Should it ever happen (praise the Lord), you’d be wise to remember a nugget of advice from Ed Sheeran: “Just don’t outstay your welcome,” he says. “But stay as long as they allow you to.”
Ed has, indeed, been there, done that. Before signing a six-album deal with Atlantic Records in 2011, he flew alone to LA in a bid to get his big break. One performance at actor Jamie Foxx’s music open mic night, The Foxxhole, led to an invite to “jam” at his mansion where Ed, now 23, stayed for a week.
Two years later, it happened again — this time at Courteney Cox’s LA pad. Invited through a mutual friend to one of her BBQ parties, Ed found himself in the spare room. And that visit is yet to end.
“Courteney had a guitar and was like: ‘Play us some songs!’ So I did, and then it ended up being 4am,” explains Ed. “I was like: ‘We’re quite far away from my hotel’, and she was like: ‘Just stay!’ She hasn’t got rid of me since. The whole tennis house is mine. It’s good!” He’s really not joking. In fact, Ed now counts the former Friends actress as one of his BFFs.
And, ironically, Ed’s music has a tendency to turn up in the charts and never leave, too. His debut single ‘The A Team’ was in the Top 40 for 45 weeks, while his debut album + hit No. 1 in the charts three times, not to mention going platinum worldwide 22 times.
With his bright ginger hair and array of arm tattoos, Ed is one of the most easily recognisable pop stars in the business. He’s also genuinely one of the nicest. Before our interview backstage at the Later... With Jools Holland studios he invites us to “hang” with him. It’s easy to see how Ed’s friends are forged wherever he goes — festival loos included.
“I took a p**s next to Richard Madden from Game Of Thrones at V Festival,” recalls Ed. “He was like: ‘Mate, I really enjoyed your set’, and I was like: ‘Yes, mate, let’s go and get p****d.’ Washed our hands first, though.” Ed admits that moment left him star-struck — actors and footballers do that to him. But he never goes weak at the knees over musicians. He describes recording his latest track, ‘Sing’, featuring Pharrell Williams, as “an equal thing”, and says his friendship with One Direction’s Harry Styles, 20, began before either of them hit the big time.
“It blew up for One Direction in the September of 2011 and my single came out in the June, so we had five months of hanging out in normality before it exploded,” says Ed, who celebrated his album reaching No. 1 (the first time) by building Lego Star Wars models with Harry at a mutual friend’s house in London. As you do. So what makes them so close? Simple. “We are both anchors for each other,” he says.
The same can be said for his relationship with Taylor Swift, 24, who he spent much of 2013 touring with. Ed recently introduced Taylor to his new girlfriend, Athina Andrelos, 25, (“she approved”) and reckons his pal Orlando Bloom could be right up Taylor’s street — literally.
“I met him at The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug premieres in LA and Germany, so we spent four days together,” says Ed, whose single ‘I See Fire’ appeared on the movie’s soundtrack.
“He’s so lovely and really cool, and they live in the same building, so the magic might present itself, eventually.”
Well, Ed is a proven matchmaker. Thanks to his intervention eight months ago, his Snow Patrol guitarist pal Johnny McDaid, 37, is now thoroughly loved-up with Courteney Cox, 50.
Ed comes from an extended Anglo-Irish brood, but has developed a second “family” of friends, which he says Courteney and Johnny are part of.
“Just be reliable when s**t goes down,” says Ed when we ask what it takes to join the clique. “Johnny and Gary [Lightbody, 38, Snow Patrol’s frontman] were there most of last year, which was a tough 12 months. They helped me through that.” Last Christmas, after incessant gigging and throwing his life into his work, Ed returned home to the UK and found himself in a difficult place as he’d been away from friends and family for so long. “It’s hard to hold down relationships and friendships when you travel so much,” explains Ed. “I’d been on tour for three years, got back and everything fell on me.”
Many celebrities would attempt to find a solution on the shores of a luxury Caribbean island. But not Ed.
“I’m ginger, so we don’t really sit on beaches. I can’t think of anything less relaxing than sitting, getting burned in the sun,” he says with a smile.
“No, I just shut all my doors, turned my phone off and I watched lots of DVDs. I went on a spree on Amazon, they’re pretty much giving away DVDs for free these days. I bought 200 films.”
Considering one performance at a corporate gig alone can rake in “a year’s rent” for Ed, it’s baffling why he’d care about DVD discounts.
“You never want to be wasteful,” he explains, before revealing there’s no black credit card in his wallet either.
“[I use] my Barclays student account. I’ve not upgraded because I don’t spend much money. If I had all my money in one account I would spend all of it, so I get an allowance.”
Celebrities rarely talk finances, so when we probe how much Ed pays himself we expect a deflection. But Ed says: “Maybe a grand. I really don’t spend much money. I spend most of it on taxis!” Perhaps Ed has momentarily forgotten his new girlfriend of five months, Athina, who manages food stylists for Jamie Oliver. Apparently, though, she discourages him from splashing the cash on her. Lucky, then, that Ed’s a dab hand at cute, meaningful gestures.
