TONIGHT will see Irish superstar Niall Horan return to where it all began for him.
As he takes to the stage in front of 240,000 screaming fans at Croke Park, it’s hard to believe it is the same venue where he auditioned for the X Factor as a geeky, nervous 16-year-old.
The singer travelled from his home in Mullingar to the stadium and started queuing at 5am on a freezing cold morning on April 15, 2010.
And in an eerie premonition of the stellar career that he would go on to enjoy, he said he dreamt of a big future ahead.
“I want to sell out arenas and make an album and work with some of the biggest artists in the world,” he told the camera crew in his audition. “Today is the start of it all. If I get through, game on.”
As it turned out, he was right.
In his audition, the cheeky chap said how he was often compared to Justin Bieber and it was “not a bad comparison”. After impressing at his initial auditions, he went on to perform Ne Yo’s hit So Sick’ for Katy Perry, Simon Cowell, Louis Walsh and Cheryl Cole.
Despite acid-tongued Cowell telling him: “You’re not as good as you think you are”, and that he was “unprepared”, Niall’s obvious charm helped him make it through the gruelling round of auditions.
He went on to join up with Harry Styles, Zayn Malik, Louis Tomlinson and Liam Payne after Cowell decided they would work better as a group.
They have since gone on to become one of the most successful boybands of all time, sparking the kind of fan frenzy that hasn’t been seen since the days of the Beatles. Despite only coming third in X Factor, they impressed Cowell enough to give them a contract with SyCo.
But ambitious Niall (20), now worth €17m, has been honing his talent from a very early age.
A former pupil of Kenny National School, he showed his love of performing from the start as he appeared in school plays and sang in the choir. He played Oliver when he was just ten years old and recalled “being really happy on stage”.
While he was in Colaiste Mhuire secondary school, the accomplished guitar player and singer performed at the Mullingar Arts Centre in a fundraiser for the local GAA team, The Shamrocks.
Immensely proud of his Mullingar roots, he hails from a well-known family who have helped him stay very grounded.
His father, Bobby, still works as a butcher in the local Tesco’s while his mum Maura is a housewife.
He still takes an interest in local politics, despite being an international heart-throb.
Niall even threw his considerable weight behind Westmeath Deputy Willie Penrose last year.
He signed posters for the Labour politician, a long-time friend of the Horan family, during a visit home to the Midlands town. Deputy Penrose said the youngster even canvassed for him, handing out his flyers just days before auditioning for the X Factor four years ago.
That’s not to say that Niall hasn’t been affected by some of the trappings of showbiz. Like most X Factor contestants, he has been given an impressive manover’ to help him make the most of his cheeky good looks.
As well as bleaching his hair, he has also been given a Hollywood smile thanks to some sophisticated dental work.
Cursed with crooked “Irish teeth”, he had a subtle brace put on in December 2011 to ensure he looked picture-perfect ahead of the lads’ assault on the US Charts.
He was so thrilled with his pearly whites when he finally had the braces removed in April 2013 that he even Tweeted a before and after’ pics for his fans.
Horan has gone on to become one of the most popular members of the boyband - and is also the most followed Irish celebrity on Twitter, with an impressive 18 million fans.
But those who know him say fame hasn’t changed him a bit. He remains very close to his family, despite not being able to see them since Christmas.
The London-based star also has a core group of Irish pals that he sees whenever he gets a spare moment. Dubbed the Irish mafia’, he regularly hits the town with good friends like Niall Breslin and Laura Whitmore.
And his concert rider spoke volumes about his normal nature. In a far cry from the usual celebrity demands, all he asked for in his dressing room at Croker was a pack of Clonakilty sausages, Haribo jellies and Barry’s Tea. Seems you can take the man out of Mullingar…