June 20, 2012 12:00 PM

BIRTHDAY AUG. 29

AGE 18

ZODIAC SIGN VIRGO

Liam Payne

EVERY BOY BAND HAS ONE-THE MATURE, LEVEL-HEADED MEMBER WHO MAKES SURE THE GROUP BEHAVES PROPERLY AND SETS A GOOD EXAMPLE FOR TEEN FANS. FOR ONE DIRECTION, THAT GUY IS LIAM Or, as his bandmate Louis once described him, “[He’s] Daddy Liam!” In this role, Liam is the one who reins in the other guys when, say, media interviews veer into off-color territory or when pranks go overboard. There’s a good reason why the native of Wolverhampton, England, is a bit more serious than his pals. Until the age of 4, he suffered through serious medical issues. “I was born three weeks early, and I kept being ill,” he said. “I was always in hospital having tests done, but they couldn’t find out what was wrong.” Finally doctors discovered that one of his kidneys wasn’t working properly. Now he makes a special effort to live a healthy lifestyle-and makes a point of not drinking alcohol.

Through his physical struggles, Liam always found an escape through music. A self-taught guitarist and pianist, he loved dancing around the house with his older sister Ruth and singing karaoke to Robbie Williams songs, a personal hero (whom he got to meet during his X Factor days). But Liam isn’t exactly a natural onstage. While on X Factor, he constantly battled stage fright. “I used to get so nervous, I’d feel sick and couldn’t eat,” he said. But as One Direction’s profile has risen, he has learned to cope. “Just before we go up onstage, my stomach will start hurting, but once I’m up there, I don’t think about it as much,” he said. “I enjoy it so much I just get on with it.” Aside from his love of music, Liam is the star athlete of 1D. In high school, he played basketball and succeeded as a long-distance runner. And when bullies started picking on him, he learned how to box to defend himself. In fact, he had aspirations to make a career out of being in the ring. “I wanted to become a boxer,” he said, but that all changed once X Factor came calling: “You can’t turn up onstage with bruises.”

Of course, the singer also has a softer side, describing himself as an old romantic. “I’ve always preferred having girlfriends to just seeing people,” he said. “I think it’s nice to have someone special.” (Recently he has been dating X Factor dancer Danielle Peazer.) But the most important people in his life are those who helped him overcome his health issues: his parents. Liam is using his success to thank them. “We all bought our parents cars,” he told PEOPLE earlier this year. “They’re the first people you have to give a little bit back to. It’s nice to be able to treat your parents.”

“Liam is quite sensible…. He kind of brings us down a level if we’re being a bit too mischievous” -Louis

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