For a recent date he rented out five pug puppies for the day from a breeder he knows. And because, just like him, Athina is TOWIE obsessed, Ed arranged for James “Arg” Argent to film her a birthday message, which he excitedly plays us on his phone. “Yes mate!” says Ed as Arg signs off with: “Get nice and p****d.”
Before Athina’s birthday, the last time Ed was rip-roaring drunk was at a 30th wedding anniversary party for his parents, John, 57, and Imogen, 54, which he hosted at his newly renovated farmhouse in Framlingham, Suffolk — the town where he grew up and his parents still live. But there was a time when he was off the sauce completely.
“I used to drink. Heavily,” says Ed. “I came up in pubs and clubs, so you get paid in alcohol, and, as soon as I signed a record deal, I thought: ‘I just need to focus this year. I can’t have anything f**k up.’ The day I started drinking again was the day the album sold a million copies and I was like: ‘Right, done. Back to normality’”.
On Ed’s new album x (as in multiply), ‘Take It Back’ talks about “avoiding the Caine like it was Get Carter”, which we offer is about cocaine in the music industry.
“How did you get that line? No one got that line!” he smiles, genuinely chuffed. “I only see [cocaine] from time to time,” he says. “If you want to find it, you can, but it’s not in my circle.”
The lyrics in ‘Take It Back’ are, Ed explains, “Sentence after sentence of shit” that he couldn’t say on Twitter. Another line goes: “Went from sleeping at the subway station, sleeping with a movie star.” And as Ed’s songs are all socially conscious streams of autobiographical prose, this actually happened.
Frustratingly, Ed won’t kiss and tell, which is ridiculous, really. Why write secrets in a song knowing the world will forever try to unravel them? “Because I found it hilariously funny how I’d gone from sleeping on the [London Underground’s] Circle Line to being in that bed,” says Ed, laughing through his nose at the memory. “That was a surreal thing.”
As well as a long-term girlfriend through school called Alice, there have been other lovers. Ed’s song ‘Don’t’ tells of a girlfriend cheating on him with a pal, and speculation has since placed blame at the door of Ellie Goulding, 27, who Ed briefly dated last summer. We suggest that this interview might be a good time — if Ellie isn’t the culprit — to clear her name.
“I think the less I speak about it the better,” says Ed, cryptically. “The song is there, people can make up their own mind. You never want to put fuel to fire... That’s the right thing to say, right?” Ed looks at his publicist for guidance. It’s the one and only moment of our interview he seems visibly uncomfortable.
Ed is a natural conversationalist but during the chat we pick up traces of a stutter, a condition he developed when he was nine while having laser therapy to remove a birthmark on the left side of his face. “One day they forgot to put the anaesthetic on and it f****d my nervous system,” says Ed. “It was a problem, but it’s kind of gone now. It creeps back when I’m under pressure.”
Ed was four when he joined the local church choir in Halifax, west Yorkshire, where his older brother Matthew, now 25 and a classical composer, was a member. He quickly became music-obsessed.
Ed developed a passion for rap at nine after listening to Eminem. He then got his first guitar at 10 after the family moved to Suffolk, which he would play for several hours a day. At 15 and still a student at Thomas Mills High School, Ed became obsessed with the band Nizlopi. He followed them to every gig and they soon offered him a job on their tour as the guitar technician.
He eventually left school with nine GCSEs, moved to London and began cutting his teeth on the live gig circuit. But it was posting music videos on web channel SB.TV that garnered him a fanbase and an invite from Example to tour with him.
During all this time, Ed has remained true to himself in every way. Until our shoot, Ed would only wear his own clothes on photo shoots. Today, though, the suits are on — and he’s even wearing smart shoes instead of his trademark trainers.
“I got voted worst dressed in GQ once,” says Ed, pulling on a plum-coloured jacket. “I think we can turn this around!” He’s the first to admit his dress sense has improved since Athina came on the scene. But, although she’s been buying him shirts and dishing out style advice, his insecurities still linger.
“The reason is I’m never happy with the way I look,” admits Ed. “Someone asked me the other day whether I’d get plastic surgery and the reason I wouldn’t is because I’d try and change everything.”
Self-deprecating remarks like this are his way of covering up nerves. And all they do is make us want to give him a hug. The truth is, Ed looks good. His skin is clear, his eyes are the brightest blue and he’s looking slimmer after losing a stone over the last two months.
Next week, he releases his second album and he’s just been the focus of an MTV docu-series, Nine Days And Nights With Ed Sheeran. x is the biggest selling album in Ireland so far this year and it hit the number one spot on the Spotify global album chart. He’s so well-established now, it’s easy to forget he’s only 23.
A while ago, a fan pushed a copy of the erotic novel Fifty Shades Of Grey into his hands, and that tells a lot about where Ed Sheeran is right now. The poster boy of pop has gone, and an in-demand guy with women falling over him is here to stay. Ed Sheeran is hot property. Now he just needs to believe it.