'I just want to be a normal 22-year-old': Zayn Malik leaves One Direction
Zayn Malik has left boyband One Direction saying he wants the chance to be "a normal 22-year-old".
The group said they would continue as a four-piece for their world tour and record another album - their fifth - later this year.
Malik said: "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 boyband's world tour last week after being "signed off with stress" and returned to the UK after he was forced to defend himself online and declare his love for fiancee Perrie Edwards when pictures emerged of him apparently close to another woman.
In a statement, the rest of the group said: "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."
Although rumours had swirled that Malik was unhappy in the band, X Factor judge Louis Walsh revealed that he wasn't surprised at the news.
"No, I knew it was on the cards, I knew there were problems. I knew he couldn't take the pressure," Louis said.
"He had day-to-day pressure, since they were on XFactor they haven't stopped working.
"They were either making the record, promoting it or on tour plus it was world wide, they were going to one from continent from another.
"It just gets to them, living in hotels rooms, girls screaming at them - it sounds amazing but it's stressful," he added. Despite Zayn's decision to leave the world's biggest boyand, Louis is convinced they can continue.
"The Spice Girls had it when Geri Halliwell left. Take That had it when Robbie left. Westlife had it when Brian left. They all still continued," he said.
"And One Direction will continue now that Zayn Malik has left One Direction. They will go on. The tour will go on.
"They'll probably have to work harder but they'll probably gel better as a result - I think they can continue," he added.
The next scheduled date on One Direction's On the Road Again tour is in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Saturday.
One Direction formed in 2010 after five teenagers - Harry Styles, Liam Payne, Niall Horan, Louis Tomlinson and Zayn Malik - auditioned individually for the British TV talent show, The XFactor.
Simon Cowell had the idea of putting them together as a boy band. They didn't win the competition, but they went on to top charts and win young hearts around the world with their cheeky personalities and perky pop songs.
Cowell said he had grown "very, very fond - and immensely proud" of Malik over the years.
"As for One Direction, fans can rest assured that Niall, Liam, Harry and Louis are hugely excited about the future of the band," he said.
A spokesman for the band said Malik, who grew up in Bradford, is at home with his family and fiancee - Little Mix singer Perrie Edwards.
Simon Cowell, who discovered the boyband on talent show The X Factor, 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."
Malik appeared in a leaked video last year smoking what appeared to be a joint while the group travelled in a van in South America.
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 band, who were put together after entering The X Factor as solo acts, have become millionaires on their way to being one of the biggest bands in the world.
Their latest album, Four, topped the US Billboard Top 200 chart making them the first group in history to debut at number one with their first four albums.
They have fans all over the world - their current tour takes in venues in countries including Indonesia and South Africa - and the video for their single, Best Song Ever, attracted almost 200 million views on YouTube.