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Mr nice guy

He’s worth more than £160m and is recognised the world over, so how has Ed Sheeran managed to stay so grounded? Ahead of his two Leeds gigs we delve into the life of music’s Mr Nice Guy.

pictures | REX Features

I n an age where celebrities are styled to within an inch of their life, we should all be grateful for Ed Sheeran. A slightly dishevelled reminder that if you can write great songs it’s ok to step out on stage in an old T-shirt and jeans, the 28 year old is a welcome antidote to the usual shiny pop stars and their perfectly Instagram-able lives.

This summer, the one man hit factory, who has charmed the world over, is heading to Leeds’ Roundhay Park where he will perform in front of 80,000 fans on two consecutive nights. When he does, there will be no dancers, no elaborate costume changes and aside from a bit of a light show it will be, as always, just Sheeran and his guitar.

The gigs follow the release of Sheeran’s fourth studio album, No 6 Collaborations Project. Featuring a series of collaborations with the likes of Justin Bieber, Camila Cabello. Cardi B, Stormzy, Dave and J Hus, it’s proof of just how big Sheeran’s reach is.

Having the world’s biggest music names on speed dial would have caused many stars to lose themselves in ugly self-importance. Not Sheeran. Arguably the most surprising element of his extraordinary story is how remarkably unstarry he is.

Take the time he disappeared for an entire year and got engaged to old school friend Cherry Seaborn. Shutting down his social media and pressing the pause button just as his career was in its ascendancy was a brave move, but it was also an act of self-preservation. 

“I realised I hadn’t ever really lived a life,” he told People magazine of the unexpected hiatus. “It’s quite weird being a celebrity. People assume you’re living the best f***ing life in the world, but you don’t really get to live any life because you work the whole time.

“I was like, f***, I’m 25, I left school early and went straight into touring. I haven’t properly formed relationships with people so I needed to have a year off and spend it with friends and family and Cherry and actually become a human being.”

Sheeran spent 12 months travelling around Australia, the US and Europe and for a while at least he was able to forget that he is one of the world’s most successful musicians. It also gave him time to reflect on what had by anyone’s standards been an incredible rise to fame. 

Born in Halifax in 1991, Sheeran’s family moved to Framlingham in Suffolk when he was barely out of nappies. From the age of four he was singing in the local church choir and while still at school he had begun writing songs.

A spell in the National Youth Theatre, which nurtured the early talents of James Corden and Matt Smith, suggested that Sheeran was destined for the spotlight, but the real turning point came when he saw Eric Clapton performing Layla in the grounds of Buckingham Palace for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

“I remember him walking on stage with this rainbow-coloured Stratocaster and playing the first riff of Layla,” he said. “I was hooked. Two days later I bought a black Stratocaster copy for £30 that came with an amp. All I did for the next month was try to play that Layla riff.”

Sheeran had found his calling. Within a few years he was recording his own music and had moved to London where he began playing small gigs and supporting the likes of Nizlopi, Just Jack and Example.

With Sheeran’s fan base beginning to grow thanks largely to YouTube, he headed to LA with the hope of getting some airplay on American radio. However, when he met Jamie Foxx, the actor liked what he heard so much that he gave Sheeran a spot at his club.

“It was like 800 black people, all black, just the best musicians,” said Foxx, admitting that many of his friends thought he was sending Sheeran into a lion’s den. “So all of a sudden I say, ‘Ladies and gentleman, Ed Sheeran!’ He pops out, with red hair and a ukulele.

“It was just like a movie. I said, ‘Well, let’s see what the kid has’. And he went out there on that ukulele — got a standing ovation in 12 minutes. And the rest was history.”

By the time he was on the plane home the Sheeran bandwagon was well and truly moving. Without any promotion or the backing of a big label. No 5 Collaborations Project, which saw Sheeran performing with grime artists Wiley, Jme and Devlin, shifted 7,000 copies in the first week and reached number two in the iTunes chart.

Mainstream appeal was secured following a spot on Later…with Jools Holland. Shortly afterwards The A Team became the best-selling debut single of 2011, his debut album + went platinum six times over and by the end of the year he’d added a couple of Brit awards to his list of achievements.

Since then pretty much everything Sheeran has done has turned to gold. He’s written for Taylor Swift, performed at the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics, headlined three sell-out shows at Madison Square Gardens and when he turned up to record his second album he had somehow found time to write 120 new songs.

Yet while hits like Shape of You and Castle on the Hill notch up millions of hits a day and add to Sheeran’s enormous fortune – this year’s Sunday Times Rich List valued him at £160m – Sheeran appears largely unaffected by his growing bank balance and his politics remain left of centre.

“I love Corbyn,” he told the Sunday Times. “I love everything Corbyn is about. He cares about other people. He cares about all classes, races and generations and that’s how I was brought up – we need more people that care about everyone.”

Should the music business not work out, we could do worse than put Sheeran in charge of the country. You heard it here first.

Ed Sheeran plays Roundhay Park in Leeds on August 16th & 17th.

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