HARD­CORE TROUBADOUR

Ed Sheeran used to be a mis­fit who was ridiculed for his stut­ter; now he’s a hard-drink­ing su­per­star who has El­ton John over for din­ner. But, he tells Pa­trick Doyle, what he re­ally wants is a nor­mal life. Easy to say when Tay­lor Swift is your best buddy,

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - ALL OF THE STARS -

‘Let’s go to my place for the fi­nale!” Ed Sheeran shouts as he hops into an SUV. It’s just after mid­night in Lon­don. Sheeran spent much of the evening in a bar, but even with his bright-red hair hid­den un­der a base­ball cap, peo­ple started to rec­og­nize him. The DJ played one of his songs, and his friends had to cre­ate a wall around him so he could drink in peace. It all made him a lit­tle anx­ious, which is why we’re speed­ing to his West Lon­don home to keep the party go­ing.

Sheeran is cel­e­brat­ing tonight be­cause he knows he’s about to score his first num­ber-one hit in Amer­ica with

a sleek, funky stom­per from his new al­bum,

We’re joined by his girlfriend, Cherry, and his old friends Zack, Nathan and Cather­ine, who have been watch­ing him per­form since he re­leased his first al­bum,

when he was 13. “I went ply­wood,” Sheeran, now 25, jokes about that LP. “Not gold. I sold 100 copies.”

Sheeran has been go­ing hard tonight: espresso Mar­ti­nis and rum-punch shots at din­ner, gin and ton­ics at the bar. It’s my birth­day, and at one point he grabs my phone, takes a selfie of us and posts to my In­sta­gram, writ­ing, “It’s my birth­day bitches #lon­don #hashtag #be­lieve #achieve #in­spi­ra­tion.” He en­cour­ages friends to knock back pints with a drink­ing song that ends, “

You, Di­vide. The Spin­ning Man, You’re a cunt!”

Soon, we ar­rive at his house, a five­floor, in­dus­trial-style space with brick walls, wood floors and sev­eral per­sonal touches: a Char­man­der Poke­mon stuffed an­i­mal in his bed­room and a bong shaped like song­writer Benny Blanco’s head in the liv­ing room. There’s also a record­ing stu­dio, a gym and a full bar, where he re­cently en­ter­tained sev­eral young cast mem­bers of his favourite show,

As we ar­rive, Sheeran of­fers bed­rooms to any­one who wants to “get rowdy”, then goes to work mix­ing drinks.

of Thrones. Shape of Na na na na/Hey hey hey/ Game

With the pos­si­ble ex­cep­tion of Justin Bieber, Sheeran is the big­gest male pop star alive. But pop-ma­chine re­fine­ment is some­thing he re­sists full force. His life is a chaotic blur of too much pub food, 3am pool games, shots at din­ner and im­pul­sive de­ci­sions: “If you ever need a wed­ding band . . .” he says shortly after we meet and he learns I have a girlfriend. “I al­ways say, ‘It’s free if I’m free’. As long as you sort me out with a lot of booze and a bed, I’m there.” (Dur­ing our time to­gether, I will meet at least three friends whose wed­dings he has played.) He is fil­ter­less. “Pow­er­ful shit up­stairs, man. Who did that?” he asks after emerg­ing from the bath­room, un­til a friend ad­mits to it.

As his fame in­creases, hold­ing on to a sem­blance of nor­malcy is im­por­tant for Sheeran. He’s been hang­ing out with old friends a lot; he even wrote about them in his new sin­gle, a trib­ute to their re­bel­lious school­days in Suf­folk.

Around 4am, Sheeran runs up­stairs to grab his gui­tar and then takes a seat at the kitchen ta­ble. He pro­ceeds to play for two hours straight — a gig con­sid­er­ably more in­ti­mate than the sta­dium shows he plays all by him­self, backed only with an acous­tic gui­tar and a loop pedal. Tonight he plays songs from as well as sev­eral un­re­leased tunes he says are planned for fu­ture al­bums. He takes re­quests, too — in­clud­ing the num­ber-one hit he wrote with Justin Bieber. “You know is orig­i­nally

right?” he jokes be­fore play­ing that ver­sion.

