How T-shirt-wearing troubadour Ed Sheeran took over the world
What’s On previews Ed Sheeran in Dubai. Read interviews and watch Ed Sheeran videos ahead of his concert in Dubai at Media City Amphitheatre.
Welcome to the ‘year of Ed Sheeran’ – or at least that’s what 2015 should be called. Since its release last June, the British singer-songwriter’s blockbuster sophomore album X – pronounced ‘multiply’ – has been No 1 in more than 12 countries, earned Sheeran two Grammy nominations, and has been streamed 430 million times worldwide.
This staggering collection of achievements has contributed to making Sheeran the most searched-for male celebrity on Google. But despite his stratospheric success, the ginger-haired guy with the guitar has managed to stay grounded.
“I don’t think I’ll be living this life in ten years’ time,” he says. “If I am, please slap me.”
Sheeran’s story is the well-trodden tale of a kid strumming a guitar in the bedroom. Born 24 years ago, Sheeran grew up in the small town of Framlingham in Suffolk, in southern England.
He recalls: “I was a weird little ginger kid, with a stutter, big specs and no ear drum.”
He suffered from a stutter (later cured by speech therapy), had a birthmark removed from his face by laser surgery and had a perforated ear drum, which was replaced when he was 11. He also had a detached retina, which gave the impression that he had a lazy eye.
Music helped him through his early struggles.
“I was a misguided teenager. As soon as I started writing songs and playing shows, that was my focus.”
At 16, he announced he was moving to London to pursue music. Once there, Sheeran played pubs and clubs to make ends meet, staying with mates and even sleeping rough on the London Underground.
“I’d gig at night and if I didn’t have a sofa to crash on, I’d sleep on the Circle Line all day,” he recalls.
Three years later, Sheeran had saved enough money for a return flight to Los Angeles. Again, the hard-working singer/songwriter gigged around town. But his big break came when he played at The Foxxhole, a musical showcase run by movie star Jamie Foxx. Shortly after, Ed signed with Atlantic Records and is now managed by Elton John’s company Rocket. Of an early encounter with the Rocket Man himself, Sheeran laughs: “Elton walked in and said, ‘Where is Ed Sheeran?’ I was like, ‘Wow! He knows my name!’”
Sheeran’s debut single was The A Team, taken from the album +. He wrote the folk song about a troubled woman after visiting a shelter for the homeless in England, and it earned a prestigious Ivor Novello award nomination for Song Of The Year. But then in 2014 Sheeran reached another level with Sing, his ubiquitous upbeat collaboration with R&B superstar Pharrell Williams. With its infectious chorus of ‘whoahs’ and its slick LA party sound, the song exposed Sheeran to a new audience.
One of the reasons fans have latched on to Sheeran is the transparency in his lyrics, with many of his songs inspired by his love life. Contrary to popular belief, Don’t, Ed’s bitter song about romantic betrayal, is “about someone who’s well-known – but not Taylor [Swift]”, he insists. Rumour is that his former flame and fellow Brit pop sensation Ellie Goulding is the subject of Ed’s lyrical lashing. But he does confirm his track Nina is about his year-long relationship with Scottish singer Nina Nesbitt.
For Sheeran, pouring his feelings into a song is therapeutic. “It’s like sending an angry text,” he explains. “But you’re getting something out of it.” In the future we may hear fewer songs from Sheeran about a broken heart as he’s been happily dating Athina Andrelos, a Greek food stylist who works for celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, since April 2014.
Judging by his legions of screaming fans (who call themselves Sheerios), Sheeran has proved that you don’t have to look like the cartoon cut-out pop star in order to be a pop star. “There’s enough fat people in the industry and there’s enough skinny people in the industry and there’s enough ginger people in the industry. There’s enough of everyone in the industry and usually the ones that aren’t attractive are the ones that do the best.” Having said that, Sheeran did admit in November that he has cleaned up his diet and lost a few pounds from dancing.
His, shall we say, unconventional image hasn’t deterred the rich and famous lining up to be his pals. His mobile phone contact list includes Taylor Swift, Paul McCartney and Jennifer Aniston. Another Friends star, Courteney Cox, is also a friend. She says of the singer, “Ed’s comfortable in his own skin. That’s why he brings people together.”
The Brit, who plays the UAE for the first time this March, has been open about partying hard in the past, but he seems to be running out of steam, perhaps more time spent in LA where wheatgrass juice shots and jogs along the beach are commonplace, has rubbed off on him. He recently admitted to trashing his hotel room only to carefully clean it back up again, as a nice young man from Suffolk is likely to do.
Just lately, Sheeran ticked off that essential rite of passage for a celebrity these days: having a public feud with a fellow star. Ex-Oasis frontman Noel Gallagher recently told a journalist: “I don’t think I can live in a world where [Ed Sheeran playing Wembley] is even possible.” Sheeran kept his cool and tweeted to his 12 million followers: “I can live in it, it’s really enjoyable.”
Cleverly, Sheeran then defused the situation by texting Gallagher, offering him tickets to one of his sold-out shows. Gallagher replied, ‘You cheeky so and so. My daughter would love some.’
Being true to himself and not getting sucked into the music industry machine is sure to prepare Ed for the potential pitfalls that await him. Criticism, he admits, can be a good thing. “I get a lot of stick from press and people, but it’s good to get stick,” he says.
“That’s why Americans go off the rails. Ego-wise you are risen and risen and risen. Your ego grows.”
For a guy who used to sleep on trains, there seems to be no danger of ego eating this pop star.
Dubai Media City Amphitheatre, Dubai Media City, Dubai, 9pm, Dhs350. Tel: (04) 3253330. Metro: Nakheel