Inside Zayn Malik's Private World: Going Solo, Becoming Single and Still Working Out His Relationship With Fame

He went from being part of a boy band and engaged to be married right into another serious relationship, all while battling anxiety—he could probably use a break

By Natalie Finn Mar 14, 2018 9:20 PMTags

Oh, the fickle ways of young love.

Zayn Malik and Gigi Hadid are the latest seemingly head-over-heels couple to break up just at the moment when they'd been going out so long you had finally stopped assuming they'd be breaking up any day now. They had marked their two-year anniversary in November, with Gigi calling Zayn on Instagram her "favorite human."

Though wealth and fame affords the opportunity to play grownup, ultimately their jet-setting careers and tender ages—she's only 22 and he just turned 25—won out in the end. It just wasn't sustainable in the near-future long run for them to stay in a committed relationship.

But as far as we're concerned, let them go their separate ways and fall back in love with themselves for awhile. Zayn, for instance, could probably use some time where he doesn't feel beholden to anyone.

Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik: Romance Rewind

"I hate the word 'celebrity,'" the singer, a sensitive sort who bought a house for his mum as soon as he'd made some money, told Highsnobiety in September 2016. "I think it's a dangerous road to go down, thinking of yourself as a celebrity, because then you somehow automatically think that label makes you superior to other people. Some people just want to hang around you because they know your name, so they think that means they know you, and I can see through that bulls–t a mile off."

When he gave that interview, Malik was about a year and a half removed from being part of one of the most obsessed-over pop culture entities on the planet, the boy band One Direction. He had stumbled into the group when he was barely 17 after impresario Simon Cowell put the five lads—all of whom had auditioned for the U.K.'s X Factor as solo artists—together. They proceeded to become the most successful group to ever spring from one of these reality competitions, and by 2012 Malik was dating Perrie Edwards of Little Mix—another X Factor concoction whipped up in 2011. They got engaged in 2013.

So at 20 years old, Zayn was in both a serious relationship and a seriously in-demand group, one that was under contract for a certain number of albums and this many tour dates, plus required to show up for these meet-and-greets and maintain a certain air of tween-friendly respectability, while also not being boring. There were a lot of people—from the record company to their loved ones to their millions of fans—counting on One Direction to keep showing up in every respect.

"I think for us where just normal lads, so, we're normal teenage guys so for all this to be happening is absolutely crazy. And we're having so much fun," Harry Styles said in an interview with Voice of America's American Mosaic in May 2012. "We work so, so hard, so we play hard as well."

Jason Merritt/Getty Images

There of course was always a party to go to, but right from the beginning Harry, Zayn, Louis Tomlinson, Niall Horan and Liam Payne were also forced to get used to a nearly constant paparazzi escort (and surreptitious smart phone cameras when the paps weren't around) and crazy headlines about their love lives—there are reasons why none of the longtime girlfriends some of them started off with are still in the picture—and their behavior off stage and on.

Being in a girl group that was already madly popular in the U.K., Zayn's girlfriend Perrie at least understood.

"When we're together at home it's just me and Zayn," Edwards told the U.K.'s Sunday Mirror in August 2012. "I don't even think of him being in One Direction. He's just a sweet little boy. His most annoying habit is the fact he doesn't ever stop singing—he's even worse than me."

About constantly being under the watchful eye of 1D fans, she said, "It doesn't bother us at all that everyone has an ­opinion on our relationship...It's like being at school and you start dating the popular boy in the class and everyone is jealous about it. It isn't a big deal. Our Little Mix fans have actually helped me. If people start on me then they stand up for me. In total there's probably only been two or three ­comments that have truly got to me."

Lucky her. Around that same time, Zayn deleted his Twitter account. His farewell tweets at the time read, "The reason i don't tweet as much as i use to, is because I'm sick of all the useless opinions and hate that i get daily goodbye twitter :)

"My fans that have something nice to say can tweet me on the one direction account , :) x"

He was back on a couple of days later, but obviously he had been shaken enough—particularly by the nastiness directed at Perrie—to take a break. And 48 hours is like a month in non-social-media years.

Stars Who Quit Twitter

When they got engaged a year later, the announcement coming in August 2013, Perrie's mother, Debby Duffy, confirmed the news on British radio's The Gary and Lisa Show

"They got engaged on Sunday and it was absolutely lovely… it's wonderful because Zayn's absolutely gorgeous and Perrie loves him to pieces and it's just perfect," Duffy gushed. "They just get on so well together and they understand each other so it's just fabulous!"

"He did the traditional asking me and then asking his mum and dad and everything, and it was fabulous, just lovely," said Duffy. "I was like a little emotional and, like, ahhhhhh, it was so lovely and I just thought it was adorable."

