guy who dreamt of doing the job that I do now. So, the longer I can keep that in my head, the better.
Do you still feel like you’re doing it for that little kid that was singing in the mirror?
Yeah! Sometimes I look at photos of myself playing the guitar or singing and think about the insane things I have done in my career and I definitely never will take them for granted ever.