One Direction: What makes them beautiful

They went from X Factor also-rans to the world’s biggest boyband in the space of three years, but how did they do it? We chart the rise of Liam, Louis, Harry, Zayn and Niall from giddy teenagers to chart-topping superstars ahead of their Croke Park gigs

One Direction play three concerts in Croke Park next week. Gardai and concert organisers MCD have announced security, safety and transport details relating to the gigs.Video: Bryan O'Brien

Fri, May 16, 2014, 00:00

You couldn’t possibly have called it. The biggest boyband in the world? If my notes – haphazardly jotted down immediately post-interview – were anything to go by, the pop world should have been bracing itself for an act that resembled Supernanny’s worst nightmare.

“Maybe give them Spice Girls-style nicknames?” the notes read. “Hyperactive Direction, Inconspicuous Direction, Brooding Direction, Coiffed Direction, Sensible Direction. Heartthrobs? If you’re young enough to appreciate that sort of thing. Diplomatic, media-trained answers. Impossible to corral attention. Silly voices. Interrupting each other constantly. One perched on chair like a monkey. Want to take them by the ear and put them on the naughty step more than once.”

It was December 2011. In a conference room in Dublin’s Fitzwilliam Hotel, I was sitting opposite a group of young lads who had been rounded up into a makeshift boyband on the previous year’s The X Factor, on which they placed third. They’d had a huge hit with their debut single, What Makes You Beautiful, had just released their debut album and were looking forward to touring the US – “a whole different country”, an awestruck Harry Styles pointed out – for the first time, supporting pop band Big Time Rush.

Yet there were no screaming girls outside. They were quite obviously giddy on the first sugar rush of fame; polite, uniformly proffering a kiss on each cheek upon greeting and leave-taking, but they were neither particularly effusive nor charismatic, apart from Harry (Coiffed) and Liam (Sensible), the only two who answered questions in full sentences. There were no garish tattoos on display yet, and the platitudes flowed freely: “If you’re not prepared to work hard, you won’t get anything from it,” suggested Liam, while Harry claimed that his “parents are just so supportive, they just love everything we do”. So far, so blah. The world’s biggest boyband? Nah.

Yet less than three years later, the same five highly strung young men regularly take to Twitter to bemoan the fact that they can’t get any sleep because of the screaming, chanting fans outside their international hotel rooms. Harry Styles – the caddish one who models himself on a young Mick Jagger – has 20 million Twitter followers, a good 19 million more than UK prime minister David Cameron (but only half of his former squeeze Taylor Swift’s total). Next weekend, they’ll play to more than 200,000 people across three sold-out gigs at Ireland’s biggest stadium, giving Garth Brooks a run for his money. There will be glowsticks. There will be fluffy cowboy hats. There most definitely will be screaming.

“These shows were in planning for more than 18 months,” reveals Rory Murphy of MCD, the promoter staging the gigs. “Site preparation and stage build takes five days. There’ll be 400 local crew, 1,200 stewards and security, 160 medical staff – including a paediatric consultant – and four paediatric nurses, as well as up to 1,000 stadium personnel involved in making this event happen.”

It may not quite be Shea Stadium in 1965, but Muphy says that there’s a similar buzz about the forthcoming gigs. “If you look back, the appeal of One Direction is no different to that of The Beatles, it’s just a different time. Mind you, what The Beatles didn’t have at the heart of their band was an Irishman from Mullingar . . .”.

Darren Reinhardt of their label, Sony Music Ireland, has been working on the group’s Irish media campaign since their debut single. He claims that it was clear from the beginning that they were going to be a big success after even low-key radio appearances saw hordes of fans follow them around the city.

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