This world exclusive interview and solo shoot has been a long time coming. After months of lengthy negotiations, the moment has finally arrived for our eagerly anticipated chat with one of the most desirable men in the world and winner of this year's Attitude Award for Sexiest Man Of The Year. And this is a biggie for Attitude – or any magazine for that matter – as this is the first solo interview Liam has undertaken since 1D announced that they are planning to take some time out from March of next year. Although most people are convinced this spells the end of One Direction (err, didn’t the Spice Girls say they were talking time out to work on solo projects?), we're assured that it isn't. (“It’s been five years and it's time to take a well-earned break.” Liam will later tell us. “Of course, we'll work together again; we're not splitting up. We're just having some time out.”) While long-haired larrikin Harry Styles is recognised by the press as the band's hottest guy, it's actually moody-looking Liam, 22, from Wolverhampton, who has caught the eyes of us gay men. Since he cropped his Bieber fringe in favour of a rugged crop, Liam's blossomed from a teenage boy to a handsome, self-assured man. But it’s not just his dashing teen idol looks that have captivated us so much; so too has his surly take on life. He may come across as the ‘practical’ Gary Barlow type, but he's certainly not scared to say what’s on his mind, a refreshingly honest trait that has occasionally landed him in hot water. We've lost count of the amount of times he's taken to Twitter to scold his noisy fans for keeping him up at night or for hanging around outside his London skyscraper apartment during his time off. But in a world where pop stars flash superficial smiles, it's refreshing to find one who’s not afraid to let the smiley PR mask slip from time to time. However, on a darker note, there have been accusations of homophobia from some quarters, which have caused concern among his gay fans. Last year, Liam was criticised after he praised the Duck Dynasty cast for their ‘family values', the very same week its bible-bashing patriarch Phil Robertson made dubious homophobic comments. The result was a barrage of abuse from fans and Liam issued a series of tweets defending his good name. More recently, he was accused of alienating lesbian fans during a concert when he told a legion of mainly female fans that they wouldn't be able to relate to one of his favourite songs because it was about falling in love with a girl. Again, he took to Twitter to defend his honour. Clearly, there's a lot for us to discuss.
With nerves and excitement building, Liam suddenly arrives, full of energy and smiles, but, interestingly, with neither burly security men nor ten-person entourage in tow (his PR and manager had arrived earlier). Nor are there any fans or paps hanging around outside, thanks to the cloak and dagger secrecy of our shoot and the remote location. Although he is younger and more boyish-looking than he appears in pictures, Liam has a swagger and a look that makes your heart skip faster. He's slight, but toned, and his complexion is warm. His stubble is enough to inspire lustful shivers. Politely he steps forward and introduces himself to the team. When he comes to greet me, he furrows his brow and says with a beaming smile, “We've met before, haven't we? At X Factor, I think.” He's right, five years ago, when he and the boys were still competing on the live shows, we were briefly introduced by Liam's then hairstylists to meet him and his family. Good manners, good memory. This man is a catch! I like him even more. As our groomer sets to work on his hair and makeup, he chats candidly about how he has recently lost weight around his waist – “Look my trousers are loose,” he announces, pulling at the waist band – and about how excited he is to be on the cover of Attitude, and being named Sexiest Man Of The Year. “I'm super happy about it,” he smiles. “It's quite a shock to be honest, and I am very thankful to those who think I deserve this. It's a great title to have, what can I say about that?” It must be satisfying to know that you have beaten your bandmates to the title, I venture. Who would have been your choice? “Well, I guess Harry has a certain look about him,” he says. “Harry looks better with his hair long. It's getting mad long now. It's funny when I go home on a break I see how big my dog has gotten, then we get back together, I'll say to Harry ‘Your hair is getting bigger.'” If he were gay for a day, which of his bandmates would he fancy? “Louis is my best mate; he is the one who I have the strongest connection with. Would I marry him? Well, I couldn't as he's taken now. When we are out on the road we can grind ideas off each other. We're the ones who get everything together when it comes to the album.”
So, Liam, you guys are taking a break from next year. What does life look like after One Direction?
" I realise now is the time to start branching out and exploring. This won't last forever, and there will be a point when we will break off and do our own things, but it's something that comes back around and we will work together again. Songwriting is the most amazing thing for me and I really enjoy it. The person who has inspired me most is Pharrell Williams, who I worked with a while back. I got talking to his producer recently and asked him what Pharrell was like when he was younger, and he said to me that when he was my age he couldn't press a note on a keyboard. And that was amazing to me because at 22 I thought I was too old to learn guitar. I have let that go now. There are people who can play the instruments. So, I just hum and sing the tunes – that's how the songwriting works for me. I know what sounds good."
