LONDON (REUTERS) - Singer Zayn Malik said on Wednesday he was quitting the best-selling pop band One Direction because he wanted to live a normal life and apologised to fans of the hugely popular British-Irish group for doing so.
The decision by Malik to quit came after he dropped out of an Asian tour due to what he said was stress when pictures of the singer, who is engaged to Perrie Edwards of Little Mix, were published showing him partying with another woman in Thailand.
"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," Malik said, in a statement on One Direction's Facebook page.
The announcement said Malik's decision had come after five years with the band, which came to prominence for its performance on the popular televised singing competition The X Factor in 2010.
Fans of the group took to Twitter to express their sadness at Malik's departure, with the hashtag #AlwaysInOurHeartsZaynMalik trending both in Singapore and worldwide.
One Direction's biggest hits include Best Song Ever, Kiss You, What Makes You Beautiful and Story of My Life.
The remaining band members, Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson, will continue on their current world tour as a foursome and will release their fifth album later this year, the statement 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 band members said.
Simon Cowell, the British music and television impresario who launched the band, 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."
The announcement instantly made Malik's name one of the top trends on Twitter and produced anguished reactions from fans. "I KEEP HOPING THAT @zaynmalik LEAVING IS SOME EARLY APRIL FOOLS JOKE BY @onedirection," tweeted one American fan.