Zayn Malik
One Direction celebrates after being awarded best British single during the Brits at the O2 Arena in London February 21, 2012REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

One Direction stars Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson and Liam Payne have broken their social media silence following Zayn Malik's dramatic exit.

The singer, who had been part of the group since it formed on The X Factor in 2010, quit the British boyband on 25 March, claiming that he wants to feel like a "normal 22-year-old" and had grown tired of the spotlight.

"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," he said in statement to fans. "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."

Although the rest of One Direction had vowed to continue as a four-piece to record their fifth album in absence and deliver another epic world tour, within hours it was clear that they were still on shock with Styles kicking off the online outpouring by leaving a message to their devoted fans reassuring them that "All the love as always. H."

Payne followed his bandmates lead by revealing that the Malik's exit had left his understandably stunned and that he was still struggling to digest the news.

Meanwhile, Tomlinson, who with Malik has been embroiled in a drugs scandal in May 2014, took time out to thank the Directioners for their support during a "crazy couple of days".

"So glad to be in bed after a long and strange 24 hours," he tweeted after the singers performed on stage in the Indonesian capital Jakarta for the first time as an official four-piece.

Meanwhile, Simon Cowell, who put the group together on the X Factor in 2010 and masterminded their rise to global fame, admitted that he was "truly sorry to see him leave".

"I would like to say thank you to Zayn for everything he has done for One Direction," he said.

"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."

Reactions to Malik's exit have been ranged from anger, heartbreak and compassionate, with the hashtag #Zaynpain still trending on Twitter. Some fans are even blaming his fiancée Perrie Edwards for his decision, comparing her to John Lennon's wife Yoko Ono.

Trouble in paradise

But as far as X Factor judge Louis Walsh is concerned, the writing has been on the wall for months.

"I have heard the rumours for the last few weeks that everything wasn't happy in paradise," he told Irish radio station RTE Radio One. "The problem with these guys is they've been in a bubble for the last five years, pressure, working, a lot harder than people think, so something had to give. So Zayn was the first person just to crack up a little bit."

"He's had an amazing time with the other guys. That's the good side of it. The dark side of it is all the travelling, the airports, in a bubble, not really seeing real life," Walsh added.

Bradford-born Malik's departure comes just days he bowed out of the On The Road Again tour citing "stress". The What Makes You Beautiful singer is said to have been tipped over the edge by allegations that cheated on his fiancée Perrie Edwards with holidaymaker Lauren Rich in Thailand.

"Zayn finds it tougher than the rest of his bandmates dealing with fame. Having his every movement scrutinised causes great anxiety and the pictures which surfaced with the fan yesterday was the final straw," a source told The Sun at the time. "He did nothing wrong but the amount of criticism he received was simply too much. He needs to get away."