Two years ago Ed Sheeran was singing to nobody in pubs, now he’s a Grammy nominee with the world at his feet. ‘I haven’t yet taken a break to look back and ask, what’s happened to me?’ he tells TONY CLAYTON-LEA
NOT THAT IT matters, but if one were to apply the “granny” rule, then Yorkshire-born Ed Sheeran is the biggest star to emerge from Ireland in quite some time. “Both of my grandparents are from Ireland – my grandad is from the north, and my grandmother is from the south, and I have family in Wexford, Galway, Cork and other places,” says Sheeran.
In fact, it was a visit to his cousins in Ireland 10 years ago that made him contemplate the possibility of pursuing a life in music. “I was only 11, but I was playing guitar after a fashion, and singing now and then. One of my cousins, Laura Sheeran – who is making her own incredible music now – took me to a Damien Rice show in Whelan’s. It might sound a bit cliched to say it, but that was a pivotal moment for me, and was certainly the gig that started me off.
“I didn’t really have any ideas about wanting to get into the music industry until I was actually in it, which came a few years after that Rice gig. And even then I was only doing it as a hobby, but I just did more and more of it, and that’s when I found myself in the thick of it.”
In the thick of it is right. Since the release, late last year, of his debut album, +, Sheeran has been selling records by the bucket load, incrementally increasing the size of venues he’s performing in, and without so much as blinking, it seems, writing songs with and for the likes of Taylor Swift and One Direction, two of the US’s bestselling acts. Add to this his recent Grammy nomination (Song of the Year for The A Team), and you’re looking at a 21-year-old, ginger-haired, hoodie-wearing singer-songwriter whose future is so bright, it’s genuinely dazzling. It is, most certainly, far from how he was raised.
“I did my first gig in London at the age of 14, and then moved there at 16,” he begins. “From then, I just went for it. A brave move? Well, I thought that I could either stay in school and then go to university, come out at the age of 23 with a degree and a student debt of over £20,000, and then start the singer-songwriter thing – or I could start off young and have the advantage of not really caring about earning money or where I stayed. I didn’t mind living from day to day – when you’re 16 you don’t need much, do you? Just a bit of food, a floor and a pillow. That’s pretty much it. I took advantage of being low maintenance, and lived out of a rucksack for a couple of years.”
What made him choose the slowly, slowly approach? Many teenagers these days think the fast-track way to success is via The X Factor.
“Well, X Factor has changed from when I first started out, and this year they even allowed people to play their own songs. And it’s the same with The Voice. But when I first started at the age of 14 or 15, it was shows like Pop Stars: the Rivals, with the likes of Girls Aloud and so on. To be quite honest, it never entered my head that I’d want to do something like that. Had there been a talent show that allowed people to bring along their guitar and play their own songs, then yes, I’d probably have opted to do that, but there was no option to do that then.