Do you think you'll release music or stay behind the scenes?
"I like doing remixes. I have a great team and we have come up with some great songs. And each one is my new favourite, but this is what I want to do. I want to target every part of the industry. I have written country songs. I started out doing rap songs. That's where my mind is set. A lot of people say to me ‘oh, you'll go solo' but I haven't thought about that. If the right song comes along and I think I should sing it, then I will release it as a solo artist. Otherwise, I'm happy being behind the scenes. When the other boys go solo I would love to write songs for them. I want to make great music that people want to listen to."
And count all that money afterwards, of course.
"Haha, yes. I am very interested in investment and business. I can be a super lazy person, and just trip along a load of different things, but I have managed to gather a nice team around me who deal with my investments. And I enjoy doing it. I love having these big numbers thrown at me, and for me to have to decide what to do with it. I look at all these posh magazines that tell me what's going on in the world today, so I am learning along the way. "
Your tax bills must be a riot!
"It was always very strange when we started off. Obviously, we do stuff that has made us a lot of money. When I first got taxed – I was 17 – my tax bill was astronomical. Seeing the figure after the tax had come off – well, at 17 that is very hard to get your head round. But you have to get used to it."
So, you must have an interest in politics when it comes to how much money you have to give away.
"Yeah, I'm definitely interested in politics, but I need to sit down and think about it. The thing is I just never get the time to vote because I am never in the country. There is a postal service that you can use. I want to invent an app where you can vote wherever you are in the world. It can be finger print sensitive for safety. I think if they want more people to get involved they need to make it more accessible. When it comes to me voting in the future, I will look into what each of the politicians stand for and then make my decision based on that."
We're here today to celebrate you receiving Attitude's Sexiest Man of The Year award at next month's lavish ceremony in London. Between us, of all the bandmates, you have always been very popular with our readers!
"Well, thank you. There was a time a while back when I was actually doing very well in polls. But then I started drinking a lot and I began to get a bit tubbier and I wasn't as popular in those polls anymore. In fact, because of that I was getting fat jibes all the time, which hurt me. **That's not very nice**. Well you see, I had become quite muscly at one point and when you raise the bar you can't really drop it without someone saying something. I remember I got pictured relaxing on a boat and I didn't look as toned as I had done before because I had spent a lot of time partying. But I've stopped drinking now and I've lost a lot of weight."
Oh yes, we remember that ‘wow' moment very well. You looked hot!
"Yes, there was a lot of interest back then. When I was younger I used to box, and we now take a boxing trainer on the road with us. I was massively into it at the beginning and my body really changed. But then I started drinking and smoking and, on top of life's distractions, that didn't last. (Oh, we all have vices.) Well, exactly. Everyone goes through that stage. I'm not afraid to say that I actually went through a pretty bad stage. And for that time in my life, that was perfect for me. That's what I wanted to do and so I enjoyed myself."
What exactly were you going through at the time? Why did you need cigarettes and alcohol to get you through it?
"Well, it's a bit of a muse, isn't it? Something that you get into to relax at night when you're on tour. I mean, you're away from home all the time and that can get hard. Also back then there were a lot of things on my mind at the time and that's what helped me through it."
Can you explain what kind of mindset you were in? Were you feeling overwhelmed by your job and felt you needed an escape?
"At times this job gets hard for me to do. It's been a relentless five years for us doing a lot of work, and I am so proud of what we have achieved and all the stuff we've done, but I am still growing up in this mad situation. I'm kind of like a typical lad at uni. You know, you go to uni and relax with your mates, but perhaps relax just that little bit too much. And when I did it, it was ‘my bad'! But now I'm a lot more focused."
And things are better?
"Now I feel good to be out of that zone and be more concentrated. There were a just a few times that I went over the limit with things and then I had to pull it back."
You're 22, an age of transition when most people rebel and push the envelope.
"Yeah, I know. It's totally natural. It's just growing up in a mad situation, and drinking just happens. But I was very fortunate that I had lots of great people around me who said to me, ‘Look Liam, you need to chill out a little bit now'. And I didn't mind them telling me this because I'd had my fun and I was ready to calm down. I'm the practical one."
Another thing we like about you is that you're not afraid to speak your mind.
