Coming home to play Croke Park 'biggest weekend' of Niall's life
Greg Horan tells Joanna Kiernan about his little brother and the three biggest nights of his career
HE has €17m in the bank, millions of adoring fans and is one of the biggest pop stars on the planet, but the one thing Niall Horan cannot get is family time.
This has been the biggest weekend of the young Mullingar man's life; the 20-year-old will have played in front of 250,000 screaming One Direction fans by the time the world's biggest boy band brings the curtain down on their final sell-out gig in Croke Park tonight.
It was also a rare chance for his family to see him in the flesh, but even then the emotional reunion was restricted to a flying visit to his hometown and a few precious moments snatched backstage.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent ahead of the concerts, Niall's big brother Greg said the family understand their fleeting moments together are simply the price of fame. And the family knows Niall now has another "family" they have to compete with.
"It's kind of hard," Greg told me, as we walked around Mullingar last week.
"He's been gone since he was 16 years of age, but he's a good kid and he's grown up really well."
Greg said he was hoping to get a photograph of his brother with his son Theo, who is also Niall's godson, this weekend.
Perhaps mindful of the army of security, press handlers and record company minders circling the One Direction juggernaut, Greg said he put the request to the band's management, and not directly to his brother.
"They wondered why I was even asking, but I just wanted to make sure."
Greg stresses he is less official when dealing with his famous brother directly, but is nevertheless conscious of the band's gruelling schedule.
The last time Greg saw Niall was back in December, a brief-90 minute window, before the singer had to fly back to London.
"It was great to be around him for an hour-and-a-half on my own. I don't get that much time with him anymore, there's always someone around."
Despite all of the hype surrounding Niall's homecoming, Greg accepted Niall may not have as much time as he would like with his family this weekend.
"I might have to be airlifted into the place just because I'm Niall's family. It's unbelievable," he said, referring to the circus surrounding the boy band.
It's difficult to compete with the affections of millions of screaming fans, many of whom go to extraordinary lengths to get close to Niall and his 1D bandmates, Harry, Zayn, Louis and Liam.
"They get very emotional, but the fans are number one and my dad says that too. It was the fans who got them where they are," Greg said.
Like any big brother, Greg tries to look out for Niall as much as he can, and is worried his sibling's megastar status may attract people who do not have his best interests at heart.
He told the Sunday Independent: "I worry about that all the time. We're family, we'll always be there, but will his friends?
"We've stayed out of Niall's (new) life. We don't want people to say we're only with Niall because of this and that. He needs proper friends around him; he doesn't need the ones who are going to be afraid to say things to him, in case they wouldn't get to go to his exclusive events. We just want Niall's friends to be proud of him in the same way as they would if he was just in college.
"I'm highly protective of him. You have to be." But he added: "I like how closely knit their security team and staff are. I don't look at them as his security, I look at them as Niall's family."
While Niall's real family are welcoming to his fans, his parents, who are divorced, are wary of the intense media intrusion and refrain from speaking about their son's career.
In a rare interview last week, Niall's mother Maura, who accompanied Niall to his first X Factor audition, also in Croke Park, hinted at the pain of being separated from her youngest son for so long.
She even joked about a cardboard cutout of Niall, which Greg has in his home to remind 10-month-old Theo of his godfather.
"I'll have to buy one myself because that's all I get to see of him in recent times," she told broadcaster Kathryn Thomas.
Maura was not even sure what time she would get to spend with Niall.
"I'll definitely see him on stage, I'm guaranteed that anyway," she said.
As it turns out, Maura and the rest of the family did get the chance to catch up with Niall when he returned home on the eve of Friday's night's opener where he also got to catch up with some old friends over a few pints.
When asked what he enjoyed most about being home, Niall said: "Just being around the town and just seeing people who I haven't seen in a while and seeing the family because I haven't been home since Christmas. We went for a couple of pints and then went to the kebab shop and it was closed. It was typical, late at night, and it was closed."
Maura, Niall's father Bobby, brother Greg, little nephew Theo and sister-in-law Denise have all been at Croke Park to see Niall in action on what he has described as the "biggest weekend" of his life.
The small-town boy from the midlands, who left home to pursue his dream aged just 16, now ranks fourth in the Richest Musicians Under-30 list, with his €17m fortune.
But according to Greg, the Croke Park shows are "very emotional" for Niall, who often suffers from homesickness.
"He is very homesick. I know from talking to him, but he is so focused too.
"Niall has said, 'This is it, I can walk out of Croke Park on Sunday night and say I have made it', and he doesn't say things like that. He would never say he is famous even, he's just normal Niall."