Zayn Malik has left One Direction, saying he wants to feel like a “normal 22-year-old”.
The group said they would continue as a four-piece for their world tour and record their fifth album this year.
Malik, who was with the group for five years, said in a statement posted on the group’s Facebook page: “My life with One Direction has been more than I could ever have imagined.
“But, after five years, I feel like it is now the right time for me to leave the band.
“I’d like to apologise 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. I know I have four friends for life in Louis, Liam, Harry and Niall. I know they will continue to be the best band in the world.”
Malik quit the boy band’s world tour last week because of “stress”, while declaring his love on Twitter for fiancee Perrie Edwards after pictures emerged of him apparently close to another woman.
He tweeted at the time: “I’m sorry for what it looks like.”
A spokesman for the band said Malik was at home with his family and Edwards.
The are currently in Indonesia, where they have played a concert in Jakarta, before flying on to South Africa for another string of shows.
The One Direction statement added: “We’re really sad to see Zayn go, but we totally respect his decision and send him all our love for the future.
“The past five years have been beyond amazing, we’ve gone through so much together, so we will always be friends.
“The four of us will now continue. We’re looking forward to recording the new album and seeing all the fans on the next stage of the world tour.”
Simon Cowell said: “I would like to say thank you to Zayn for everything he has done for One Direction.
“Since I first met Zayn in 2010, I have grown very, very fond – and immensely proud – of him.
“I have seen him grow in confidence and I am truly sorry to see him leave. As for One Direction, fans can rest assured that Niall, Liam, Harry and Louis are hugely excited about the future of the band.”
Within 45 minutes of the announcement, One Direction’s official statement on Twitter had been re-tweeted 57,000 times and favourited 50,000 times. On Facebook the statement received more than 100,000 likes and 48,000 comments.
Malik, who grew up in Bradford, featured in a leaked video last year smoking what appeared to be a cannabis joint while the group travelled in a van in Peru.
He was also forced to explain his absence from promotional commitments after a US TV host questioned his bandmates about “rumours of substance abuse”.
The group was put together after the singers entered The X Factor as solo acts, and the five have become millionaires as the band became the biggest in the world.
Their 2013 album, Midnight Memories, topped the US Billboard Top 200 chart – making them the first group in history to debut at number one with their first three albums.
– Sky News