In April of 2012, just as they were breaking in the United States, the members of One Direction spent several days hanging out with Rolling Stone for a major feature that, in the end, went unpublished. Back then, the guys were unaffected and friendly, with a puppyish, Hard Day's Night-esque energy, and they did most of their interviews together, often resulting in a hard-to-transcribe blur.
They ultimately consented to brief individual chats – including this phoner with just-departed member Zayn Malik, conducted through a fuzzy cell connection as he prepared to board a plane. To commemorate Malik's tenure in the group, here's a quick snapshot from the early days.
Growing up, when did you realize that you could sing?
I joined a school choir originally just to meet girls. I joined when I was about eight or nine and then it just became a hobby and I started to sing all the time.
Before One Direction, had you performed a lot in public besides the choir? Had you ever had the feeling of being a star?
No. The only performance stuff I'd done was the acting in school performances. I'd never really sung in front of everyone; just one of my friends that called me to audition for X-Factor.
So you never expected your life to be anything like this, then?
No, not at all. This isn't what I thought I was going to be doing. I just went for the experience. I never went with a master plan, thinking, "I want to be famous." I literally went for an experience thing on the show and just hoped that…I guess I just got lucky.
If none of this had happened, what would you be doing now?
I think I'd probably be at [college] right now, studying English, because I wanted to be an English major. I have a massive thing for English; I just loved words.
When we spoke before, you were saying your dad disapproves of your tattoos. Are there other aspects of your lifestyle that he has problems with?
Not really. I have cool parents; they're really cool and very supportive of everything I do. They understand that I'm young and that a lot of things that you do when you're young, you might not approve of when you're older. They don't restrict much and let me do my own thing and I think that's why I've developed this attitude of, "I'm not really interested in a lot of things that I should be."
I'm not out going clubbing; I prefer to stay in and sit on my sofa and watch TV and that's because I've never been told that I wasn't allowed [to do anything]. I never really wanted to do something that I wasn't allowed to do because it was always available for me. They don't really want me to get drunk, but I think that's the same with every parent…
"When you hear yourself on the radio or see yourself on the front of a magazine, you sometimes don't get it. You can't believe it's actually happening to you."
Do you drink?
No, I don't drink a lot. Maybe occasionally on a social occasion, but I'm not a big drinker. I don't enjoy it.
Does that mean that you don't go out with the rest of the guys? They seem to like to drink.
Obviously I go out with the lads. I have nights out with the lads and stuff, but it's not something that I do of my own choice. I go out if the lads are going out just to chill out with the guys. I don't really do it on my free time.
We talked about whether you've faced any prejudice because of your Muslim background and you said it hadn't even occurred to you that could be possible, which is cool.
It's really cool. I never even thought about that. It's very interesting to see that people don't really care. I think that's a good way to look at things, like why should there be a prejudice because I come from a certain religious background. I think it just shows that people are moving on and they're becoming [more] accepting of other people.
Your life is so completely different than it was two or three years ago. How do you adjust your mind to that?
It just happened and I've just gone with the flow. I guess that's why it works so well because we share everything together; it's a new experience for all of us. We just help each other through it and we don't really think about what's going on.
How about the hysteria of it all?
It's that thing that we've sometimes talked about — when you hear yourself on the radio or see yourself on the front of a magazine — and you sometimes don't get it; you can't believe it's actually happening to you. Even the girls running down the street still doesn't really hit you. It's like, "No, they can't be running for me; for us." It's really strange, and it's hard to put into words, but it's almost like you know it's happening and you know you should believe it, but you almost don't.
Can you go back to normal life after this? If you quit in five years, could you leave show business?
I don't know. I think I'd love to be involved with it still, because obviously, we'll be working in the industry for an extended amount of time and you get used to it. Even if it wasn't as public or out there as what we do now, if it was just something even in the background, working as a studio songwriter, producing, that would always be a cool thing to do.