Now that each of the former members of One Direction have moved on to successful solo careers, Liam Payne is shaking off the shackles he felt while touring the world and recording four consecutive No. 1 albums with 1D. In a new interview with The Telegraph, the singer said that he developed some unhealthy habits, including excess drinking, during his heyday with the band.

“I wasn’t happy. I went through a real drinking stage, and sometimes you take things too far,” Payne told the paper, explaining that as a child he was diagnosed with a scarred kidney, which made drinking impossible for him until he got the medical all-clear at 19. (In the UK, 16-year-olds can drink beer or cider if it is purchased by an adult and they are accompanied by an adult.) Once doctors gave him the go-ahead, Payne caught up with his friends — and then some.

“Everyone’s been that guy at the party where you’re the only one having fun, and there were points when that was me,” he admitted, adding that he also started to eat unhealthily. “As I say, it was like a musical university. We were pretty reckless, but I got it out of my system. I had my fun.”

When the boys weren’t on planes, going to awards shows, or singing (a nonstop, six-year cycle, Payne recalled), any attempt at privacy went right out the window, causing Payne major distress, especially when paps inadvertently knocked down his mom when he was out to dinner with his family.

“I was like, ‘Oh, f**k this. F**k this s**t.’ There was a swarm of them and I just wanted a burger with my parents,” he told The Telegraph. “I cried my eyes out. I thought, ‘I can’t do this,’ and really hated my life.”

Once 1D went on hiatus (first in 2015, then officially in 2016), things changed for the songwriter. He started dating former X-Factor judge and singer Cheryl (Tweedy/Fernandez-Versini/Cole), a reality TV pop star in her own right and 10 years senior to Payne. They first met at his X-Factor audition when he was 14 years old and now have a son, Bear.

Their life together (and away from One Direction) has made Payne incredibly happy. So happy, in fact, that when he first sat down to write his solo debut record (set for a 2018 release), he didn’t know what to write about. “It took time, but I know as an artist I am starting fresh now,” he told The Telegraph. “This is moment one. It’s the start line.”

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