Niall Horan: A star who stayed true to his identity and his roots

Above: Niall Horan with his mother, Mara, and his brother, Greg,

For an Irish person, there are a number of ways of annoying your compatriots – and chief among them are losing your accent, or saying anything negative about home while abroad.

Niall Horan has never done either – and not just that but his Twitter account – @NiallOfficial – has always proudly listed his location as Mullingar, Westmeath, Ireland, even though he now divides his time between the UK and the US,

That he does so proudly still identify as a Mullingar man and that he lists Mullingar on his Twitter account is significant because on Twitter, the 25-year-old has the 35th most popular account on the entire planet. There are a mind-boggling 40 million people following the @NiallOfficial account. That puts him ahead of NASA; ahead of Elon Musk; ahead of Kylie Jenner – and ahead of all his former One Direction bandmates.

On Thursday last, July 23 – the 10th anniversary of the formation of One Direction – Niall acknowledged the significance of the date, sharing an early pic of the five together and writing:

“When I met these four gents there was no way I thought we would go on to do what we did. So many unbelievable memories we shared together. We felt the adoration of millions from around the planet on a daily basis and it was mind blowing.”

Later he went on to say: “Emotion filled day today. The love from around the world 10 years on is amazing. Thank you for your loyal support as always. Crazy what 5 normal guys can achieve. Proud . #10YearsfOneDirection”

But being a well-brought up Mullingar man, Niall could not let the occasion pass without remembering not just the fans – but also all those who enabled One Direction to do what they do:

“It’s the 150 person crew of carpenters, lighting, riggers, sound, stage manager Mill that flew the globe with us. It’s our band, our security boys, tour managers, our managers, our label, Sarah cooking our food for us on the road. Today is a day to celebrate those guys also.”

From early on, Niall stood out from his One Direction bandmates: he has always come across as being that bit smarter, that bit more copped on; that bit more grounded; that bit classier; someone of whom the country could be proud, and who could represent the country with as much decorum as any diplomat.

That was already clear in 2014, when, while still only a 20-year-old, he was seated in the royal box at the Albert Hall – behind the shoulder of President Michael D Higgins – at the huge concert hosted by Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh Prince Philip during the momentous state visit by President Higgins to England in 2014. There was no avant garde pop star gear, just a stylishly-suited young man who had the nous to know what was appropriate for the setting. That ability to hold his own in any situation, combined with his wit, intelligence and his ability to tell a yarn engagingly, is among of the things that have made him such a popular chat show guest – as an interviewee as much as a performer.

The list of chat show appearances is impressive: Graham Norton has had him on five times; he’s been on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon seven times; he’s been great fun with Ellen de Generes, and the British comedian/TV presenter James Corden has had him on twice with One Direction – and an incredible nine times in his own right. In fact earlier this year Niall co-hosted Corden’s show for a full week.

Here in Ireland, he has done two interviews in the last year with Ryan Tubridy on the Late Late Show, and gained a host of new fans and impressing all with his down-to-earth wit and good humour and his complete lack of arrogance or affectation.

Whenever he comes back to Mullingar, Niall keeps it strictly private: it’s about catching up with family and friends, and in 2016, he left the celebrity life behind for a time as he backpacked incognito around Asia with two cousins.

A gifted musician, Niall is largely self-taught as a guitarist, having studied You Tube tutorials before his One Direction days. Since then, he has learned to play piano, and has revealed he does much of his composing on piano.

It has also become clear that Niall is well able to act – something that became abundantly clear in 2013 when he played ‘Harvey the studio exec’ in the 1D video ‘Best Song Ever’ that has had 667m views on YouTube.

That acting talent got expression earlier this year with the promotional snippets released for each individual song on his ‘Heartbreak Weather’ album and in the nightly sketches he performed with James Corden on the The Late Late Show. He is particularly noted for his keen ear for accents and he impressed the audience of Jimmy Fallon’s The Tonight Show last December when he read ’Twas the Night Before Christmas in seven different accents.

As a solo performer, Horan has been signed with Capitol Records since 2016 and his first solo album, Flicker, released in 2017 topped the album charts in the US, Canada, Ireland and the Netherlands, going platinum in this country and the US.

Heartbreak Weather was Horan’s second solo album. Released in March of this year, it went straight to the top of the Irish and UK albums charts, and opened at number four in the US Billboard 200 charts.

Unfortunately due to the Covid outbreak, the tour promoting Heartbreak Weather had to be disbanded.

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