"I have to admit it did go a bit sour at one point. I didn't mean to come across the way I did on Twitter. But sometimes certain things p*ss me off. I remember this one time when I was in bed at five in the morning and there were thousands of people outside the hotel – which of course you pray for in your career – but the singing just never stopped, and even though I look back on it now and see the funny side, at that particular point I didn't and needed my sleep. I remember I spent the next two hours trying to find some earplugs."
It's all part of the job though, isn't it?
"For me it's all a mad situation. New York is a very crazy place. The first time I went out there, it was mad. The paps were shooting me and my girlfriend Sophia like crazy and when the flashes go off you really can't see where you're going, so I was trying my best to get through. Fans were behind me asking for a photo but I just couldn't. The thing is – and I hope the fans know – I'm not being mean to them when I don't come and have a picture taken, but more just trying to make the best of a tough situation. It's a highly pressurised situation. No one can train you for that. It's brash and real and in your face and you can't stop if people are videoing you, especially if you have to be a certain character."
Do you ever get the chance to walk the streets like a normal person?
"There was one time we were doing Good Morning America, and me and a mate went to Times Square and just sat there without anyone knowing I was there, just looking around, and that was beautiful."
There was a hilarious viral clip circulating last year of you posing for selfies with fans on a red carpet – and your face keeps dropping into a frown between shots.
"Ah yes, that! I‘ll be honest, that was during my wild partying time. As we were heading off to this red carpet event, I thought we'd have a little bit of fun beforehand and had a few drinks – but it went a bit too far. And when I got there, I saw this massive crowd of girls and it was daunting. We'd been working all day, so I was feeling tired, but I said to myself I will do as many pictures as I can as quickly as I can. So, what you saw in the clip was more functional than an ‘oh for God's sake', which I guess is what it looked like. In my head, I was so concentrated because was I was on the red carpet and I was little bit drunk."
Drunk on the red carpet? Outrageous!
"You see, it's hard because we don't get to celebrate awards very often. I had decided that I was going to have a good time. I don't mind being honest about those things. Some people might say ‘oh, he was drunk' or whatever, but I'm not here to be a role model. It's a difficult thing to place that pressure on you when you're so young. I am going to mess up from time to time. Everyone does. I'm only human, and sometimes I let my guard down a little too much."
Did you ever think ‘I don't want this anymore'?
I totally love what I do. Music has become the main part of me. But I do struggle with the attention that comes with the job. But I have to embrace it; there is no stop button on this thing. It's inevitable that I'm going to have bad moments – but it won't go to Lindsay Lohan level."
As in not wearing underwear, flashing your bits and getting wrecked?
"I am very real about it. I am not trying to pretend to be someone else. There will be times I don't want to take a picture and there will be times that I'll be lovely. In the celebrity world the first time you meet someone you are judged instantly. It's hard to turn it on constantly when you're only 22. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and I can be like the moodiest teenager and say ‘I don't want to do this today', but then when you get out there and there are 60, 000 people watching you, it's hard not to have a good time."
In the middle of this madness you also have girlfriend Sophia in your life, who must help strike a balance?
"She's great; she's very good at fitting into situations. It's taken her a while to get used to everything but she has now, and I love her to bits. She's the most honest person and she'll tell me what's going on in my life. That's what I need."
What does she tell you?
"Well, I was mulling over about doing this shoot, as this is the first time I have done something on my own. I was so happy to get the award, but at the same time it's a super scary thing because it's such a huge statement to make. We had a good long chat and she told me that I should definitely do it."
Probably because she can say she is going out with the sexiest man in the world.
"Haha, maybe. I don't know. She very much grounds me. She helps me through things. I love her to pieces. And you know what? I have fancied the pants off her since I was at school with her."
You've known her that long?
"Yeah, except I didn't actually go out with her at the time. I used to see her at school and we'd kind of chat. I asked her sister for her number. She was very shy and didn't give much indication that she liked me, so I just assumed that she wasn't interested, as well as thinking she was way too hot for me anyway. So, I ended up going out with someone else. Then one day she saw me out in town with this other girl and she never spoke to me again. But I always thought about her, about what could have been. When I was single again, I met her at my mate's party. I didn't say too much to her because I was too scared to after messing things up, but we finally got talking and the rest is history. It really is one those childhood sweetheart stories. I love her eyes. The first time our eyes met I fell in love."
Is Sophia the one then? The fans will be furious!
"We have talked about marriage, but 22 seems a bit young for us. And Sophia needs to go off and do what she wants to do. I won't stop her from doing that. I don't want her to be one of those stay-at-home girlfriends who doesn't really do much. She has amazing ideas and is great at what she does. She's into her fashion and has organised a charity event recently that raised £350,000!"
