Liam Payne Is Secretly Dating 'X Factor' Judge Cheryl Cole

The heartthrob's romantic relationship with his much-older girlfriend took off late last year as One Direction began its hiatus.

AceShowbiz - News emerges that %cLiam Payne% is dating a much older woman and she is someone he met for the first time when he was only 17. The now 22-year-old singer is in a secret relationship with "The X Factor" judge %cCheryl Cole%, who is ten years his senior.

The romance bloomed in December last year after %cOne Direction% gave its last performance on the U.K. show, The Sun reported. And the relationship is not just a fling, because Payne is "madly in love" with her and "this is the real deal", a so-called friend of the pair said, adding "Cheryl is like a different person. She's carefree and happy again. There's a lot less stress in her life."

Their matching tattoos could be taken as evidence. Last month, the hottie inked black and white roses on his hand and it has the same design with the colored roses on Cole's bum. "Cheryl and Liam are in a relationship. It was unexpected but they've both made each other incredibly happy," the friend added.

Cole is in the middle of divorcing her husband of one-year Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini whom she married in July 2014 after dating for only three months. They split in August 2015 before his 35th birthday. In January this year, she cited in her papers, "unreasonable behavior" as the reason of the split. Payne split from Sophia Smith, his girlfriend of two years, in November 2015.

Cole had been friends with Payne ever since she signed with One Direction's management company Modest. "...there was never anything romantic between them in the past," the pal said.

The pair tried to conceal the relationship recently when attending the 2016 BRIT Awards last week. Payne and bandmate %cLouis Tomlinson% accepted Best Video award on behalf of the group.

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