Malik, though still practically a kid at the time, has always been a sensitive sort with close family ties, a good son who bought his mum a new house as soon as he had the money and who hightailed it home while on tour so he could attend his aunt's funeral.

Jackson Lee/Splash News

All of the 1D lads tried their best to keep their families and loved ones out of the fray, but it was proving increasingly impossible. It was hard enough having London's dozen-plus tabloids on their case. Once they hit globally they couldn't go anywhere without being mobbed.

"Some of the girls are crazy," Morgan Spurlock, who directed the 2013 docu-concert film One Direction: This Is Us, told Britain's  Independent while promoting the movie. "The boys have such a security apparatus around them constantly just to protect them. If they walk outside they will be mobbed, they will be chased. Their tour bus is chased down the street by hundreds of girls after the show. So for us it was trying to maintain this intimacy; but safety was a big concern because you don't want to do something where someone will actually get hurt.

"Their families, too—I mean they have millions of Twitter followers just off the back of the boys, and have suffered terrible intrusion over the past three years. I am really grateful that they allowed my cameras in considering what they've had to put up with."

"Our fans are universal in their craziness," Malik said during a group press conference in the U.K. for the film, "and they're all kinda similar, even if they're from different parts of the world."

He didn't mean that as harshly as it looks written down, but nor was he referring solely to their level of innocent devotion.

Band Breakups & Shakeups

"I don't think it's necessarily I have a 'harder' time with it,' it was just something that took a bit of time to get my head 'round., which obviously is normal for anybody, I guess," Zayn told E! News as well in 2013, referring to the massive level of fame 1D had achieved. "It's not something that is a normal thing to be doing, so it took a bit of time for me to get used to it. But I am used to it now, and it's fun."

And there was definitely some fun. But though it's not as if the other guys ever fell in love with their demanding touring schedule, having no privacy and being so much grist for the social-media mill, the situation only continued to weigh on Zayn. 

Doing a major service to himself and his fans, he would eventually open up about his battle with chronic anxiety, a condition that never really goes away for good but can be managed to a point where you don't always know it's there, as well as struggles with ADHD and an eating disorder.

And the signs that these things were becoming an issue were there toward the end of his run with One Direction, and though he also was ready to go in another, um, direction creatively, his anxiety was also exacerbated by being part of something he no longer wanted to be a part of. 

Ian West/PA Images/

In March 2015, the group was on tour in Southeast Asia, about to head to Indonesia and the Philippines, when Malik decided to pack it in and head home. The stress was getting to him, and tabloids were reporting that he had cheated on his fiancée while partying in Thailand, which he adamantly denied.

A source told E! News at the time that his departure wasn't a sign of a bigger problem with the band, but "Zayn is a very artistic person. He's passionate and sensitive, and he can be quite shy. Being on tour can be hard and being under the spotlight can be difficult. When you are on the road it can be hard to turn it off... It's good that he is able to take a breather. Ultimately he is a really lovely guy. I wouldn't read too much into this."

He went home to be with his mother and Edwards—and then five days later, Zayn Malik officially announced he was leaving One Direction for good. The guys said they were sad to see him go.

"My life with One Direction has been more than I could ever have imagined," Malik said. "But, after five years, I feel like it is now the right time for me to leave the band. I'd like to apologize to the fans if I've let anyone down, but I have to do what feels right in my heart. I am leaving because I want to be a normal 22-year-old who is able to relax and have some private time out of the spotlight."

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Well, it was a lovely idea.

The damage was done as far as normalcy went—Zayn would never have another day where perfect strangers weren't incredibly invested in what he was up to. But the breakup did afford him some time to himself, while the Directioners obsessed over the ultimate fate of the band, scanned every picture and dissected every turn of phrase looking for clues. Everything was mined for signs of shade directed at Zayn—or the other way around.

Some signs were more potent than others, such as Zayn saying he was excited to make "real music" when he signed his first solo contract, or later when he accepted the 2016 American Music Award for New Artist of the Year and said, "This one just has my name on it, right?"

Before all of that, however, and though he denied being unfaithful, Zayn's relationship with Perrie Edwards did end about five months after he left 1D.

Zayn Malik's Hair Transformations

A couple days after the news broke, Malik cryptically tweeted, "You just can't do enough for some people, I guess."

There was a rumor that he had dumped Edwards via text message, which he sought to dispel later, telling Fader that November, "If you could word it exactly this way, I'd be very appreciative: I have more respect for Perrie than to end anything over text message. I love her a lot, and I always will, and I would never end our relationship over four years like that. She knows that, I know that, and the public should know that as well. I don't want to explain why or what I did, I just want the public to know I didn't do that."