Marriage is probably better for you when all this madness settles…
"Sophia has to live her own life. She can't just see me do what I do and follow me around. She has to be successful in her own right and do her things. And I know she will."
When you were criticised for your comment about the Duck Dynasty family, you must have been hurt.
"To be honest, when I said what I did, I didn't know about the comments Phil had made. It had only been in the press in America. I was most definitely not supporting what he said. I hadn't even heard it."
What were you trying to say?
"Well, you see I am not as close to my family as I used to be, as I have been away from them for so long. And I'm not great at texting my mum, which is just typical of any 22-year-old boy. But the family in Duck Dynasty have dinner together every night and they have this tight family relationship, and I like that. I have met them too and they seem like great people."
Even with their dubious beliefs?
"They have their own opinions and have said a lot of things that people might not agree with. But I am not a fan of them for that. I think some of the things they say are funny, but I am not supportive of everything they say. I just like their strong family bond. I mean, they end every episode praying and sitting down together. I like that.
But being branded homophobic by association must have upset you…
"Of course it upsets me that people believe that, because I know I am not. I know what I am like. So, it doesn't matter massively what people say about me – not that what Robert said should be taken lightly. You've grown up with gay people all your life, haven't you? Yeah, I have. I have a couple of older gay friends who have been in my life for years, and they were hilarious when I was growing up, squeezing my bum and going ‘Ooooh!' But that's the relationship we had. I didn't mind. A lot of my friends are gay and I don't think anything about it. I actually find it funny that being gay is still something that's talked about as though it's not natural. I mean I don't go around saying ‘oh, this guy is gay'. I don't make a big deal about it. I will just say ‘this is my mate'. My mates are my mates, regardless of their sexuality."
You're part of an age group growing up in a world where being gay is a lot more acceptable.
"All the issues people think are issues I don't see as issues at all. I think the more people blow things up, the more out of control it gets. I don't pay any attention to whether people are gay or not, I am just into people. Loads of people are in to all sorts, but if they are my mate and I get on with them, then that's all that counts. That's why I was disappointed when they called me a homophobe. Because it's totally not true."
We're pleased to hear it. America recently passed same-sex marriage across all states, while some countries in the world like Australia and Northern Ireland still refuse to recognise it."
"We were in America at that time and there were loads of great parties and flags flying everywhere. It's strange to me that countries are still refusing to pass the law. I just don't understand why it's taking them so long. We live in a time where everything is a lot more acceptable, but certain countries won't move on. It's made into a bigger issue than it should have been by people who are holding onto history. You can't live in the past, you have to move with the times."
Do you see your fans being more liberated?
"When the law changed in the U.S., there were loads of rainbow flags flying at our shows, but I think that was mainly because people think of the Louis and Harry thing [that they're secret lovers], which is absolutely nuts and drives me insane."
Why does it drive you insane? Jealous much?
"No, nothing like that. It's like when you know the ins and outs of what is going on with people it's just annoying when it's so stupid. It becomes like a conspiracy or like a cult, the people who watch them and think that every move they make is a gesture toward them being together, and I know it's just not true and it makes me mad."
Where do those rumours come from?
"I think it was when Louis and Harry started living together. The thing is, we as a band mess around with each other. There are certain terms and phrases that we use that we all think are funny that people misunderstand. It's so funny to be on the inside of it because you know what's what and then you hear all these crazy theories."
I can imagine it must be frustrating.
"Well, just imagine you're the man who lands on the moon and you come home to hear people saying you didn't – naturally, you'd get agitated. ‘Cos you know what they're saying is not true."
Well, Louis is going to be a dad...
"Yes, indeed, and he's very happy about becoming a dad. But the funny thing is, there are some people out there who think that Louis getting Briana pregnant is fake. That it's not real; it's a cover up. And that's the sort of sh*t that gets to me. But you have to hold your tongue and that's fine. I mean, it's not really any of my business anyway."
Even though the fans are young, they are quite knowledgeable about sex.
"I get a lot of drawings sent to us on the internet. I get tagged in drawings of Louis and Harry being together. I remember this one time I was sitting next to my dad and I see this picture of me on top of Niall, which was quite intimidating. It's just really weird to have people drawing these sexually explicit pictures of us in strange situations."
Especially as these girls are so young. Some as young as ten.
"I don't think it's the right hobby for these girls to be enjoying. I find it very strange that someone so young can think up these stories or even imagine these things are going on. That for me is the sad and sorry side of what we have done."