This is Sheeran’s gift in a nut­shell: He’s a mix of old-school troubadour and Top 40 tech­ni­cian, a guy who could kill it at a cof­fee­house open-mic night, but is also one of the most pop-savvy song­writ­ers alive. (He also raps sur­pris­ingly well.) His crowds are mostly teenage girls, but Sheeran is crafts­man enough to im­press some­one like El­ton John, who signed him to his man­age­ment com­pany in 2011. “He can write melodies so sim­ply,” says El­ton, who points to which won a Grammy in 2016 for Song of the Year. “Van Mor­ri­son would have been

Cas­tle On The Hill, Di­vide, Love Your­self, Love Your­self Your­self, Think­ing Out Loud, Fuck

very proud to write that. He re­minds me of me when I first came to Amer­ica, in 1970. It was all sys­tems go. Noth­ing was im­pos­si­ble. The un­for­tu­nate thing is, now, ev­ery­one sounds like Ed Sheeran: Shawn Men­des, Justin Bieber . . . ”

“Sorry, I’m a bit drunk,” Sheeran says after flub­bing a line to a new track. He stops to roll a cig­a­rette and heat up a pizza. Then he sits down and plays a fin­ger­picked waltz from Like most of the songs he writes these days, it’s about Cherry, whom he’s known since school and re­con­nected with at an after-show party in New York. They kept their re­la­tion­ship se­cret for a full year, un­til Tay­lor Swift in­vited them to her Fourth of July party in Rhode Is­land, and a friend In­sta­grammed a pic­ture of a ban­ner cel­e­brat­ing their one-year an­niver­sary.

Di­vide.

I found a love to carry more than just my se­crets,” I don’t de­serve this, dar­ling, you look per­fect tonight.”

Sheeran sings. “

Per­fect,

“My tear glands are just throb­bing,” says Cather­ine.

“Let me think of an­other tear-jerker,” Sheeran says. “Please don’t!” she says. He gets up and makes an­other gin and tonic. “Ev­ery­one cool? I am very cool.” Around six, it’s time for bed. Early last year, Sheeran and Cherry were tour­ing a vol­cano in Ice­land, when Sheeran ig­nored a guide’s di­rec­tions to not stray from a path. As he ap­proached a bub­bling geyser, the thin crust of earth started to col­lapse be­neath him, send­ing both feet into nearly 200-de­gree wa­ter. It was the first time Cherry had heard him scream. She ripped one of his socks off, tak­ing his skin with it. “I still have post­trau­matic stress over it,” she says. He had to be air­lifted to a hos­pi­tal.

The cou­ple could have headed home — in­stead, they pushed on with a trip that lasted six months. Sheeran, it turned out, re­ally needed to get away from be­ing a pop star for a while.

Sheeran’s de­fault mood is re­lent­lessly up­beat. But he ad­mits that ev­ery now and then he “spi­rals”. This hap­pened in 2013, when he scored an open­ing gig for Tay­lor Swift and moved to Nashville, where the tour was based. “I was on the most amaz­ing fuck­ing tour in the world,” he says. “I was just liv­ing in a coun­try that I didn’t be­long in, in a town I didn’t re­ally know any­one.”

He be­gan to drink — a lot. His fre­quent song­writ­ing part­ner, Snow Pa­trol’s Johnny McDaid, was wor­ried about Sheeran when he saw him at a show in Hollywood in 2015. “He was just go, go, go,” McDaid says. “I sat him down and said, ‘Look, man, please have all the fun in the world. But be care­ful be­cause if that elas­tic snaps, it could take a long time to re­cover from it.’ ”

A sin­gle Twit­ter com­ment could ruin his day. “Ev­ery­one on­line was say­ing, ‘Ed’s go­ing bald’. And I’m not. But I con­vinced my­self that I was. Gin­ger hair is just very fair — my hair is com­pletely fine. I was also quite big at the time,” he adds, re­fer­ring to his weight, “so I kind of got a com­plex about two things I would have never given a fuck about.”

He also lost some friends. “The list ac­tu­ally fucked it up,” he says, re­fer­ring to a re­port in the mag­a­zine in­di­cat­ing he made $57m in 2015. “I was get­ting texts from peo­ple with pic­tures of cars go­ing, ‘I’d like this for my birth­day, please. This one’s only .06pc of your an­nual in­come’.” (He ended up ditch­ing his phone; he uses an iPad to com­mu­ni­cate and a flip phone for close fam­ily.)

So after at­tend­ing the Gram­mys last year and win­ning Song of the Year, Sheeran skipped the af­ter­par­ties and boarded a plane to Ice­land. Once his foot had healed, the cou­ple trav­eled around ru­ral Ja­pan for a month, from Hokkaido to Ok­i­nawa, where he was able to walk around in anonymity, “eat weird food, soak in the hot springs and ski”.

Sheeran stopped smok­ing and cut way back on his drink­ing. In June, he spent three weeks in Ghana at the in­vi­ta­tion of Ghana­ian-English singer Fuse ODG. Work­ing in Fuse’s house, he started writ­ing African-in­flu­enced mu­sic. “Any time we made a song, they would throw a party for the song,” he says. “He would in­vite 200-plus peo­ple around, and we would just

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