And about leaving 1D, he said, "I guess I just wanted to go home from the beginning. I was always thinking it."

Luti Media

Meanwhile, on his own, both musically and romantically, for the first time in years, he hit the studio with a vengeance. His debut single, "Pillowtalk," which came out in January 2016, was a No. 1 hit.

So as a solo artist he was vindicated, but he was already no longer single. Zayn didn't confirm that Gigi Hadid was his girlfriend until February 2016, after she co-starred in the "Pillowtalk" video with him, but they had been spotted together as early as November 2015, just a few months after Malik ended his engagement.

He relished his musical freedom, however (literally saying "I'm free at last") and it felt as though he really had extricated himself from the group—and that extra level of madness involved in being in 1D—just in time.

"See, I've kept a little bit of my sanity," Malik told NME in March 2016. "I understand how the media works. Journos gotta earn their money. Paps have got to earn their money. I think that's why it came across as [me] being mysterious or detached. I just didn't want to get caught up in something that wasn't real. You can be the biggest band in the world for a certain time, but that ends."

Mike Windle/Getty Images

Sure enough, it had already more or less ended in his wake. In August 2015, the remaining members of 1D announced their intent to go on hiatus and did just that the following March, roughly a year after Zayn left. The hiatus has yet to end.

Malik's first solo album, Mind of Mine, also dropped in March 2016, debuting at No. 1.

But though he was in a much better place personally and artistically, that didn't mean the issues that had always plagued him just disappeared.

He was forced to cancel a few shows in 2016, including in June when, he said in apologizing to would-be concertgoers, he experienced "the worst anxiety of my career."

"I hope those who suffer anxiety will understand," he tweeted. "And I hope those who don't can empathize with my situation."

His honesty only endeared him to his existing fans, and won him a bunch of new ones as well, hence his popularity-driven AMAs win that November—as just the one-named "Zayn." He also recorded "Don't Wanna Live Forever" with Taylor Swift for the 50 Shades Darker soundtrack and has since released a few singles in anticipation of his second album, gotten increasingly involved in the fashion and modeling world (he and Gigi made for quite the photogenic pair in the magazines) and is reportedly working on a book about his life.

He loves clothes but isn't fussy, sleeping on a mattress for six months when he first moved into a new place because he was enjoying the "minimalistic" aspect of his surroundings, he told Vogue last summer.

Darren Gerrish/WireImage

And Malik's love-hate (and heavier on the latter) relationship with fame and the notion of celebrity vs. artistry has continued.

"Personally, again, I'm not like a very outgoing, social person, like in terms of big groups of people," he told Vogue. "When we're getting ready to put the second album out, people are going to start seeing me a bit more. I'm excited to see what people think. I think it's been a year since I've properly showed my face."

He added, "I feel like I'm always trying to work through whatever, certain issues are around, certain subjects...For me personally, I think it comes from a place of not ever wanting to come across as an over-arrogant person or a person that takes himself too seriously. I'm not always trying to be pretentious or, you know, say something that I think is going to change the world. I feel like I'm one voice among millions."

That humbleness and self-awareness surely proved appealing to Gigi, who was always at hand supporting him both in public and through his struggles that kept him out of the spotlight at times. But at the same time, her schedule has only been getting more packed. She had just met Zayn when she made her Victoria's Secret Fashion Show debut and she's since become one of the most famous models in the world.

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

"They were just going in different directions," a source tells E! News. "Her job requires her to be in the public eye—the more she's out there, the more she shares, the more work she gets."

Zayn, on the other hand, prefers living a more low-key life—as he's said—unless duty calls. In fact, the source says, if it was up to Zayn they would have maintained a far lower profile as a couple. He has already unfollowed both Gigi and her mother Yolanda on Instagram.

"Toward the end it just wasn't meshing like it used to," the insider adds. "There weren't big arguments, but there was frustration on both sides."

Another source close to Gigi says that, simply, the pair didn't have a lot of time together "and it was hard to really devote time to their relationship...They have a ton of love for one another and may find their way back to each other eventually. But for now, being in a serious relationship just wasn't practical." They had spent Christmas together but Zayn attended the Grammys in January solo.

"Gigi and I had an incredibly meaningful, loving and fun relationship and I have a huge amount of respect and adoration for Gigi as a woman and a friend," Malik tweeted on Tuesday. "She has such an incredible soul. I'm grateful to all of our fans for respecting this difficult decision and our privacy at this time. We wish this news would have come from us first. We love you all."

If history is anything, Zayn may not stay single for very long, but for now he is once again a free man.