Interview: Ed Sheeran

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Ed Sheeran is popular music’s man of the moment. His recent sellout show at AsiaWorld-Expo is an indicator that we're a bit keen on him here in HK. As such, Graham Turner sits down with the songwriting prodigy to try and discern what makes the UK’s hottest music export tick…

Ed Sheeran played a concert in Hong Kong this week. If you've been anywhere near social media recently, you'll have seen plenty of exclamation mark-heavy updates, blurry photos and I-think-that-muffled-blob-is-Ed-Sheeran iPhone auteurism – basically, this gig was kind of a big deal.

Sheeran is a cultural phenomenon, a triumphant underdog story that uplifts in an age of pseudo-reality music stars 'plucked from obscurity'. His self-driven early days in music read like countless other hopefuls who cut their teeth on an often fruitless live circuit and, given the level of success he's attained, gives impetus to these people to keep going. You may expect Sheeran's meteoric rise would have quickly taught him to speak to journalists with a veneer of marketable and safe 'PR speak'. On the contrary, sitting with the 24-year-old Englishman in his barebones green room about an hour before he takes to the stage at AsiaWorld-Expo, his mood is more akin to one who is sitting in a pub gabbing over a couple of sociable pints.

When we point out his general air of affability, Sheeran is quick to explain:
"[talking to the media] is not too bad in places like Hong Kong," he says, "because people are very polite and not dinky [cheeky]. But in England, I've just learned to not trust journalists. I just found I was really pally with some of them, and we'd go out for drinks every now and then. And for the first four months there'd be no stories and then every now and then, something would pop up. I've just learned not to do it. Everything becomes a quote."

Not that Sheeran has ever had anything that could be construed as really bad press. Even at the recent Brit Awards, (a prestigious UK music event at which Sheeran walked away with two gongs), young Ed was photographed afterwards, clearly after a few-too-many celebratory tipples. But that did nothing but further ingratiate him to a public that was already very much sold.

Remembering the Brit Awards, Sheeran says "Yeah it was fun. I guess I got very wasted at the after-party. I decided to walk 400 metres to get a cab, when I probably should've just waited for someone to bring a car – that was a mistake. But it didn't seem to backfire as badly as I thought it would." Sheeran's reasoning for his jaunt is one that many of us can sympathise with. "I had my head in my hand because I was sweating so much, it was so hot inside," he explains. Fair play.

Many celebrities nowadays have fame on a scale that can mere mortals like us feel we're simply looking onto their perfect lives in an age of digital voyeurism. But a sweaty, drunken stumble for a cab? There are not many people who won't nod understandingly along to that. "The only thing that's changed [through fame] is that I worry less," Sheeran muses. "Before, I'd worry about everything; am I going to be up in time to catch this train tomorrow to get to this studio? And if I get to that studio will I miss this train? Can I make that gig? And what if that gig doesn't pay me in cash? That means I can't get back on the train. And, I hope I sell two CDs tonight because I need to eat. Like those kind of little things. Whereas now, it's just wake up and do the gig and don't say anything silly in an interview. Those are the kind of things I have to worry about. Which is good, it's a lot simpler."

That is the kind of answer you don't expect from someone with Sheeran's status – the man who counts Elton John as his mentor and the likes of Courtney Cox and Taylor Swift among his close friends. And speaking of status, Sheeran's profile is among the most avidly-followed of them all. In the run up to Sheeran's Hong Kong gig an image, portraying a home-made chair a local fan had made with Sheeran's face and cushion formed into one in a terrifying marriage of ginger and ass-related comfort, went viral. When asked if he was used to this sort of thing, Sheeran says "I'm pretty sure someone taped a picture of me on to a rampant rabbit vibrator once. That was pretty weird".

It's at this point in the interview we notice we've actually barely touched on Sheeran's music. Such is the disarming appeal of the man's good nature that we end up chatting like you would with the postman, albeit a postman who has done a duet with Beyoncé. After all, it's Ed's confessional brand of folk-hop that's propelled him to such heights. This begs one question though – Ed admits that everything he writes is drawn directly from personal experience – and if that's the case, surely this colourful pool of angst-laden melancholia is due to run dry? Apparently not. "You know the older I get, the more mistakes I make. Literally, I'm still doing a lot wrong. I'm still growing up, I don't think I'll stop growing up until I've kind of settled down and had kids. So I mean there's loads to drawn on".

A big chunk of Sheeran's appeal comes from the relatability of his lyrics. And, if you're a fan who is worried that the young Englishman's millions of album sales and slews of awards will end up changing him and, by proxy, his music, then worry not: "I had a phase, after I just became successful for the first time, I was given all these plaques, and I had a wall of plaques," Sheeran tells us. "And after a year of that, I was like 'ahh I'm such a c**t', and then I took them all off. And they're all in the spare room now." One of the most common things you hear about Ed Sheeran is that he's 'down to earth'. Well, all we can say to that is – he is.

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